News Modern Times to Open Portland Location in Space Occupied by The Commons

Discussion in 'Beer News & Releases' started by Rebecca, Sep 1, 2017.

  1. Rebecca

    Rebecca Associate Editor (498) Jun 28, 2012 Maryland

    On January 1, 2018, Modern Times Beer will be the new tenants of 630 SE Belmont Street in Portland, Ore., and will call the space The Belmont Fermentorium. It will be the San Diego-based brewery’s fourth location (a research-focused facility will open in Los Angeles before the end of 2016), and its first outside of Southern California.

    Modern Times has agreed to lease the space from Mike Wright, founder of The Commons Brewery, which will vacate the 10,000-square-foot building it has occupied since 2015.

    “I need to pause here to make very clear what is not happening: we are not acquiring The Commons,” said Modern Times founder and CEO Jacob McKean in a statement, noting that the location will be closed for about a month to bring in new equipment, redecorate, and double the number of taps in the tasting room. “After we re-open—with a suitable celebration—The Belmont Fermentorium will begin producing all of the Modern Times draft beer for distribution in the Pacific Northwest.”

    Additionally, Modern Times has signed a 10-year lease on the neighboring building, which will serve as a packaging facility and extra production space after undergoing extensive renovations. Once complete, the combined renovated spaces will add 20,000 barrels to Modern Times’ production capacity, bringing the company’s total potential annual output to roughly 60,000 barrels.

    As for The Commons, its future is uncertain. “At the end of this year we will shut down operations on SE Belmont and vacate the building,” Wright confirmed via email, citing two years of declining cash flow and stressing the possibility of a permanent closure. Head brewer Sean Burke suddenly left the company earlier this summer. “I am motivated to find a pathway forward for The Commons, but that’s not yet clear.” The brewery, which has focused primarily on farmhouse-style ales since opening in 2011 and has won eight medals at The Great American Beer Festival, will continue to pour beer at its tasting room in the short-term. According to Wright, a barrel-aged collaboration with Modern Times is also “tasting good and very well may get packaged soon.”

    Full statement from Jacob McKean:

    First, a little background. I’ve loved the city of Portland for a long, long time. I’ve been visiting regularly for well over a decade, and I gave serious consideration to starting Modern Times in PDX. I ultimately decided to stay in San Diego, where my roots in the brewing scene were deepest, but I never gave up on the dream of building something in Portland. I love so much of what Portland stands for: the kickass food and drink scene—of course—but also the bike culture, the appreciation of good design, the ubiquity of Secret Aardvark, the progressiveness, and much, much more.
    Once it became clear that Modern Times was going to be a success, I began giving some thought to how we would grow. And what I decided then—which I’ve been telling people openly for years—is that I’m not interested in building a giant new brewery in some dreary suburban industrial park here in San Diego. It’s not my jam for a whole host of reasons. So what I decided we would do instead is build another location like the Lomaland Fermentorium somewhere else: a place that functions as both a production brewery and a neighborhood hangout. And that “somewhere else” for me was always going to be Portland.
    I knew that was going to be the plan well before I was able to act on it. It’s been something of an open secret within Modern Times from the beginning, in fact. Even before we started distributing in Portland, we scheduled collaboration brews there, both to deepen our relationships with brewers we admire and to give ourselves a business excuse to visit a city we love.
    Since we’ve started distributing in the PNW, we’ve been blown away by the acceptance and warm welcome we’ve received from beer drinkers and brewers alike. I was given no shortage of warnings about how difficult it would be for an out of town brewery to succeed in Portland, but I always felt like we had a chance to be the exception to the rule. And thus far, that has indeed been the case, which is incredibly heartening and has reaffirmed my feeling that the second Modern Times production location should be there.
    So, with an eye towards finding a space that could be leased and built-out in time for a 2019 opening, we started working with a real estate broker. He began sending us raw spaces, which would have required over a year to build-out, which is what we expected going into this.
    But after we’d begun the search, I got an email from Mike Wright, who owns The Commons and the 10,000 sq ft building on Belmont that the brewery occupies. We’ve collaborated twice with The Commons and developed a close bond with them. Hell, even before the collabs, when Modern Times was just a tiny start-up, I got an incredibly gracious email from Mike saying that he’d had a chance to try a can of Lomaland and that he was extremely impressed. As an insanely stressed-out new business owner who looked up to The Commons in a big way, that email meant a great deal to me.
    When Mike contacted me earlier this year, he let me know that the current space wasn’t working well for their operation and asked if I was interested in leasing the space. It pretty quickly became clear to me that this was something we should do. It filled a real need for Modern Times—we’re capacity constrained, in part due to our success in the Pacific Northwest—while helping out a friend of the brewery who had shown us support and solidarity along the way. Just recently, we officially signed a lease on the space.
    I need to pause here to make very clear what is not happening: we are not acquiring The Commons. The Commons is vacating their space, and Modern Times is leasing the space from Mike, the building’s owner. I realize this key point will probably get butchered in the telling and retelling of this news, but at least I did my best to make it clear.
    So, what does this mean for Modern Times? It means that on January 1st, 2018, we will be the new tenants of 630 SE Belmont St, which we’ve dubbed The Belmont Fermentorium. We plan to close for about a month, while we bring in new equipment and add some of our distinctive art installations to the tasting room. After we re-open—with a suitable celebration—The Belmont Fermentorium will begin producing all of the Modern Times draft beer for distribution in the Pacific Northwest. First year capacity should be around 7,000bbls.
    Obviously, this will mean even fresher, better, locally-brewed draft beer for all of our fans in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The tasting room will serve the greatest hits brewed on-site, in San Diego, and at our forthcoming R&D brewery in Los Angeles (which will open before the end of the year.) The Belmont Fermentorium will also function as a pick-up location for The League of Partygoers & Elegant People.
    Additionally, we’ve signed a lease on the neighboring building (600 SE Belmont), which is a 10,000 sq ft raw shell (the same size as 630 SE Belmont.) This space will take at least a year to renovate, but once it’s complete, it will house a packaging hall and tank farm, which will allow us to brew and package all canned beer for PNW distribution. Final capacity for combined spaces should be around 20,000bbls. Once 600 SE Belmont opens, we also plan to add a coffee roaster and café, along with a full food set-up. It should be pretty radical.
    Alrighty, that’s it for now. We’re incredibly excited to be coming to Portland, and we’re so looking forward to becoming a pillar of the local brewing community in a city we love so dearly.

    Full statement from Mike Wright:

    The tiny project (Beetje) born out of my garage 2010 that morphed into The Commons Brewery in 2011 has been an exciting journey far exceeding my expectations. I’m proud of our ability to make interesting and well executed beer, and feel very lucky to have played a small part in developing a group of idealistic, passionate and sincere people into widely respected members of the brewing community. I’m not ready to write the last chapter in this book yet, but this is definitely a defining moment for The Commons.
    After 2 years of lagging sales and battling cash flow, I have had to make some very uncomfortable decisions. At the end of this year we will shut down operations on SE Belmont and vacate the building. I have leased the building to Modern Times who will operate out of the space. The Commons has not been sold.

    What Happened?
    Unfortunately, this is a classic small business cash flow story. Sure, there is plenty of industry nuance and hindsight that can be evaluated, but this boiled down to simple debits and credits. That’s the sinister simplicity of a cash flow problem. Your debt is clearly defined, but revenue is a rollercoaster. The belief was that we’d eventually break out and get past those challenges. We did not.

    What’s Next?
    I am motivated to find a pathway forward for The Commons, but that’s not yet clear and I don’t want to make any claims that I cannot follow through on.
    In the near term we are still making delicious beer, and pouring it from the 12 taps in our tasting room. Galaxy Myrtle, fresh hop Myrtle and Raspberry Lime Ricky are in the tank. Oneoff saisons like Country Drive (Allegory Collab), Saison Quest (Level Collab) are pouring now. Flemish Kiss will be available in bottles by mid September. Staples like Urban Farmhouse and Pils are tasting amazing.
    We want you all to know we appreciate the support over the years the friendships we’ve made along the way are sincere and will carry forward. We’d love to see you in the tasting room to talk about beer, or the Blazers/Timbers, or the sweet hike you just got back from. I hope to offer another chapter sometime in the future.
  2. FBarber

    FBarber Poo-Bah (2,421) Mar 5, 2016 Illinois
    Premium Member Beer Trader

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  3. astroevan

    astroevan Initiate (134) Apr 9, 2008 South Carolina

    That's a bummer about The Commons. They were the highlight from a PDX trip in 2015.
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  4. devilmakesthree

    devilmakesthree Disciple (359) Nov 27, 2013 Oregon

    I am heartbroken. The Commons is one of my favorite breweries in town, and I've yet to have a bad beer from them. I really enjoy Modern Times and enjoy them a great deal, but The Commons is a special place to me. I will mourn it's passing and stock up as much as I can.
  5. Oktoberfiesta

    Oktoberfiesta Disciple (306) Nov 16, 2013 New Mexico
    Beer Trader

    Can anyone explain what happened to the Commons? I want to lend some guidance to local breweries here. We can certainly learn something from them, right?

    They had a 4.5 on yelp, 4.7 on fb reviews, and pretty solid marks here as a place, and a beer average.

    Did this place can or bottle? Did they get less popular with a very narrow core lineup? Did they shoot for the stars, spent millions, and sales dropped dramatically?

    Or maybe there is an article or discussion somewhere talking about all this.

    Great news for MT though. This is like what others have done in NC but on a smaller scale. I really like this approach. I don't see how or why a place like TH or Alchemist wouldnt want to do the same. Unless hype sells.
  6. Lingenbrau

    Lingenbrau Poo-Bah (2,669) Apr 9, 2011 Oregon
    Beer Trader

    Damn right! And Pizza Port will be right behind them with any luck :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
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  7. Lingenbrau

    Lingenbrau Poo-Bah (2,669) Apr 9, 2011 Oregon
    Beer Trader

    I'm no expert on them but was familiar enough. They started small. Great beers! A couple "core" beers, Belgian style 25 oz bottles mostly, limited distribution. They moved into a bigger spot, never seemed to get big enough for their britches they should have been able to fill, sadly.
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  8. trbergman

    trbergman Defender (672) Nov 17, 2006 England

    Here's a pretty good summary from Jeff Alworth on Beervana:

    Basically, there were a number of proximate causes, but the primary one was cashflow.
  9. BeerandLoathing

    BeerandLoathing Aspirant (230) Jan 28, 2011 Oregon
    Beer Trader

    My favorite bit from that blog post:
    "But the very thing that made The Commons beloved by some--and they probably have more superfans than Deschutes--made it mysterious to most. It was the Velvet Underground of breweries, making exceptional beer most people didn't understand. Any brewery that routinely offers mild ales and microbiere (a tiny saison) but not IPA is defining themselves far outside the mainstream. The Commons spent years fielding the same question from confused patrons: "which one's the IPA?" For a time, they were absurdly guiding people to Myrtle, a saison in which astute drinkers might detect the presence of hop aroma. That was their sop to the masses.

    But a bigger problem, I think, was their failure to brag. In a state with the highest across-the-board standard for quality in the US, The Commons stood out as one of the premier breweries. I've traveled all over the US and Western Europe, and I'm here to tell you they make world-class beer. But they internalized the sense of the non-braggy Everyman--perhaps inevitable for a brewery named The Commons. Their bottled beer sent clues that it was a luxe product, but just clues. And when you went to the pub, you found beers priced at $4 and $5. A lot of the recent wave of breweries swan onto the stage with a regal sense of self regard and charge a mint for their beer, which they serve with a heap of attitude."

    I have faith Commons will live on elsewhere and I do harbor genuine love of the Velvet Underground metaphor. Lou Reed went on to a create a very storied and eclectic career even if you were to remove the Velvet Underground from his resume.

    So here's to hoping this gem of a brewery finds a second life in Portland.
  10. denver10

    denver10 Poo-Bah (2,360) Nov 17, 2010 New Mexico

    Never had their (The Commons) beer but sounds like a huge loss to Portland, to the beer world, if they are done.
  11. rgordon

    rgordon Champion (812) Apr 26, 2012 North Carolina

    You are describing sensibilities that were fought for that became mainstream. These are different days that- like every other generation- forgets how what they take for granted happened. The Grateful Dead worked hard trying to stay relevant, playing great music all the while. It's a great story. I'm not familiar with The Commons, and I wish them well. Traversing generations, artistically, is wonderful and treacherous.
  12. Oktoberfiesta

    Oktoberfiesta Disciple (306) Nov 16, 2013 New Mexico
    Beer Trader

    Thanks for the articles. So basically they were popular enough for a smaller space and tried to go larger/mainstream with their not so basic beers? I think every place has to have their core lineup beers. Heck most places that can around here or even in draft form, say that their flagship ipas account for some 60% of sales.

    Did they have core beers? Making great beers alone isn't enough. You still need an audience.

    Maybe they were untraditional to their own fault. Get one or two ipas out there and capture both crowds.
  13. sharpski

    sharpski Champion (866) Oct 11, 2010 Oregon
    Beer Trader

    They had core beers, but none of them was a Pale/IPA/DIPA. Mostly saison-focused, but lots of other styles on a one-off basis, again rarely along the IPA spectrum. Flemish Kiss is their beer I'll miss the most, it gives Orval a run for its money. As the Alworth article notes, they may have been unpretentious to a fault. I hope they return after a short hiatus (confidential to Mike: maybe consider relocating to Bend?).
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  14. TheCrimsonKing

    TheCrimsonKing Initiate (135) Jul 28, 2017 Ohio

    The Belmont Fermentorium has got to be the most "Portland" name for a brewery I've ever heard.
    maltmaster420 likes this.
  15. denver10

    denver10 Poo-Bah (2,360) Nov 17, 2010 New Mexico

    Didn't sound like being untraditional was an issue until they decided take on debt and expand. I think the fault lies in unreliable forecasting and taking on debt. Seems like with most breweries who produce quality product and get overwhelmed with debt, they sell (like Cigar City), maybe these guys are at the forefront of needing to close and not sell, whether it be owner choice, lack of a market to sell, etc.

    From what I read about these guys, if I ever were to visit Portland these guys would have been my first stop. Sucks that it didn't work out. Hopefully they resurface in a more appropriately sized and funded facility, but considering they owning leasing out their old space and not selling it I would imagine they don't have the up front cash to make that happen right now.

    ...another loan? I kid.
  16. TheRealDBCooper

    TheRealDBCooper Aspirant (209) Mar 17, 2010 Svalbard & Jan Mayen Islands
    Beer Trader

    At least they own the building in a rising market and I'm sure Modern Times lease will cash flow that. Hope they come out of it relatively clean on the balance sheet and maybe gypsy brew some beers every now and then.
    sharpski likes this.
  17. bostonwolf

    bostonwolf Aspirant (224) Jan 20, 2015 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    Just hoping they will be open at the end of the month when I get out there for vacation
  18. devilmakesthree

    devilmakesthree Disciple (359) Nov 27, 2013 Oregon

    They're planning to close up shop in December, it sounds like to me. I'm sure they'll be open when you're here. Enjoy it! It will be a rare treat.
  19. sharpski

    sharpski Champion (866) Oct 11, 2010 Oregon
    Beer Trader

    Mike's retaining the 7bbl brew system, so hopefully The Commons will resurface as more than a gypsy brewing outfit.
    66jzmstr and TheRealDBCooper like this.
  20. John_M

    John_M Moderator (6,072) Oct 25, 2003 Oregon
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    Excellent article from Mr. Alworth, and I tend to agree with that assessment. While it's a distinctly Portland characteristic and one appreciated by a lot of their fans, it's probably not the best marketing strategy to have. In a landscape where there is just so much high quality beer available, it's very easy not to get noticed, no matter how outstanding the product you're making.

    And I'm sorry, but I just can't resist quoting again my favorite portion of Mr. Alworth's article:

    "A lot of the recent wave of breweries swan onto the stage with a regal sense of self regard and charge a mint for their beer, which they serve with a heap of attitude."

    Here in PDX? Who on earth could he possibly be referring to? :sunglasses:
  21. breadwinner

    breadwinner Meyvn (1,181) Mar 6, 2014 California
    Beer Trader

    This deal b/w The Commons and Modern Times is actually a pretty interesting juxtaposition in the context of breweries that are struggling versus breweries that aren't.

    As a few others have noted, The Commons excelled in less popular (amongst the craft geek set) styles. They weren't heavy marketers. While those qualities appealed to me personally, they obviously didn't work as well with the broader market. Conversely, Modern Times has focused their offerings on IPAs, going full in on the haze craze, along with the craft geek-requisite sours and barrel-aged stouts/barleywines/etc. They're savvy marketers that don't seem to suffer from a lack of self-regard. In turn, business seems to be booming (based on all the expansion projects).

    My preferences aside, the juxtaposition above seems like one we see playing out amongst craft brewers all the time these days. I'd like to believe there's a place in the world for breweries like The Commons, brewing underrepresented styles and going about your business without much self-promotion, but surely it's got to be a harder road to follow. You'll get the occasional winner, who manages to carve out their niche and establish a following, but, if you want a successful brewery at the moment, it sure seems to me that you'd be better off cranking out the haze bombs and barrel-aged anythings.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (761) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin
    Beer Trader

    I have a ton of respect for The Commons both for their excellent beers and for not turning to selling out to escape this problem.

    They were unique in a city full of unique, and I really dug the space and everything about the brewery when I visited last year. Wish I could make it out again to hang out one more time before they close.

    I hope to see them in a different maybe more appropriately-sized capacity in the future.
    sharpski likes this.
  23. makalarch

    makalarch Aspirant (265) Jul 31, 2011 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    It sounds like while cash flow and various other reasons prevented The Commons from being successful it did have a great asset in Mike. Modern Times should hire him and let him continue to experiment up in the Portland facility. It's not like it would necessarily be out of left field for the Modern Times portfolio given all of their experimentation and their roots with The Mad Fermentationist (sorry I forgot his handle), they just also have a lineup of beers to pay the bills while allowing them to branch out.
  24. shelby415

    shelby415 Crusader (719) Oct 10, 2011 Oregon

    Like most everyone else I'm a little saddened by this. The rise from garage brewing (when they were Beetje) to that small little space to the current one was the perfect (and, yes, unpretentious) success story. I do remember being a little surprised by the big space at first- I guess because it seemed inconsistent with their humble, low-key character - and I do believe I'd have bought their packaged beer way more often if it wasn't just in 25oz bottles. But I can't think of a single beer of theirs I didn't like.

    Could they have done things differently? Who knows, but I appreciate that they stuck to their guns. Perhaps it's time for a return to their roots. Though with a 7bbl system they'll need a bigger garage.
    sharpski likes this.
  25. stevesbeer

    stevesbeer Initiate (187) May 17, 2016 Washington
    Beer Trader

    Only been a few times over the last several years, but it was like pulling teeth to get the wife to re-visit. Seating space was needed for her, and sometimes me depending on amount of breweries previously visited:grimacing: