Thoughts On Our First Batches

On Jun 28, 2013 - 3 Comments -

It has now been almost 4 days since our beer was released into the wild. It's been really interesting to hear some of the responses people have had to the beer, some of which validates our own thoughts and critiques and some of which has been more surprising. Either way, I wanted to give you all my perspective on these first batches, and let you know what to expect from batches two through infinity.

Probably the most important thing to know: they're all going to get ~20% better. Here's how:

1) Lomaland. This was the very first batch we brewed, and we were still figuring out how all of our new equipment worked. Even when you have very experienced folks running that new equipment, it's still the first time. As a consequence, we accidentally knocked the wort out way too cold (~60 degrees). Our yeast blend (95% Dupont/5% Westmalle) really needs to be much warmer than that to do its thing properly, so this batch really dragged during fermentation, never developing its full ester profile and failing to dry out the beer enough. The yeast also didn't really properly flocculate, and the result is a bit of a hef-y character. All that said, I still think this first batch is pretty damn good and shows the potential for the beer. We've already got batch 2 & 3 in the tank, and I'm entirely confident we've addressed the issues with batch 1. It's smelling really earthy and complex, as Dupont yeast should, and it's drier. We also increased the Czech Saaz addition in the whirlpool to give it a more noticeable grassy/peppery hop quality, which is definitely adding to the complexity and aroma.

2) Fortunate Islands. I'm very happy with how this batch turned out. Not sure it'll get 20% better, maybe more like 5-10%. Basically just some tweaks and then we'll stop messing with it. Very proud of this beer.

3) Blazing World. This was probably the most problematic of the 4 to brew. On the pilot scale, we had so many different hop additions, it was a major headache to figure out how to scale it up. We tried a bunch of different things, and not all of them worked. The result is a beer that is more bitter and less aromatic than I would like and a bit darker than intended (the slightly low carbonation might also play a role in the muted aroma). In the pilot batches, the Nelson/Mosaic aroma just leaped out of the glass, and unfortunately that's not the case with the first big batch. But once again, we've already got the next round in the tank, and I'm confident we've figured it out. Hopefully you won't be able to walk within a few feet of a pint without smelling it this time.

4) Black House. Quite happy with how this turned out, although there's a learning curve involved here too. We'll play around with the roast malts a bit, probably subbing some pale chocolate for chocolate in the next batch and making some more pH adjustments in the mash, but in general, this is not too far off target. Looking forward to giving it a bunch of different coffee treatments once we have some time on our hands.

In general, I'm pretty happy with how these turned out, although, as you can tell, I'm not completely satisfied (and probably never will be). Nonetheless, I think all of these beers are very much worth drinking and clearly demonstrate the potential each recipe has.

Thank you so much to everyone who has sought them out and offerred their feedback. It means the world to me to see people drinking Modern Times Beer!

Cheers & thanks,

Jacob McKean


On Jun 24, 2013 - 4 Comments -

So this is more or less the culmination of 18 months of insane work. YOU CAN ACTUALLY DRINK OUR BEER NOW. OR AT LEAST TOMORROW.

We sent our first truckload of beer up to the busy bees at Stone Distributing on Friday, and we’ve got another going up today. That means any bar or restaurant in San Diego that has an account with Stone Distributing can ORDER OUR BEER RIGHT FRICKIN’ NOW.

Several well-known local spots have already announced their intention to start pouring all four of our year round beers TOMORROW, which, ya know, totally makes me pee a little with glee.

As per California ABC rules, I am not allowed to mention accounts by name unless directly asked about availability by a consumer, which is a goofy rule but whatever. So you can either ask me on Twitter or Facebook, or you can wait until I get an availability map up on the “Buy/Sell” tab on the website.

Based on what I’ve been hearing, I would expect to see our lovely tap handles popping up at a bunch more spots in the coming days. So if you see one of our taps around, please let me know!

But remember: our official launch week starts July 8th, and holy crap are we ever planning some awesome events for that. By then, we should have 7-8 beers available, which is totally baffling to me but incredibly awesome. In addition to the four you’re familiar with, we should have Neverwhere (our 100% Brett IPA), Oneida (our Nelson/Cascade pale ale), and Orderville (our Simcoe/Chinook red rye).

Once we’ve got everything scheduled, I’ll send out an email newsletter with the relevant details. In the meantime, it’s a citywide treasure hunt to find our very first beer to ever go on tap.

My brain just melted.

We’ve Got A Freakin’ Distributor

On Jun 12, 2013 - 6 Comments - Beer, Start-Up

Here’s some seriously huge, immensely consequential news: we’ve signed a distribution agreement with Stone Distributing. Together, we’re launching Modern Times Beer throughout San Diego in the coming weeks.

Here’s the plan: our beer will be available to retailers through Stone starting June 24th. The week of July 8th will be our official launch week, for which we’re planning a slew of spectacular, invigorating events featuring our crew of marvelously entertaining brewers.

So all of you who have been emailing me about carrying our beer at your bar/restaurant/liquor store? Talk to your Stone sales rep ASAP. If you don’t know who your rep is, you can find them here.

I couldn’t be more thrilled about this partnership. As many of you are aware, I spent two years working at Stone; it’s where I learned the business and I have a deep affinity for Stone’s values.

During those two years, I came to understand just what a remarkable operation Stone Distributing is. Distributors, like breweries, come in all shapes and sizes and exist on a broad spectrum of quality. Stone is at the far, far, far end of “high quality” on that spectrum.

Why? Three main things: 1) Extreme persnicketiness about beer quality & freshness, 2) Deep commitment to building the local craft beer market, and 3) Unimpeachable standards for business ethics.

Let’s flesh that out: Stone stores and ships all of the beer they distribute under refrigeration. They pay close attention to date coding. They work like crazy to put craft beer on tap at every possible outlet in their territory. They have extremely knowledgeable sales reps that are generally hardcore beer geeks (I often see the remnants of their absurd bottle shares in my Facebook feed). They invest a huge amount of time and effort in educating themselves, their accounts, and beer drinkers, even when there’s no immediate pay-off. And most importantly, they operate completely above-board with an obsessive attention to the law. That means they sell craft beer because it’s better, not because it comes with illegal inducements or shady incentives.

All of that has made Stone Distributing an enormous success and a perfect fit for Modern Times. This is the start of something deeply, flagrantly beautiful.

Our distribution agreement covers all of Southern California, but we’re going to stick to San Diego County for the time being. Once we get a feel for how much demand there is here, we’ll start talking about expanding distribution up the coast and inland.

Right from the get-go, we’ll be launching with what we plan to make our year round beers: Lomaland (saison), Black House (oatmeal coffee stout), Blazing World (amberish IPA), and Fortunate Islands (hoppy wheat). Limited quantities of our first special release, Neverwhere (100% Brett IPA), will also be available. For now, Modern Times will be draft-only, but you can expect to see our supremely luxurious 16oz. cans on shelves in early August.

Great Expectations

On Jun 11, 2013 - 36 Comments - Beer, Start-Up

You may have noticed that I’ve been quieter than usual recently. The reason is pretty simple: we’ve all been working like caffeinated animals to get Modern Times open. The list of things that need to be addressed between now and opening day is almost absurdly long, and all of us have been cranking like crazy to get it finished.

The good news is that we’re remarkably close to being open. The other good news is that this work is actually considerably less stressful than much of the work that came before it. Whereas before, timelines were vague at best and amorphous challenges felt like existential threats to my entire plan, we’re now just trying to kick through the finish.

But with our first batches of beer ambling towards completion, I want to take a moment to talk about what you can expect from us, or rather, what not to expect.

Here’s something not to expect: perfection. Granted, I’m a perfectionist: unabashedly and proudly. It’s that borderline unhealthy drive to make everything just so that allows me to say with confidence that Modern Times will—eventually, if not immediately—make world class beer.

Getting our beer just so will, in almost every case, be a process of refinement. Do not expect our very first batches to be perfect. They will not be perfect. We know this because we’ve been tasting them as they move through the cellar and, along the way, learning a lot about how our brand-new brewing system works (and doesn’t work), how our yeasts perform (and don’t perform), how amazingly and annoyingly efficient our whirlpool is at extracting IBUs, and a million other things.

There is no amount of recipe refinement on the homebrew scale that can prepare you for the changes that take place when a beer is brewed on a commercial scale. So while we’ve done our best to translate the beers as directly as possible, we’ve run into a few surprises along the way.

None of this is to say that our first few batches won’t be good or high quality. I wouldn’t sell anything that was disappointing. I feel very strongly that if I’m going to ask someone to pay for our beer, it better be damn good. And so it will be. But it will also get better each time we brew. I would expect that process of improvement and refinement to continue, in some way, forever.

I’ve given this spiel to just about everyone who has tasted our pilot batches. After tasting the beer, people invariably say something like, “Oh come on! It’s really good!” That’s nice to hear, but without getting overly semantic, “really good” isn’t good enough.

Truly world-class beer is life changing. And I wouldn’t bother with all the hassle of starting a brewery if I didn’t think we could reach that standard. But getting there is a process, and I hope you’ll have some patience with us along the way.

Cheers & thanks,
Jacob McKean