It was with some chagrin across Oregon that The Commons Brewery, the southeast-Portland outfit that specialized in delicate, Belgian-influenced ales, closed to the public after a seven-year run. (Sean Burke, its former head brewer, now runs brew operations at Von Ebert Brewing, the Pearl District-based brewpub that will replace Fat Head's.)
The Commons does still exist, but for now, its primary business is being landlord to the SE Belmont Street warehouse building it owns. That building, as of a couple weeks ago, is now occupied by Modern Times Beer, a San Diego-based operation rapidly expanding its footprint across the West. While the loss of The Commons still stings, one has the feeling that all will be forgiven before very long.
Modern Times was founded by Jacob McKean, a longtime homebrewer and former Stone Brewing Company. employee who launched in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego in 2013, with the assistance of some $65,000 in Kickstarter pledges. "We focus (non-monogamously) on aroma-driven, complex, flavorful, sessionish beers," McKean says. "We often brew hybrid styles, combining the features we like from established categories to create new, Island-Of-Doctor-Moreau-style mash-ups."
The brewery was named after the real-life Modern Times, a utopian community built on Long Island in the mid-19th Century. Walking through the "Belmont Fermentorium" in Portland makes one feel a bit like they've found their own paradise on Earth. Not much of The Commons' old and simply-furnished atmosphere remains; instead, there's a great deal more seating, loud designs on the walls, and a gigantic piñata-type thing hanging above the bar. It's a lively atmosphere, to say the least, and it's punctuated by all the swag on sale, including a selection of roasted coffee—Modern Times' other business. (The brewery has leased the adjacent warehouse on SE Belmont as well, where they intend to open a cafe, coffee roaster and a brew facility that'll let them produce cans for Pacific Northwest distribution.)
All of this would mean nothing if the beer wasn't any good, and on that point, visitors have little to worry about. The mash-up philosophy is reflected in their flagships, including Fortunate Islands, which combines IPA-style citrus hops with the firm malt background of a wheat beer, and Black House, an oatmeal coffee stout that tastes almost imperial-strength despite its 5.8 percent ABV. There are also tons of one-offs, including several hazy-IPA collaborations with Portland outfits including Great Notion Brewing and Sizzle Pie. From Ice (a pilsner) to Wizard Blend 2017 (a "power combo" mix of barrel-aged stouts), there's truly something for everyone on the tap wall—and with the upcoming production facility, more of it will reach Oregon than ever.