Modern Times: Two Years of Great Beers

First, let me say this: I am an unabashed fan of Modern Times Brewery and any attempts to be completely objective about their birthday party will likely fall short. I went to their Second Anniversary Soirée over the weekend and had a fantastic time. On Sunday, I arrived at the brewery (also known as the Lomaland Fermentorium) at noon for session three of the four-part bonanza. I was able to secure one of the few seats available at the bar and ordered a beer I had been eyeing on the taplist for a while. It was a Berliner Weisse with peaches added, and before I could take my first sip, the Talking Heads song “This Must Be the Place” started playing over the speakers. I knew then it was going to be an awesome Sunday afternoon. That first beer set the tone nicely: it was a bit tart, refreshing, and had some mouthwatering juiciness from the added peaches. The Dancing Plague (as it was called) left me wanting more, which was perfect because I had nine more beer tickets attached to my entry wristband.

Just in time for me to order a second taster, my friend Mike arrived and wasted no time asking for the Anniversary IPA. I stayed with another low-alcohol beer and tried the Blanc on Blanc on Blanc, a Pale Ale hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Nelson Sauvin hops, which each carry pleasant light and tropical fruit notes. The goal of this beer is to emulate white wine characteristics, and I’m sure it would have attracted quite a few Real Housewives and divorcées, had there been any present at the brewery. I didn’t love this beer initially, but revisited it at the end of the day and it was actually my second favorite of the afternoon. With Mike able to hold down the fort at the coveted bar seat, I was free to wander around a little bit with my third beer, the Anniversary IPA that my cohort was so eager to try.

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This Geofilter Seemed to Fit the Mood

If you’ve never been to the Lomaland Fermentorium, you really should. I’m confident that it’s the only active brewery in the world that has one wall decorated with a Post-It note mosaic of Michael Jackson and Bubbles and the opposite wallpapered with comic books. The bar itself is made of old hardcover books and topped with marble, and the rest of the tasting area looks like a minimalist vintage store. All of the bartenders were knowledgeable and quick to ask a brewer if I asked a really specific question (I did). In addition to the beer, the party also had a Louisiana cuisine food truck out front, unlimited free pours of Modern Times coffee (yes, they are also coffee roasters), and free savory Kind Bars, which were unusual but tasty. Lastly, the Anniversary Soirée served as a bottle release for the Monsters’ Park Imperial Stout variants that had been aged in 10 and 12 year old bourbon barrels. The 12 year version was sold out by the time I arrived but I happily snagged a bottle of the 10 year from the merchandise booth.

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Monsters Playground – So Fun, Its Scary

After milling about, I did what I came there to do and tasted the rare offerings without interruption. Of the various wine-grape-infused saisons on tap, I loved the color and the nose of the Funky Universal Friend with Pinot Noir, but found the taste a bit lacking, and had the opposite experience with the Zinfandel Must Brett Saison, which sadly lacked a proper name. My sixth beer was the one I was most excited about and the main reason I bought a ticket to the third session, as it was the only one to feature Monsters’ Playground, a sour stout conditioned on citrus. It was phenomenal. The aroma was orange and orange rind with a hint of chocolate, similar to those chocolate oranges that I always see but never purchase. The first wave of flavor was a distinct sour tartness that slowly revealed its roasty undertones, followed by lime juice. The back-palate was all orange and left a tart flavor that did not dissipate until long after swallowing. I loved every one of Modern Times’ sour beers from their first release last December and this sour stout proved that they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to those tart, microbial beers we all love so much.

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To Quote the Poet Ice Cube: It Was a Good Day

They had a few beers I decided not to try in order to revisit my favorites, which were the Dancing Plague with Peaches, Blanc on Blanc on Blanc, and of course, another pour of Monsters’ Playground. I keep a list of every beer I’ve had, as long as I’ve enjoyed six ounces or more, and these tasters wouldn’t have qualified unless I had two of each of them. I know it’s slightly ridiculous but I wasn’t going to bend the rules after 1,150 beers. After finishing all ten of my tasters and feeling immensely satisfied, I decided to try some of Modern Times’ cold brew coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker at all; in fact, I’ve only paid for a cup of coffee once in my life, and that was at a coffee shop that literally did not have anything other than coffee to drink. These cold cups of joe, however, were on the house, so I figured I should at least see what Modern Times was up to when they’re not turning water, hops, barley, and yeast into happiness. Of their two blends, I preferred their Secret Beach summer blend to the standard Black House, as it was a little bit lighter in body and had some fruit notes that surprised me. Maybe one day I’ll start drinking coffee and start picking up on the nuances of it, like I do for other beverages. Until then, I’m going to use that money for beer and the anniversary celebrations of the wonderful people who brew it.

SARA: More than just a great Fleetwood Mac song

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, or SARA, is a small brewery in Capitola, CA, that makes some of the most sought after beers in the United States, with the beer trading community ravenously watching every bottle release. The reason for this is simple: they make some of the best beers in the country, or any other country for that matter. This isn’t just an opinion–according to BeerAdvocate users, their average beer rates 4.19 out of 5, behind only a handful of breweries like Cantillon and Hill Farmstead. While some could argue ratings are skewed, inflated, or otherwise flawed, it’s hard to argue with the notion that what’s brewed at SARA is nothing short of exceptional.

We all Grin for Lupulin

One of these things is beautiful…

I sojourned north to the Bay Area for a long weekend in which I would be pouring wine for an open house event at my friend’s winery in Sonoma on Saturday and Sunday. This left my Friday wide open to take the trip to Santa Cruz I’d always wanted. In the morning at Bluxome Street Winery (where my brother is the Cellar Master and I worked last Fall during harvest), I collected an empty growler, Ty (the associate winemaker), and my aforementioned brother, Kyle, and hit the road. The roads were clear and with an hour to kill before Sante Adairius opened, we stopped at a restaurant in Santa Cruz called “burger.” for, you guessed it, burgers and beers to whet our appetite. The burgers were nearly as awesome as their beer list, and I tried a double IPA from a local brewery called Hop Dogma. That beer (We All Grin for Lupulin) was an unfiltered hop bomb with no shyness about showcasing the citrus fruit flavors and aromas we’ve come to expect from West Coast IPA’s and Double IPA’s. As an added bonus, they give you a celebrity mugshot instead of a number when you order. It’s fun. After lunch, and a short drive down the scenic West Cliff in Santa Cruz, we were finally heading to Capitola.

Arriving just after the brewery opened, we had plenty of time to soak in the environment without other people there. It’s kind of surreal to know that in that moment, we could have been the only three people in the world drinking Sante Adairius beers. With such limited bottle releases, it being noon on a weekday, and their virtual lack of keg distribution, this definitely wasn’t unthinkable and made me feel rather privileged, to be honest. I had a two ounce pour of their most well-known beer, West Ashley, a sour saison with apricots, a few months ago at the Shelton Brothers Festival and was really impressed. It goes without saying that the experience set the bar rather high for my expectations, but the first whiff of their four grain saison, Little Quibble, assuaged any hesitation that I might be let down. It smelled of banana chips and toasted oats, and even though Kyle and Ty didn’t agree with me, I smelled lanolin as well. The flavor was malty, spicy, and yeasty, typical of a saison, with a hint of the banana found in the aroma. Light in color and body, this saison was incredibly complex for its drinkability. In addition to the tasting notes I have here, there were plenty of other aromas and flavors I couldn’t pin down, and I think that’s a good thing.

Little Quibble

Complexity gives beer character, and while I can appreciate beers that do a single thing really well, it’s far more interesting to me to drink something that’s not easy to unpack and figure out right away. It’s the reason a brewery like Jester King eschewed only using hermetically-sealed yeasts made in a lab for the ones floating around their farmhouse in Austin. To do things completely by the books is often safe, but it’s rarely interesting. Native yeasts impart nuance and originality to beers, making them unlike other beers of the same style or even offering variation from batch to batch. Subtlety is often lost in an era dominated by Double IPA’s and Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts, but is something to be appreciated. Flavor doesn’t always have to punch you in the tongue to be awesome. In wine, the same thing often happens when people refuse to drink reds that aren’t big, bold tannin assaults or won’t drink white wine because they “might as well drink water.” I use direct quotes because someone told me this once–someone who will never appreciate the beauty of a delicate Chablis or light-bodied red wine from a thin-skinned varietal. To me, this is nearly as sad as it is frustrating; if these people dug a little deeper, they’d probably like what they found. But back to beer, and the people who acknowledge a finely-crafted one.

After the saison, I switched gears to the 831 West Coast IPA. It poured a golden, hazy, almost orange color with white grape and tropical fruit notes begging to get out, with light but noticeable honey undertones. The flavor of this IPA complemented the aroma, with juicy citrus and hop dankness on the palate. It finished cleanly with a lingering bitterness that left me wanting another sip. I was really pleased to see how well Sante Adairius handled such radically different styles, and that pleasantness extended the my next beer, Brandy Palimpsest, a Flanders Red Ale aged in brandy barrels. Flanders Red Ales were the first sour beers I encountered and remain one of my favorite styles. This beer further entrenched me in that philosophy. The aroma was mainly honey and molasses, with a bit of tart funkiness, but not much. I was amazed at how much sweetness the brandy barrels imparted, with the flavor seeming full of honey, but with detectable sarsaparilla and pluot. I was happy to arrive at pluot after a few moments of thinking out loud; oftentimes it can feel silly or like guesswork describing a beer (or wine), but the “A-ha!” moments like this make it worth it. Being a sour beer, the Brandy Palimpsest had delicious tartness and a mouth-watering juiciness to it as well, with no discernible alcohol. In case you are curious (like I was), a palimpsest is a scroll or piece of parchment that has been washed of ink so it may be reused, much like the wine barrels Sante Adairius repurposes to hold beer.

Brandy Palimpsest: Hard to Say, Fun to Drink

After this, I didn’t order more beer because we planned on wine tasting at two or threes wineries after visiting the brewery. I did, however, enjoy multiple sips from Kyle and Ty’s beers, the Human Kindness milk stout and Vanilla Joe porter with local coffee and vanilla. We all agreed that Vanilla Joe was a truly exceptional porter full of depth, with a flavor that we described as undulating because it moved from roasted barley, to sweet vanilla, to roasted coffee, with a hearty finish and a vanilla aftertaste. I enjoyed the tasting room’s atmosphere more as I knew our time there was fleeting. The natural wood tables and bar help to emphasize the “Rustic” aspect of the name, and the empty bottles of other amazing beers that line the bar and the shelves let you know that they are serious about quality beer. There was a dog named Rooster who was running around the tasting room and the parking lot outside, occasionally letting us pet him. I was actually left with the same feeling that I get when I finish a really good book, which can best be described as “that was perfect and now I’m happy to be alive.” Not a lot of places can offer that experience, but if you want to know what it feels like and don’t feel like reading East of Eden, just take a trip to Capitola.