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COMING TO ENCINITAS IN 2017: THE FAR WEST LOUNGE

On Dec 28, 2016 - 8 Comments -

After an exceedingly long and exhaustive quest for the perfect location, we are absolutely thrilled to announce that we have located a suitably rad spot for a North County tasting room.

Perched conveniently along the 101 on the north side of downtown Encinitas, this den of tasty pleasures will have room for about 150 elegant beer connoisseurs seated around a glorious horseshoe shaped bar, in cozy booths, on majestic lounging steps, and around a swanky indoor fire-pit. The aesthetic of the Far West Lounge will be luxurious mid-century tropical, complimented by some of our psychedelic DIY design and art installations. 32 taps will pour a ceaseless supply of exceedingly tasty beers brewed at the Lomaland Fermentorium and our planned locations in L.A. and Anaheim. Outrageously sexy merchandise, coffee bags and cans, beer to-go, and League/BPT pick-ups will also be on offer.

Once open, The Far West Lounge should prove to be a marvelous and complementary addition to an already killer neighborhood, and we couldn’t be more psyched on where we've landed (470 S. Highway 101, to be precise). More details and info on the timeline coming soon.

THE 2017 LEAGUE OF PARTYGOERS & ELEGANT PEOPLE: NOW ACCEPTING ACOLYTES!

On Nov 21, 2016 - 11 Comments -

 "Anything less than the best is a felony." --Gilles Deleuze

We’re back for the highly-anticipated second round of our wildly successful League of Partygoers & Elegant People membership program, and 2017 is looking absolutely outstanding. We have a slew of insanely delicious beers in the works, 2 new locations slated to open in the coming year, and a year of experience and feedback under our belts. Ready your faces.

This year, we’re taking everything we learned in 2016 and parlaying it into a new and even more stunning evolution of this year-long fiesta. We’re increasing the League roster to 800 members, rolling out a breathtaking lineup of uber-rare party sauce, designing a treasure trove of outrageously saucy new merch, and working on a schedule of events that are going to explode your face with joy. And yes, the challenge coins are back. Be ready.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Because the League is doubling in size, we’re anticipating that many (if not most) of the online bottle & can sales will not make it to a public session. If you want to be assured full access to the bountiful beverage magic we’ll be releasing in 2017–and trust us, you do–this is definitely your best bet.

Your $350 (plus tax & BPT fee) membership will include 10 extremely rare barrel-aged beers, first dibs on an extensive list of face-melting special releases, exclusive growler fills, a rollicking welcome party, advance tickets for special Modern Times events, special previews of our new locations, exclusive League merchandise, and much more. The pre-sale for existing members will begin on 12/1, and the public sale will open at 10AM on 12/5. Bottle list, merch, & events details are below, as well as on the sale page HERE:

**PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO PROXIES ALLOWED FOR MEMBERSHIPS OR BOTTLE SALES, BEERS MUST BE PICKED UP BY SPECIFIED DATES, AND ALL SALES ARE FINAL. NO EXCEPTIONS. READ FULL TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR MEMBERSHIP VIA THE SALE LINK BELOW**

Benefits:

Bottles Included with League Membership (subject to change):

  • Glimmer Void (Red Wine Barrel Aged Dark Sour with Strawberries)
  • Expulsion of the Princes (Red Wine Barrel Aged Dark Sour with Blueberries & Blackberries)
  • Oracle of the Bottle (Red Wine Barrel Aged Dark Sour with Tempranillo Grape Must)
  • Island of Moving Trees (Red Wine Barrel Aged Dark Sour with Cranberries, Raspberries, & Cherries)
  • Rampart Junction (Red Wine Barrel Aged Dark Sour with Peaches)
  • 2017 Wizard Blend
  • Devil's Teeth aged in Willet Rye Barrels w/ Walnut & Cocoa Nibs
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Cruzan Rum Barrels with Vanilla & Cardamom
  • Monsters’ Park Aged in Bourbon Barrels w/ Bourbon Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup
  • Monsters' Park Aged in Spanish Brandy Barrels Variant TBA

Online Sale Bottles (subject to change):

  • Batch 1000 (Red Wine Barrel-Aged Imperial Saison)
  • Batch 1000 1.5L
  • Haunted Stars Aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels
  • Haunted Stars Aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels w/ Vanilla & Coffee
  • Other Half / Kent Falls Collaboration
  • Monsters' Park Aged in Spanish Brandy Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Bernheim Wheated Whiskey Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Wild Turkey Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Heaven Hill Corn Whiskey Barrels
  • Amitié Universelle
  • Empty Hats
  • News from Nowhere
  • Palace of Cracked Heads (Red Wine Barrel Aged Dark Sour with Nectarines)
  • Jester King Sour Raspberry Collaboration
  • 2 TBA Jester King Collaborations
  • Devil's Teeth Aged in Willet Rye Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Whistlepig Rye Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in High West Rye Barrels
  • Sour Saison Aged in Red & White Wine Barrels
  • Nautilus Harbor
  • Sour Barrel Cuvee
  • Thermometer Island
  • Batch 1500
  • 2nd Use Nectarine Sour
  • One Million Tomorrows
  • Monsters' Park
  • Monsters' Park Aged in Bourbon Barrels w/ Coffee
  • Monsters' Park Aged in Bourbon Barrels w/ Coconut
  • Monsters' Park Aged in Bourbon Barrels w/ Vanilla
  • Monsters’ Park Aged in Bourbon Barrels League Variant TBD
  • Diamond Age
  • Super Passion Fruit, Guava, & Mango Fruitlands
  • Monsters' Park Aged in Cruzan Rum Barrels
  • Monsters’ Park Aged in Cruzan Rum Barrels TBA Variant
  • Shadow Mountain
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Cruzan Rum Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Cruzan Rum Barrels TBA Variant
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in K&L Four Roses Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in W.L. Weller Antique Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Eagle Rare Barrels
  • Funky Universal Friend Aged in Spanish Brandy Barrels
  • Monsters' Park Barrel Variation TBA
  • Batch 1500 Fruited Variants
  • Amitié Saison
  • Amitié Variant TBA
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Bourbon Barrels
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Bourbon Barrels with Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Bourbon Barrels with Almond and Vanilla
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Bourbon Barrels with Orange Zest, Hazlenut, & Vanilla
  • Devil’s Teeth Aged in Bourbon Barrels with Bourbon Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup
  • Double Barrel Monsters’ Park (Tennessee Whiskey & Bourbon Barrels)

League Merchandise:

  • Two pre-filled 32oz League growlers, which can subsequently be filled with special release beers otherwise not available for growler fills, as long as they are not currently available for purchase in bottles or cans.
  • League t-shirt, membership card, custom glass, tasting notebook, League pin, and challenge coin (If the challenge coin is presented to another League member who is not in possession of their challenge coin, they must buy you a beer. If they have their coin, beers are on the challenger.)
  • First opportunity to renew membership in 2018, including any additional tiers or add-ons

Events:

  • 2 tickets to a League welcome party on December 18th, 2016. Members will be able to pick-up their initial 5 League-included bottles at the welcome party, along with any additional bottles & cans purchased during December's bottle sale.
  • First opportunity to purchase tickets to Modern Times events, including festivals, Anniversary Party, Black House Black Friday, tasting room mini-fests, etc.
  • Special preview opportunities and privileges for our forthcoming L.A. and Anaheim locations.
  • Opportunity to purchase 2 tickets to TBD educational and social events
  • Occasional ne plus ultra tours, including visits to our barrel house & QA sessions with our brewers & founder

The last year of the League has been ridiculous amounts of fun, and we can't wait for the next 12 months of radness. Spots are going to go extremely fast once the sale window opens, so make sure you familiarize yourself with the sale page and read all of the terms & fine print in advance.

Final note: You'll notice a password prompt on the sale page. This will be for the League pre-sale period (starting 12/1) only, and you will not need a password when the public sale goes live on 12/5 at 10AM.

Tickets and info are HERE.

Please Enjoy Our Fine Print:

  • You must be at least 21 years old to join The League of Partygoers and Elegant People.
  • Membership is non-transferable, and includes a personalized membership card, which must be presented with ID for League events, privileges and bottle pick-ups. Proxies are not permitted. In order to pick up your bottles and League merch, you will need to show your valid photo ID; it must be your ID and the name MUST match the name on the credit card of the ticket buyer. Any sales that attempt to work around these rules will be voided.
  • All bottles must be picked up during business hours at the Modern Times Fermentorium within 3 months of purchase. Address for pickup is 3725 Greenwood St., San Diego CA 92110
  • It is likely, but not guaranteed, that additional pick-up locations will be available as we open our Anaheim and L.A. locations this year.
  • Only purchase a League membership if you are 100% positive you can personally pick-up your bottles within the pick-up window; any bottles not picked up before the specified dates will be surrendered back to Modern Times Beer.
  • Membership valid through December of 2017, at which point members will have the option to renew, as well as first opportunity to purchase any additional tiers of membership.
  • Bottles and tickets obtained through membership are not for resale. Resale will result in membership cancellation. Trading is totes cool, though.
  • League growlers may be filled with any available growler fill as well as specialty, League-designated beers.
  • League growlers may only be filled by their respective owners.
  • Release dates, beers, and variations are subject to change.
  • No shipping, and again, no proxies.
  • Modern Times is not responsible for issuing refunds for beers sold to League members.
  • Each person is allowed to have a maximum of one membership. If a member is found to have multiple memberships, we reserve the right to cancel and refund the unused portion of all of that persons memberships.
  • Modern Times retains, at its sole and unconditional discretion, the right to cancel a membership and refund a prorated portion of a members membership fee for any reason at any time. Its not something we ever hope to do, but its a right we reserve.
  • League Member support can be reached via league@moderntimesbeer.com

CEO/Founder Jacob McKean’s CCBA Keynote Speech

On Nov 18, 2016 - 11 Comments -

First of all, I can’t thank Tom enough for inviting me to speak today. If you had told me 4 years ago—when my brewery was just a stack of paperwork and a bunch of naïve dreams—that I would be delivering the keynote address at a CCBA conference, I would have said you were out of your goddamn mind. But in a year of unlikely outcomes, here I am. And I’m deeply honored to be speaking to all of you today. I feel tremendous gratitude and respect for the hard work you all have done. This industry has—in the most literal way possible—made my dreams come true. And many of the people in this room laid the foundation for that success. That interconnectedness is what I’d like to talk about today.

Everyday that I’ve worked to build Modern Times, I’ve been aware of the fact that I stand on the shoulders of braver, more resolute people than myself, people who dove headfirst into the world of craft beer when this industry was just an obscure way to lose money. I’m talking about the people who began brewing beer when raw ingredients and equipment had to be scrounged for, when interest in craft beer was minimal, and when every sale was a minor miracle. People who spent decades working to persuade skeptical distributors that craft beer could become the lynchpin of their portfolios. People who did the exhausting, repetitive work of hand-selling beer to retailers who said no a hundred times before they said yes. People who invested their hard-earned money and precious time convincing consumers that beer could be so much more than what they’d been taught to expect.

Without all of that hard work and sacrifice, my own success would not have been possible. There’s a mythology around entrepreneurship that obscures this reality: it’s the myth that each of us succeeds entirely on our own, by striking out into uncharted territory and personally forging our success through sheer force of will. And being an entrepreneur can indeed feel incredibly lonely at times, with the weight of enormous responsibility constantly bearing down on us. But the reality is that without the people who came before us, that weight might be too much to bear. In countless ways large and small, those trail blazers have made our burdens lighter. But it doesn’t end there: the people in this room continue to do the same for each other every day. By working together towards our shared goal of converting everyone into craft converts, we share the responsibility for each other’s success.

I got into this business precisely because of that interconnectedness, because of collaboration, because of our willingness to share information and support each other in times of need. With the head winds growing a little stronger and Big Beer throwing around huge sums of cash, it would be easy for us to lose sight of the slogan many of us have repeated for years: a rising tide lifts all boats. But if we do lose sight of it, we might as well start making insecticide or selling plastics because this strange and wonderful little eddy in the surging river of capitalism will be swept away.

It would be easy to say that such an outcome is inevitable because it would absolve us of our responsibility to each other. But I don’t believe that it is inevitable. Whether this industry stays true to the ideals that made it awesome to begin with is up to us. And we will be the ones who decide where craft beer goes from here, in the countless decisions we make every day.

One way I pledge to keep this industry awesome is by never selling my brewery to Big Beer. There will likely come a time when I’m tired of carrying the weight of so much responsibility. But when that time comes, I’m not going to screw the people who made my success possible in the first place. That would be an unethical choice I could never be proud of. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to everyone in this industry, and when it comes time for me to do something else, I refuse to throw a hand grenade over my shoulder on my way out the door. Selling Modern Times to Big Beer would make life harder for everyone who stayed behind: it would give the macro brewers another zombie brewery with which to deceive consumers, it would be used to keep real craft breweries out of distribution books, and the price of Modern Times beer would inevitably be slashed to the bone with the malicious goal of putting my friends and colleagues out of business. Ultimately, what I decide to do with Modern Times will affect everyone in this room. And I will not allow greed and short-sightedness to blind me to that reality. I would urge you all to make the same commitment.

Another commitment I believe we all must make is to always behave ethically in the marketplace. No matter how fierce the competition gets in our business, I will never break the law to get a placement. No matter what dirty tricks Big Beer resorts to, I will never stoop to their level. No matter which other craft breweries decide to start buying their way onto tap towers, I will never throw up my hands and say, “I guess I will too.” I implore you to make the same commitment.

Pay-to-play will ruin this industry if we let it, as it has so many others. Part of what makes craft beer so unique and so special is that it is, in large part, a meritocracy. If you make truly great beer, you can succeed. We always have and we always will compete with each other on the basis of quality: that competition pushes us to be better, which benefits beer drinkers and brewers alike. Remember: it takes friction to sharpen a knife. If we double down on our commitment to quality, increased competition can make us all sharper brewers and businesspeople. Let’s take that path, instead of the race to the bottom offered by pay-to-play.  

So, how else do we become sharper? First, by asking ourselves if our beer is the best it can possibly be. If it’s not, why not? Think about the countless tiny decisions you make every day that end up influencing the quality of the beer you brew. How many times do you find yourself prioritizing something else over quality? How many compromises do you make in the name of finance or logistics or marketing? Of course we all have to work within certain confines, and those confines are different for each person in this room, but every single one of us can choose to make quality our first priority. If we’re not routinely blowing people’s minds with the unbelievable quality of our beer, we’re not doing our job. Bad beer is the subprime mortgage of our industry. There is no faster or more effective way to turn people away from craft beer than by sending bad beer into the marketplace. If we are to ensure that the marketshare we have fought so hard to win remains ours, we absolutely cannot tolerate bad beer. The race to grow must never take precedence over quality.

We’ve long said that the average person could never afford to buy a bottle of the best wine in the world, but almost anyone can afford a pint of the best beer in the world. Each of us should constantly strive to be the brewery responsible for that pint. 

The next way we can become sharper is by ensuring that every single person working in our breweries is doing the best job possible. By far the most effective means I’ve found to do that is by allowing them to share in the financial success of the business. If the people who make the wort and scrub the floors and run the bottling line and clean the tanks and manage the office and drive the trucks are underappreciated and underpaid, it will show. There’s nothing romantic about trying to get by on minimum wage. The high turnover, low morale, and widespread inefficiency that comes with low pay does not save businesses money. And if we’re going to build the kind of industry that will survive for generations while weathering inevitable ups and downs, we will need a trained, motivated, stable workforce that sticks with craft beer for their entire careers. We can make that happen by always striving to pay people what they’re truly worth.

Another way we can become sharper is by taking our design work seriously. Breweries used to be great patrons of the arts. It used to be a given that the artwork commissioned by breweries would be timeless and daring and beautiful. When you look at your own labels and coasters and six pack holders, are they timeless and daring and beautiful? You have the opportunity to make stunning design accessible to people who could never afford to buy an expensive work of art. Let’s take that opportunity seriously and make the pride we take in our beer visible to everyone. Breweries all over the world increasingly are, and the daring, beautiful labels I’ve seen this year crowding the shelves in Brazil, Mexico, Scandinavia, and the UK are proof of that. If they can do it, we sure as hell can too.

And finally, we can become sharper by deepening our commitment to good business fundamentals. People ask me constantly what explains the success of Modern Times. At just three and half years old, we are on pace to brew nearly forty thousand barrels this year. What started as a four-person operation in mid-twenty thirteen has now swelled to one hundred and five people, with hundreds of applicants for every job we post. It feels like we’ve never stopped being under construction, with a first round of expansion leading into a second round leading into another and another, to the point where we don’t even bother keeping track of which round we’re on now. How have we done it? How has an independent brewery financed and managed all of this? Have we taken on new investors, or borrowed money from a wealthy family member, or executed some obscure financial maneuver that has made it all possible?

The secret to our business model is this: we sell things for more than it costs us to make them. We then take the money we make and reinvest it in the business. We use our strong profitability and steady cash flow to borrow safe, reasonable amounts of money from our bank. Then we put that money towards expanding capacity and improving quality. And that’s it. That’s how we do it.

Somewhere along the way that became a radical way of doing business. We all know that the cool kids don’t bother with actually turning a profit: if they have to burn heaps of cash in the service of disrupting an industry, with an eye always towards an eventual buy-out by a massive competitor, then that just comes with the territory. If most of those companies crash and burn along the way, taking investors and employees down with them, then that’s considered the cost of doing business.

That approach must be the antithesis of our own. A craft brewery is an old school kind of business: it’s a bricks-and-mortar artisan manufacturing business that can’t scale up massively overnight. We take agricultural products and turn them into a beverage that brings people together and adds joy to their lives. We create jobs in places that other manufacturing businesses have fled, investing in our communities and giving people hope that we can make things again. We build tasting rooms that have become community gathering places, giving friends and neighbors a warm place to meet and share a pint. We have played a key role in the remarkable renaissance of the American culinary tradition, and with our incredible beer we have given countless bars and hospitality businesses new life. In a world that not too long ago seemed destined to become one gigantic airport terminal, with flavorless mega-chains crowding out everything small and interesting, we have helped turn the tide towards the local and unique.

These are the fundamental ways in which we add value to society. They are not the newest or the sexiest or the most profitable things to do. But they are irreplaceable, and as long as we take the responsibility that comes with them seriously, we will be able to keep doing this for a long time to come.

Cheers and thank you, everyone. I can’t wait to see what we can do together next.

Coming to Anaheim in 2017: Leisuretown

On Oct 28, 2016 - 41 Comments -

We are stoked out of our frickin’ minds to announce the next major research facility in our ongoing investigation into the art of partying: Leisuretown. Prepare your mind, body, and soul for a garden of earthly delights that will span over 31,927 square feet in downtown Anaheim.

We’ve been covertly working with the geniuses at The LAB (the urban development masterminds behind the Anaheim Packing District, LAB Anti-Mall, and the CAMP) to create a mind-bending craft beer mecca such as the world has never seen. Here’s what we’ve got planned:

• A gorgeous funky/sour brewing facility chock-full of foeders, amphora, and various experimental fermenting vessels, housed in a jaw-dropping old hoop-style wooden warehouse.
• A showpiece Modern Times café & restaurant set in an utterly charming two-story, historic craftsman home
• A giant frickin’ swimming pool, complete with poolside bar, movie screen, and sweet floaty toys
• A delightful and convenient Modern Times merch store & bottle pick-up location

All of these wondrous attractions will surround a vast and beautifully landscaped outdoor space primed for group gatherings and luxurious beer drinking. Once complete, it will be unnecessary (and unwise) to ever leave Leisuretown: astoundingly good coffee, decadent food, boundary-pushing beer, tasteful shopping, and leisurely swimming will be on offer daily.

For those of you already typing up a “What happened to L.A.?” email, breathe easy. The Dankness Dojo in downtown L.A. is still very much happening, and its timeline will not be affected whatsoever by this new, radical addition. It’s taken us a little longer to jump through the requisite hoops in L.A. than we anticipated, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop making rad stuff in the meantime. We’ll have more specific updates on both locations coming soon.

The last three years have given us the opportunity to create some real magic, and we cannot wait to unleash our next two weird little pockets of radness on our friends to the north. Cheers!

What ‘Selling Out’ Is Actually About

On Sep 6, 2016 - 82 Comments -

Anheuser-Busch InBev is in the midst of a PR push, the goal of which is to soften resistance to their craft brewery acquisition strategy. Sadly, credulous beer writers aren't asking any of the right questions, so I feel a need to respond.

The sacrificial lamb in this takedown is Aaron Goldfarb's recent piece for Serious Eats entitled, "What 'Selling Out' Allows a Craft Brewery to Do.” I'm picking this one because it covers most of the bases on this issue, which makes it convenient.

I apologize to Aaron in advance because he’s sorta conscious of the fact that he's being manipulated, but he simply doesn't know enough about the beer business to understand exactly how. I don’t mean to pick on him; there are plenty of other similarly problematic articles I could have chosen. Hell, when I was a freelancer, I would've gladly cooked up a story about how to construct a helicopter from discarded sex toys if someone had offered me twenty five cents a word to write it. But I’ve heard the misinformation in this piece repeated too many times to ignore, so here goes.

-------------------

I'll take the arguments one at a time:

1) Claim: Moving production of core brands from acquired breweries to ABI's plants improves their quality. Goldfarb says ABI's plants are being "retrofitted specifically to handle craft beer in ways that the craft breweries themselves simply couldn't afford back when they were independent operations. InBev's added a Super Sack system...hop backs...conical tanks, and more cellaring space.” Other items cited are a mash filter, centrifuge, and tasting room.

Problem: None of the items listed are unaffordable to independent craft brewers and none of them are related to quality. Many craft brewers have Super Sack systems: they cost about $25,000 and do nothing to improve quality, although buying specialty malts in Super Sacks does reduce their cost slightly. Likewise, many craft breweries have hopbacks; I paid about $3,000 for mine. Most breweries don't bother with them, however, because it's generally understood they don't do a better job of imparting hop flavor and aroma than whirlpool additions. And "conical tanks"? What brewery doesn't have conical tanks? Literally every single brewery can afford conical tanks. What about "more cellaring space"? You mean, like, renting a building? Likewise, mash filters, centrifuges, and tasting rooms are all relatively common at mid-sized independent breweries. This is just a list of random words meant to give the appearance that the argument has substance. ABI is spinning minor logistical adjustments as proof of their commitment to quality. Anyone who has worked in a brewery can see that this is bullshit.

Side note: Calling ABI "the best lager makers around" is like calling Kraft the best cheese makers around; allowing that statement from Blue Point’s president to go unquestioned is bizarre.

2) Claim: ABI is investing in the breweries themselves with the goal of improving quality, which they couldn't have done on their own. Goldfarb writes, "It gave 10 Barrel $10 million to buy six new 400-barrel tanks, for instance, and it's helping Blue Point open a new 40,000-square-foot facility housing brewing and packaging operations, a tasting room, and office space. Collectively, these improvements have led to the production of more consistent flagship beers for many of ABI's craft breweries."

Problem: Anyone who has ever worked on the business side of brewing would immediately see the problem with the first part of this claim: 400bbl tanks cost around $100,000 each, so six of them won't add up to $10 million. Failing to notice the huge discrepancy between the dollar amount listed and the cost of the alleged purchase is indicative of the overall lack of industry knowledge throughout this piece and many others like it. It may seem like a semantic issue, but it means the author isn't equipped to dig into ABI's claims with any authority. The second problem is a larger point and it's one that gets repeated both throughout this article and many others: the idea that the breweries who sold couldn't have expanded without macro-beer financing it. This is bullshit, too. Goldfarb cites Bluepoint's 40,000 sq ft expansion, but I can think of literally dozens of independent craft breweries that have expanded far more aggressively than Bluepoint (Modern Times included) without ABI's money. But the breweries who have sold and the beer writers who accept their excuses without question would have you ignore this obvious reality because it undercuts an excuse that tends to go over well with the public.

3) Claim: Macro-brewers have made hops available to the breweries they've purchased which would otherwise be unavailable to them.

Problem: Virtually all hops, and certainly all of those cited in this article, are available to any craft brewer willing to plan ahead and contract accordingly. Modern Times is a mid-sized, rapidly growing brewery that almost exclusively uses highly sought-after hops in very large quantities, and yet somehow, without the help of ABI's private farm, we have more than enough hops contracted to see us through the next 7 years of extremely aggressive expansion. We are hardly the only ones who can say that. Hop contracting takes some work, but no one needs the help of macro brewers to get what they need or want.

4) Claim: Macro-beer's money gives acquired breweries access to capital they could not have gotten otherwise, and this money is spent on experimentation. Goldfarb writes, "Before Golden Road was acquired, in September of 2015, Gill and her two partners were relying heavily on small-business loans from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That meant money was always tight and had to be used strictly to help the brand grow; there were no resources for experimentation."

Problem: There are several, but the first is simply a failure of journalism. If Goldfarb has simply asked Gill who those partners are, the fact that one of them is a billionaire would have made clear that she is completely full of shit. Golden Road was the most lavishly funded start-up in craft beer history, something that is widely known throughout the industry. Then there's the claim that "there were no resources for experimentation” at Golden Road, with the implication being that the same is true for many breweries. This is also nonsense. How money is spent within a brewery, especially one with access to virtually unlimited funds like Golden Road, is a question of priorities, not capabilities. If a brewery does not invest in experimentation or barrel-aging or a sour program, it is because the people who chose how money is spent at that brewery are not interested in those things. Again, there are literally thousands of breweries with far fewer resources than Golden Road or Goose Island who do all of those things and more.

The vast majority of independent craft breweries successfully rely on bank financing for their expansions. Interest rates are at nearly historic lows, and banks are more eager than ever to work with bricks-and-mortar companies with solid cash-flows. If you want bank financing and your business is even moderately healthy, it is there for the taking. My experience with several rounds of major expansion is that the equipment financing expanding breweries need is usually the easiest type of financing to access, and that banks are generally understanding of how and why breweries spend money.

5) This one isn't a claim, it's a key piece of information that goes maddeningly uncommented upon. Goldfarb writes, "Gill says. 'The margins we needed to hit on our beers are now gone'—ABI doesn't necessarily care if each and every beer released makes a solid profit—and 'it's changed how we think about our portfolio in a major way...'"

Problem: This is the most predatory and ill-intentioned thing the macro brewers have done with their acquisitions, and Goldfarb allows Gill to cite it as evidence of their benevolence, which drives me nuts. The reality is that selling a product at or below cost is an anti-competitive business strategy that is intended to put smaller competitors out of business. If there's one thing independent craft brewers can't do that macro-brewers can do it is lose money. And this strategy is, by far, the most effective way for macro-brewers to reduce consumer choice and extinguish the craft beer movement they’re now trying to co-opt. Goldfarb remarks upon this later in reference to $56(!) Goose Island kegs, but fails to grasp that this strategy is THE reason for these acquisitions. Not quality, not making dreams come true, not sharing information. The goal is to destroy craft beer from within by operating acquired breweries as zombie brands that wreak havoc in the marketplace long after the life has been squeezed out of them.

6) Claim: Being acquired by a macro-brewery gives access “to the minds of fellow brewers,” allowing breweries to improve their practices.

Problem: Craft beer is the most open, collaborative industry I know. There is absolutely no shortage of access to information from “fellow brewers.” I have not once been told something was “proprietary information” by another craft brewer. If there is anyone in the beer industry who jealously protects their “trade secrets”, it is the macro-brewers, who are notorious for their harsh treatment of employees who fail to obsessively protect information from competitors. "The minds of fellow brewers" are there for anyone to access, no buy-out necessary.

7) Claim: Breweries can’t expand their geographic distribution without the “muscle” of macro brewers. Goldfarb claims Founders "would never have been able to obtain shelf space” in “foreign cities” had it not been partly acquired by a macro-brewer.

Problem: Independent craft breweries expand their geographic distribution literally every day. There has never been a time when distributors were more eager to take on new brands. This has, in fact, been one of the seismic shifts in craft beer over the last decade. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, craft breweries often had to beg and plead distributors to take them on. Now, distributors are so eager for new brands, the Brewers Association has had to enact a rule preventing distributors from openly pitching to craft brewery owners at the annual trade show because it became overwhelming. Meanwhile, loads of craft brewers of all sizes are jumping at export opportunities, which are abundant. Hell, Modern Times, which is about one tenth the size of Founders, exports to 12 overseas markets, zero “muscle” required.

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Here’s the truth: selling to a macro-brewer is the fastest, simplest way to turn equity in a craft brewery into cash. That’s the only reason to sell to them. Anyone who claims otherwise is full of shit.

Cheers & thanks,
Jacob McKean
Modern Times Beer

Some Thoughts on the New Year-Rounds

On Mar 9, 2016 - 73 Comments -

Releasing 3 new year round beers was a thing. A major thing. A thing that consumed much of the time, energy, and brainpower of many of the people in this building. These beers also embody our collective approach to decision-making better than anything else we've made. Let me explain.

About a year ago, a bunch of us sat around a table and decided what the major pieces of our beer program would be in 2016. There were oodles of ideas, many of them conflicting. But we patiently fleshed each of them out, compared them, synthesized the best ones, discarded whatever didn't fit, and ultimately ended up in a place that all of us could embrace. That process of consensus-building is fundamental to who we are, and a major reason why we make good beer.

The first step was deciding on what we wanted to feature and what we felt like we were missing. We agreed that: a) We had taken major steps forward with several key brewing processes, and b) We were underrepresented on the bomber shelf.

After debating the merits of countless beer options to put into year round bombers, we settled on the three we felt best represented what we've learned, and added something meaningful to the local craft beer market.

City of the Dead most obviously meets the criteria because it's a beer that literally only Modern Times could make. Our ability to barrel-age, roast, and dose coffee into beer is totally unique, and we were frickin' stoked with the results we were getting. City of the Dead is exactly the kind of beer that puts the jam on our toast, and so it was a shoe-in for the program. The only real challenge was figuring out how to massively scale-up our barrel-aged coffee program, but that's something we had planned to do anyway.

Fruitlands was a somewhat harder decision, but only because of the logistical challenges inherent in brewing it year round. We didn't doubt our ability to brew an absolutely badassical fruited gose, but kettle souring is a time intensive process. We worried that success might lead to endless headaches in the brewhouse, but our brilliant production team put on their thinking caps and figured out how to make it work. The idea to rotate the fruit three times a year also got us all hot and bothered, so we basically forced ourselves to solve the riddle. We're still tweaking the way we add fruit, but that type of adjustment is par for the course with anything new.

Orderville was definitely the toughest of the three to decide on. How do you commit to brewing a beer year round you've never made before? At the same time, we learned a tremendous amount about brewing hoppy beers over the course of many special releases and draft-only batches, so we felt good about putting an IPA in that slot.

But Orderville had to be brewed with hops we could actually get, and it had to be absolutely bomb. In today's hop market, that's like trying to build a helicopter in a high school shop class. So we auditioned a variety of different hops and yeasts over five agonizing test batches, before finally settling on the final approach. We've continued to fuss with it, but with our third full-scale production batch about to be packaged, we feel stellar about our totally sweet helicopter.

Anyway, that's just a peek into how we make these kinds of decisions and why. I don't believe in the misguided idea that singular genius trumps collective decision-making, and our extremely collaborative process reflects that. These beers and the process of making them are probably the clearest embodiment yet of that value, and I'm exceptionally proud of the results.

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