On Mar 21, 2013 -
It’s been a while since we’ve checked up on what is inarguably the most important part of this whole project: the beer. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t get to spend much time working on the beer—it actually functions as something like a mini-vacation within the endless hurricane of bureaucratic & construction crap—but recently we’ve had some developments worth noting.
Some quick background to catch-up the n00bs: Blazing World is one of our planned year round beers. It’s loosely inspired by Troegs Nugget Nectar and Alpine Nelson, two hoppy beers that were hugely influential in my rise to level 7 beer geekdom. My goal was to produce a medium-bodied amber beer redolent with Nelson hop aroma, sort of an amber IPA heavy on the fruity dankness.
It was the first beer Mike and I started working on, and we’ve made loads of progress over the course of the last year. But the hop mix was always at the “cool!”-level, not the “SHAZAAM!”-level required of a Modern Times beer.
The problem was the third complimentary hop in the recipe. Nelson and Simcoe were working out great, but Ahtanum, Columbus, and Palisade all blew their chances at the big time.
I recently decided to move our ‘clean’ pilot brewing out here to San Diego, leaving Mike to focus on developing our brett and sour program. So Alex and I brewed the first batch of Blazing World on the West Coast, this time with Mosaic taking the place of the aforementioned shamefully inadequate hops.
And the results were indeed “SHAZAAM!” The complexity and juiciness were off the charts, with the aroma offering something new every time I brought the glass to my nose. It’s definitely still fruity and a bit dank, but it would be hard to pin down exactly what it smells like. I guess the only answer is that it doesn’t quite smell like anything I’ve smelled before, but whatever it is, it’s frickin’ delicious.
Before this particular eye-opening experience, I’d greatly enjoyed Russian River Happy Hops with Mosaic, so I went ahead and bought a few hundred pounds on the assumption that we’d find some way to use it. But after tasting this beer, I told my hop sales guy that I’d commission a velvet painting of him if he hooked me up with enough to last us the year. And he did.
So the good news is that we now have two beer recipes very close to finalized. Naturally, they will change when we scale them up to the big system, and we’ll need a few tries to get them dialed in, which is why you guys are going to be super understanding and cool about our first few batches.
But it’s reassuring to know that we’re heading in the right direction.
We’ve also made some progress on Black House, our oatmeal coffee stout, and Lomaland, our saison—which I’ll fill you in on next time.
On Mar 15, 2013 -
Cars and I have never gotten along.
For one, we got off on the wrong foot. Until I got a car when I was 17, my urban Los Angeles childhood was functionally suburban. Although I grew up in the beating heart of a huge city, there was no way to experience it since I was more or less confined to the quiet residential streets where I lived.
The joy of finally having a car was tempered by my great nemesis: traffic, which still inspires me to poetic heights of profanity. Sitting miserably in traffic, I can feel the precious moments of my one & only lifetime slipping away in the most banal manner possible.
But what’s ultimately most aggravating to me about cars is that they’re totally unnecessary. There is no good reason why our cities should have cars and plenty of good reasons why they shouldn’t.
In 2008, the World Heath Organisation estimated that between the years 2000-2015, car accidents around the world would kill 20 million people and cause 200 million serious injuries. Cars, of course, also spew loads of pollution, which also kills people and causes all manner of health & environmental problems. That’s a lot of death and suffering for a transportation system that sucks to use.
Cars also make our cities much less interesting places to live. The density of cities like New York and San Francisco—which are far less car-dependent than San Diego—is precisely what makes them more vital and creative; sprawl is fundamentally stultifying.
Sprawl also chews up an insane amount of land, which should be criminal in a bioregion as singularly gorgeous as San Diego. Consider that one thousand people could comfortably live in a car-free town the size of an average commuter parking lot (with ample open space in the heart of it).
Modern Times exists to make extraordinary beer. But it’s also an actor in the life of this city. It has a responsibility to shape its own environment, to constructively engage with the city upon which it relies. One of the ways it will do that is by helping to transform San Diego into a better, more livable place.
San Diego should look like this:
Los Angeles (!)
And like this:
And like this:
If that seems far-fetched, it shouldn’t. There’s no reason why San Diego can’t look like those pictures; it’s simply a matter of creating the will to transform strip malls and auto parks into human-scale buildings and car-free streets.
But’s it not just that San Diego should be the most gorgeous, walkable, sustainable city in the world; it should also preserve the unbelievably beautiful land that surrounds it. Due to an absence of vision and an excess of greed and laziness, huge swaths of San Diego County’s almost unimaginably stunning and irreplaceable land has been converted into a sea of asphalt.
This is what San Diego looks like without sprawl:
And like this:
We should save as much of what remains as we can.
So that will be one of the social missions of Modern Times. If you think you can help, get in touch. Obviously we’re not going to be giving away cash anytime soon, but we’ll do what we can to leverage our beer and our space and our voice to help.
If you’re interested in learning more about the problematic history of cars, what the alternative might look like, what you can do to help locally, and who you can give your money to, just follow the links.
On Mar 12, 2013 -
People seem excited about Modern Times. I get lots of emails from eager strangers, and we’ve amassed an impressive number of Likes, Twitter followers, & email newsletter subscribers. Embarrassingly, I even get recognized at some local beer bars now. All without having beer to sell!
During tours of the Lomaland Fermentorium and at our pilot tastings, folks have told me that they like the transparency, honesty, and self-deprecating humor with which I’ve talked about the ups-and-downs of starting the brewery. So I’m going to keep doing it.
But here’s something I will never, ever do: hire an ad agency or marketing firm. This is not totally unique to Modern Times, of course; I was eager to work at Stone in part due to Greg’s longstanding and noble disdain for beer advertising.
I could explain my carefully considered reasons for making this choice, or I could just include a link to this article, which inadvertently—but very effectively—communicates why the entire advertising industry should be sold for scrap.
Let’s make a list of the obnoxious and suicide-inducing elements of this article, which are plainly indicative of the ad industry’s odious fetishization of communication.
- Fundamentally worthless product? Check
- Attempt to differentiate said product with groan-inducing clichés? Check
- Trade journalism that treats a morally bankrupt attempt to differentiate a fundamentally worthless product using groan-inducing clichés as a noteworthy event? Check
- Nauseating and profoundly far-fetched use of buzzwords “upcycle” & “disrupt” (pukes in hat, jumps off bridge)? Check
Rereading that article one more time will be too much for me, so I’ll stop the list at 4.
Anyway, we’re never going to advertise.
On Mar 11, 2013 -
Starting a brewery has mostly been about managing my stress while floating on a vast sea of annoying bureaucracy. Occasionally though, I get to do something spectacularly awesome that doesn’t seem like it should be work, even when it’s extremely important. It’s like getting to frolic at the end of the tunnel before getting pulled back into the abyss.
Recently, frolicking took the form of a really unique tasting opportunity. Modern Times Beer Ninjas Alex Tweet and Derek Freese joined Amy Krone (Modern Times’ Roast Mastah & resident artist) and I in tasting 4 different bottles of Mike’s Belgian single, each dosed with a different strain of brett. We tasted the clean version first—which is itself a really promising beer—before working our way through the funky stuff.
Mike conducted this tasting himself back in November, presumably while shivering and alone in the merciless DC winter, tears freezing to his parched face between each sip (ours was conducted on the patio of a great local beer bar, the sun glistening on our unshorn faces as we laughed in our swimsuits). The additional aging probably made our bottles more brett pronounced, but the results were similar.
Wyeast Brett B went first and got pretty poor reviews. Derek seemed to delight in repeating the word “fecal” while I tried to find things to like about it, which of course, just led Alex to make fun of me for being emotionally attached to yeast. Bottom line: it tasted not so good.
Wyeast Brett Trois faired considerably better. It offered loads of ripe fruit along with some hay and earth. Well-liked all around; easy to see why this performed so spectacularly in Mike’s 100% Brett IPA. This will likely be our go-to strain for hoppy brett beers.
CB1 is a strain of brett isolated from a Cantillon bottles by homebrew blogger Jason Rodriguez. It brought the more traditional brett character: funk, barnyard, horse-blanket. Really nice & well liked, but definitely a strain that should be part of a blend.
CB2, another of Jason’s Cantillon isolations, performed better by itself. Really complex, a balance of fruit, hay, must, and funk. Just an all-around delicious layer of radness atop an already tasty beer. This one will definitely get some use.
So how will we use these magical strains of yeast (except naughty, gross Brett B)? Two ways: for 100% brett fermentations and added at bottling.
Mike’s 100% Brett IPA was so mind-fuckingly good and opened up so many more possibilities, that I think we’re going to devote an entire tank to 100% brett ferments, as I mentioned in my last post. This will have the happy advantage of allowing us to get funky beers out much sooner than our sours, which will take about a year, and give us the ability to make some really unique one-offs.
Then there will be some beers that will be treated more like the ones in this tasting, getting a small dose of brett at bottling and evolving over time in the package. Mike’s dark saison is a particularly promising candidate for this type of treatment, but there are many more on the docket, including a funkified version of Lomaland, our planned year -round saison.
Mike—in his beautiful naivete as a homebrewer—wants us to release a five-bottle mix pack of differently dosed bottles so that people can replicate the tasting discussed above. Needless to say, on a commercial scale such a scheme would be a logistical nightmare, but we’ll try to figure it out anyway.