When a small group of guys spend extensive periods of time in a closed-in space, one of two things typically occurs. Either they grow stir-crazy and find a thousand reasons to hate each other or, conversely, they become thick as thieves. Add in a bit of alcohol and the likelihood of things leaning toward either extreme increases dramatically. Fortunately for the quartet at the core of new brewery, Modern Times Beer (3725 Greenwood Street, Point Loma), long hours in the brewhouse have equated to a strong early brotherhood.
Back in February, I reported owner Jacob McKean’s hiring of a trio of well known brewers with varying but substantial levels of industry experience—Matt Walsh, Derek Freese, and Alex Tweet. Walsh is the big bro of the brew crew, bringing production brewing chops gained at Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Lost Coast Brewery and Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. Freese spent the past year-plus adjusting to professional brewing as the brewmaster at Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery in the East Village, and Tweet was known as a cask master at Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits. It would be easy for egos to collide or youth to clash with maturity, but these guys are getting along like family and, as evidenced by a recent taste of Blazing World, a bright IPA made fruity and dank with Nelson, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops, that harmony is translating to the beer they’re producing.
Last year, I had several opportunities to sample early iterations of several potential Modern Times brews. The first came during one of McKean’s intimate public tastings in the back of North Park bar Toronado in October, and the second a couple months later at the offices of Stone Brewing Co. For the most part, they didn’t really work for me. Not the end of the (blazing) world. They were first drafts and, admittedly, works in progress. Still, they didn’t inspire a ton of enthusiasm, nor did the reports of Kickstarter campaign success or the news that, before any beer had been brewed, McKean had begun house-roasting beans for customized coffee beers. I didn’t care about money or java. I, like any self-respecting craft beer fan, wanted to know about all that really matters—the beer.
So, last week, I visited McKean and company and got the scoop on all things fermented from this new biz, which will begin funneling its beers to the local market this week. The plan is for Modern Times to produce four year-round beers while leaving room in their brewing schedule for rotating specialty selections. Those brews will be mostly hybridized styles as the foursome is choosing not to let traditional style guidelines rule their recipe-building. Blazing World is a key example. Though McKean calls it an amber IPA, there is no such official style. Modern Times will also produce a wheat beer that drinks like an extra pale ale or IPA called Fortunate Islands, an IPA diversified with the addition of Brettanomyces, and a saison made using 95% Dupont yeast augmented by 5% Westmalle yeast in order to help the beer more efficiently and expeditiously finish out its fermentation.
But what about all that coffee? Forty-two pounds of a 75% Ethiopian, 25% Sumatran blend will be used to brew each batch of Black House, an oatmeal coffee stout. The fact the coffee is roasted on-site (a rarity—one can count the number of brewing companies that brown their own beans on one hand) makes for one of the better smelling breweries in all of San Diego. Patrons will be able to get a whiff when Modern Times opens its tasting room, which takes up nearly a third of the total facility’s space and will feature 16 taps, a bar with a facade fashioned from old books, chandeliers fashioned from tumbleweeds, and three walls outfitted with different artistic flair (a post-it collage, textbook pages, and a unique wallpaper fashioned from McKean’s deconstructed childhood comic book collection). That will happen in July.
On the list of longer lead items is use of the brewery’s canning line, which will be up, running, and pumping out filled 16-ounce aluminum cylinders in August. At that time, Modern Times collaborator, East Coast-based homebrewer and sour beer specialist Michael Tonsmeire (better known in beerophile circles as The Mad Fermentationist), will be in the midst of a two-month on-site consultant stint at the brewery, helping to get the business’ sour beer program going.
But that’s the future. In the here and now—modern times, if you will—consumers will see the company's beer debuting at local suds spots, often as part of special events like a flight night taking place tomorrow at Local Habit in Hillcrest, and a festival devoted to San Diego’s newer breweries called New Kids on the Block 2 on June 27 at the Handlery Hotel.