Opening a Portland location was on owner Jacob McKean’s mind from the early days of operating San Diego-based Modern Times. It came to fruition when he leased a space that housed now-closed The Commons Brewery on Southeast Belmont Street. The Belmont Fermentorium, as Modern Times PDX is known, opened in late January.
“My goal was for Portland to be our second home,” McKean said. “I enjoy being involved in highly developed beer scenes. I’m a beer geek, so I like being surrounded by other beer geeks. It’s a lot more fun for me when I’m talking to others who are as passionate about the details of brewing as I am. Portland definitely offers that opportunity.”
McKean had started looking for locations in Portland last year. That’s when The Commons owner Mike Wright reached out to him. They soon signed a lease agreement, paving the way for Modern Times’ arrival in Portland.
“We expected to find a raw shell that would take 12 to 18 months to renovate and prep for business,” said McKean. “Instead, we opened three weeks after getting the keys.”
Some equipment had been left for them as part of the lease, but they brought in additional tanks that should help them reach the goal of producing 7,000 barrels in 2018 and 20,000 in 2019. Early on, only a few house beers were ready. Beers from their San Diego brewery filled the void.
Prices for the special releases trend toward the seven-dollar mark, which has raised the eyebrows of Portlanders who aren’t used to such costly pints.
“Part of the reason for the prices is production cost,” McKean noted, “Our hazy IPAs, which are popular, often consume 6 to 8 pounds of hops per barrel. The yield is typically in the 60 to 65 percent range. These beers are expensive to make.”
But production costs aren’t the only factor in Modern Times’ pricing.
“Being a good employer isn’t free,” McKean said. “We offer a $15-per-hour, take-home minimum wage to all employees, high-quality health care, paid parental leave in excess of what the law requires, unlimited paid time off, a two-month paid sabbatical after five years, equity in the company for full-time staff and a host of other unusual benefits.”
If those are the kinds of things you think more employers should offer, McKean feels like you should be prepared to pay for it.
“The craft beer industry has a reputation for being a burnout mill, with poor pay and lousy benefits being the norm. We’re trying to lead by example by showing that a more humane approach can be a victory for everyone in the industry. If our first four-and-a-half years of existence are any indication, it’s been a good approach, and one we certainly plan to stick with.”
McKean has plans for three phases of construction at Modern Times during the next couple years. Phase one is mostly completed, which included remodeling the existing tasting room, fleshing out the brewery, installing a small kitchen, building a minimart for packaged products and swag, and creating office space for employees.
Phase two, which will kick off this summer, focuses on developing the 10,000-square-foot neighboring building. They plan to construct a full kitchen for a vegan restaurant, which will include a 32-tap beer bar. The space will also house additional fermentation tanks. They hope to have the restaurant completed by late 2018. At that point, the current taproom will transition into a cafe. In line with other Modern Times’ locations, they’ll install a coffee roastery. There are plans to construct a hallway connecting the two buildings.
Phase three calls for the development of a rooftop experience. Details of that ambitious undertaking are yet to come.
The decor of the Belmont Fermentorium fits right in with the character of the city, as well as that of other Modern Times taprooms. The most eye-catching item is the 20-foot-long Macho Man pinata that hangs from the ceiling. But the other artwork is just as visually striking. The underside of the bar is decorated with colorful floppy disks. Bright wallpaper is made from pages of an Eddie Murphy graphic novel, and the web-like yarn installation that lines the bathroom hallway contains dioramas with all of your favorite ‘80s toys. Each piece is handmade, something McKean and crew work at meticulously.
Taster trays are made from cigar boxes, receipts are handed out in old cassette tape cases and all the furniture feels like it came from local vintage stores. It’s a space that’s distinct from the previous occupant, something that has sparked many to snap photos when they first walk in. •