A Trip to Modern Times

It’s been a little over two years since the Modern Times brewery launch in San Diego.  From the start, we’ve been involved in many single barrel, barrel-aged beer collaborations with the brewery, as they always turn out exceptional and sell out instantaneously, but over the past two years Modern Times’ popularity has skyrocketed. As a result, they are expanding rapidly.  It seemed it was about time we paid them a visit, so I headed down to San Diego yesterday to meet with Jacob McKean at the brewery. Jacob, a native Angeleno, was an avid home brewer when he decided he wanted to make beer his career.  He moved to San Diego to work for Stone Brewing Co., and a few years later started Modern Times with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013.  He’ll admit, even he didn’t envision his Kickstarter campaign becoming what it is today. When I arrived at the brewery, there were sounds of construction everywhere. Jacob showed me around the facility and spoke about the coming changes both structurally and creatively.

Modern Times has been a big hit in our K&L beer department, especially up north where their distribution isn't nearly as widespread. By receiving deliveries to our Hollywood store and transferring them on our weekly van run, we've been able to introduce the beers to our Silicon Valley and San Francisco customers who have been drinking them with reckless abandon. Our spirits department has also added to the equation, donating empty whiskey barrels to the brewery in which Modern Times has aged a variety of beers (I noticed a few K&L whiskey selections on the shelf while there). To keep up with their growing demand in California (they don’t yet distribute to any other states yet), they are putting in additional fermenters and a new canning line. Jacob says the new canning line will be a welcome relief to their current set-up, which is not efficient enough anymore for their growing production. They have also finally constructed a proper office which went from a small, cramped break room of about seven people trying to maneuver around each other, to a sleek quiet office space equipped with Modern Times and kombucha on tap. All of these changes will allow Modern Times to double their production next year.    

There are also a lot of creative changes happening. Modern Times just opened up a barrel aging facility, where they are experimenting more with barrel-aged sours. Jacob has been getting red wine barrels from an esteemed California producer that focuses on Rhone varietals. Jacob then ages his beer in these casks with all the lees still in the barrel, resulting in a super cool expression with ultra-concentrated flavor. Jacob also spoke about their experiments with single varietal hops, special seasonal beers, and even 100% Brettanomyces fermentation. I had a chance to taste the “Neverwhere,” a 100% Brett IPA. This Brett beer wasn’t what I expected. Instead of barnyard, funk, and hay, I found aromatic tropical fruits. It was well balanced and extremely refreshing. Jacob and his team found that when they fermented beer using only brettanomyces, as oppose to a the normal mixture of both saccharomyces and brettanomyces, the flavors showcase clean fruit and lean away from funk and sour qualities. But beer isn’t the only thing Modern Times is experimenting with.

Modern Times are also coffee roasters—serious coffee roasters. When they realized they would have to purchase coffee in high quantity for their beer, they decided to roast it themselves. Ever since then, they have been purchasing the highest quality beans, mainly from Africa and Brazil, and expertly roasting them on-site.  Their house blend scored a 94 from the prestigious Coffee Review. Oh, and they are one of few, if any, breweries experimenting with barrel aging green coffee beans that will later go into their beer resulting in beers with beautiful vanilla aromatics.  Like its sudsy counterpart, Modern Times’ coffee popularity is soaring. This has allowed Jacob and the team to buy a top of the line roaster, and build a new room for their roasting and packaging. They showed me every step of their brewing process, from milling to packaging,  and were incredibly hospitable and welcoming.  We can’t wait for Modern Times to open their new location, in Jacob’s native Los Angeles, so we can frequent the brewery more than once a year. 

-Olivia Ragni