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

We’re Brewing Frickin’ Beer

On May 26, 2013 - 0 Comments - Beer, Start-Up

Well, it’s been over 17 months since I left my job at Stone to begin work on Modern Times, and we (this has officially gone from an “I” to a “we” project) are finally making beer. Fuck yeah.

17 months sounds (and feels) like an enormous amount of time, but the construction phase of this project has actually been relatively short: just ~6 months from the time I took possession of the building until now. By almost any measure, that’s pretty speedy for turning a giant vacant warehouse into a functioning 30bbl brewery.

And functioning it is! We’ve brewed three batches already, which is pretty goddamn remarkable. Our first brew day was shockingly smooth: Lomaland, our saison, has a fairly light grain bill and no exotic ingredients, which kept hiccups to a minimum. The equipment all more or less worked as planned, which was an immense relief.

The yeast is another matter. Our blend of 95% Dupont/5% Westmalle has been exceedingly sluggish thus far, perhaps owing to our excessively low knock-out temp (we were still learning how to run the pumps/heat exchanger) and the fact that it’s a first pitch, which are often considerably slower than re-pitches. We’re hopeful that future batches will move much faster, but it’s possible that something more fundamental—like tank geometry—is at play.

Despite the slowness of the yeast, the beer is shaping up to be pretty magical. Right now it’s throwing off loads of hay, grass, and earthy complexity in the aroma, with a hint of floral esteriness. The dream of churning out an uncompromisingly complex yet reasonably sessionable saison remains alive for now.

Blazing World, our second batch, was far more difficult to brew, owing to its additional ~600lbs of malt, which led to a sluggish run-off, and the use of our hopback, which was a touch dicey to operate and also interminably slow. The jury is very much still out on whether or not it offers any qualitative advantages to a whirlpool addition, but right now we’re all a bit skeptical, mostly because it was such a pain in the ass.

We ironed out a few issues before our third brew day, but Black House was still a challenge. The ~300lbs of oats (17% of the mash bill) once again led to a sluggish run-off, but also a fairly unpleasant grain-out for Alex and Derek. Spent grain came rushing through the door at unpredictable intervals, which led to a great deal of shoveling spent grain off the floor, which is not anyone’s favorite task.

Since getting into the tank though, Black House has been racing along, thanks to a 5th generation Cal Ale pitch generously donated by the wonderful folks at Ballast Point. Our little corner of Point Loma is skipping distance from Home Brew Mart, as well as Coronado’s Knoxville brewery, and the camaraderie & support we’ve been enjoying from both has been marvelous.

Despite the above mentioned minor annoyances, brewing so far has been unexpectedly straight-forward. We've hit our mash temps and gravities, and the hardware only requires some exceedingly minor tweaks. On the whole, we're all quite pleased with how it has gone. 

On the docket for this coming week is Mike’s 100% Brett IPA, which I’m absurdly excited about, and Fortunate Islands, our hoppy wheat beer, the brewing of which will be made possible by the sale of 88lbs of Amarillo to us by my former co-workers at Stone. Needless to say, we’re incredibly thankful for the solidarity from other San Diego brewers, and we look forward to returning the favor/paying it forward in the happy years to come.

What’s that? You want me to hazard another guess at when we’ll be open? That’s largely dependent on whether or not we pass our final inspections early next week. If we do, it should be no more than a few weeks.

Catching you up on everything

On May 7, 2013 - 4 Comments - Beer, Start-Up

Whoa has a lot happened since my last update. As shameful as it is to have fallen behind on updating you, it’s made less shameful by the fact that we’ve made a ton of progress on getting this motherfucker open.

Since there’s so much to cover, I’m just going to run through it:

a) A week ago tonight was one of the coolest, most amazing nights of my life. While I didn’t lose my virginity, I did witness and participate in an insanely fun, rowdy, and electric gathering on the back patio of The Toronado, as 50-some folks gathered to celebrate the close of our Kickstarter campaign. I’ll never forget the moment we broke $65,000 and the entire place went absolutely bananas. I’ll do a full write-up on the entire Kickstarter experience once we’ve fulfilled the rewards and held the local backers party.

b) So much progress on the construction side. Our entire glycol system is working—which is like the frosty circulatory system of the brewery—which means working cold boxes and tanks that chill down. Tomorrow we’re expecting to fire up the boiler and start running our water filters, which gets us most of the way there on the utilities side.

c) We got a ton of hops in. It’s actually not the most desirable situation, but since I started this whole crazy project too late to snag any 2012 hop contracts, I’ve had to do all of my buying on spot (until our 2013 contracts become available in December-ish). Sourcing these hops took a shitload of work, but here are the results:

d) Today, this rad roll-up glass garage-style door went it. It’ll bring precious air and light into the Lomaland Fermentorium tasting room; we’re going to build a counter in front of it so you can sit there and suck in the sea breeze. 

e) We’ve brewed and tasted many pilot batches. I deeply regret not having the time to write-up all the recipes and results right now, but suffice it to say, we’ve made significant progress. Here’s the core of what we’ve decided:

i. Our first Lomaland batch will be fermented with a 95%/5% blend of Dupont and Westmalle yeast. Dupont is a pain to work with, but it produced the best version of this beer by far. The Westmalle kicker is in there to help the beer finish out in a reasonable amount of time without interfering with the Dupont character. So yeah, we’ll be brewing (and canning, in tallboys) a 5.5% saison with Dupont yeast. That’s pretty spectacularly exciting if you’re a saison fan.
ii. A small addition of Coffee Kiln malt similarly took Black House to 11. It now “pops” whereas before it was just “tasty.” Now it’s “delicious.” Our most recent pilot batch was too thin but otherwise spot on, so we’ll be upping the mash temp but changing nothing else.
iii. Testing on the red rye Mike has been working on was less conclusive, or rather, resulted in less progress, but we’re going for it anyway. It’s going to be a piney, sappy beast heavy on Simcoe & Chinook (we’re considering supplementing with Summit and/or Columbus).
iv. As of right now, we’re planning for our initial round of tank fills to look like this: Lomaland, Blazing World, Black House, unnamed red rye, unnamed 100% Brett Drie IPA. Fortunate Islands will probably wait until summer because we don’t have enough Citra & Amarillo right now.

f) When will we be open? I’m not sure. Perhaps early June if we’re lucky? Perhaps later if we’re not?

Let’s Kickstart The Bejesus Out Of This Brewery

On Apr 6, 2013 - 0 Comments - Start-Up

Who: Modern Times Beer

What: A Kickstarter campaign

When: RIGHT NOW, ending April 30th


Why: Six months of determined fundraising got me enough capital to get Modern Times off the ground. But by working together on this crowdfunding campaign, we can make Modern Times so much more than just the bare minimum. We can make it a truly spectacular space, a producer of devastatingly tasty sours, and a metronomically consistent producer of high quality beer.

We’re seeking $40,000 in pledges to build a wildly creative tasting room, purchase a truckload of used wine & spirit barrels, and acquire precision lab equipment. We’re offering some shockingly rad rewards to help make this campaign a success, including a slew of one-of-a-kind experiences that go well beyond the standard Kickstarter rewards.


So (pretty extra super please) check out the Kickstarter campaign, pledge what you can, and share this link like the plague:



Black House: The Commercially Rationalized, Less Delicious Version

On Apr 3, 2013 - 14 Comments - Beer, Coffee, Start-Up

As promised, I now bring you latest update on our oatmeal coffee stout, Black House.

Being both a coffee & beer geek, I adore coffee stouts, but many of the best are night-enders. As you’re undoubtedly aware, our year round beers will be packaged in four packs of shockingly handsome 16oz. cans, a size and quantity that lends itself to drinking higher volumes of more modest-strength beers.

So our challenge with Black House—and most of our year round beers, really—is to provide a similar experience as the sledgehammers of the coffee stout universe, without the accompanying requirement that one exit the bar in a wheelbarrow.

This task began successfully enough: the very first batch Mike sent me was quite good, and the second was most of the way there.

We ran into trouble with the third, however, when we switched the base malt from Maris Otter to the standard Pale Malt that will one day fill Modern Times’ silo. Different base malts in oft-made beers mean lots of manual labor and significant additional cost, so it’s better avoided if possible. Our goal is to keep things reasonably efficient without sacrificing quality, so we made some adjustments and figured we’d compensated for the difference.

Lo-and-behold, we did not compensate enough. A beer that used to taste and smell like a chocolate covered espresso bean suddenly became a bit bland, with none of the doughy malt flavor that supported the rest of the beers’ flavor profile. A humbling tribute to the power of Maris Otter, it was.

So for our fourth attempt, we tried to reclaim the original flavor profile while maintaining the Pale Malt base by adding additional specialty malts. We essentially took three approaches to imitating Marris Otter: biscuit, crystal, and Caramunich. Alex and I brewed three separate, consecutive batches to test the competing approaches to this problem.

None quite did the job, but biscuit turned out to be the most promising of the lot. The biscuit version was closer to the chocolate covered espresso bean profile than the other two, which featured too much dark fruit and astringency, respectively.

Another key factor in Black House is the coffee addition, which didn’t quite work out in any of the three. We’ve been adding ground coffee in a hop sock for 24 hours right before packaging. I favor this approach because it seems to impart more aroma than other methods, which makes sense considering that it’s essentially the same approach we take to dry hopping.

As you may know, we’ll be roasting the coffee ourselves, and it is here that our learning curve is substantially steeper than it is with beer. I’ve been a homebrewer for 7 years, but I’ve only been roasting coffee for about one year. Something we learned from the subdued coffee profile from all three of these versions of Black House is that one cannot roast coffee beans for beer the same way one does for prepared coffee. It turns out that beer requires a significantly darker roast than most coffee aficionados would desire in a cup.

Light roasts allow the origin and varietal character of the coffee to express itself in the cup, while dark roasts make everything taste like char. Beer—being a mix of sugar, alcohol, water, and a million other things—requires a different approach. Darker roasts seem to translate much better in beer than do lighter roasts, which come across as muted and excessively fruity or acidic. While there’s a time & place for everything, Black House isn’t it for a light roast.

So for the next batch we’re going to increase the portion of Sumatra in our Sumatra/Ethiopia blend and roast a bit darker. Not anything so debased as a French Roast, but a little darker than we’d normally drink.

Alright, thanks for hanging with me through all that. I’d love to hear about your own experiences with oatmeal stouts and coffee additions. We’re brewing two more versions of  Black House tomorrow as part of our continuing effort to recapture the magic, so your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Next up for the blog: Lomaland saison, which recently went through several more rounds of adjustments. 


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