Modern Times PDX
It only took me two and a half months to get into the new Belmont Fermentorium Modern Times set up in the old Commons space. [Obligatory excuses here.] Since I am the last Portlander to visit, there’s no point in doing a big review, but I will offer some thoughts.
I can’t recall the last time a brewery came freighted with such high expectations and—what?—existential soul-searching? It’s not enough that The Commons is out, but a San Diego brewery has moved in. Portland has long had a rivalry with San Diego, and a largely joshing rivalry to our friends to the south. And, sure enough, Modern Times brought a lot of color, glitz, and California cool with them—exactly what causes Portlanders to squirm.
I’ve heard reports of twee decorations, mobs of millennials, over-hyped and over-priced beer, and I have been a little anxious to visit (which had nothing to do with my delay). But you know what? It’s both more and less than I expected, in all the right ways.
The space has not been much reformed from the Commons days, which made me feel instantly warm about the place. The decorations are light-hearted and fun—and honestly, really Portlandish. If this were a new brewery opened by locals, it would get immediately tagged as a signature totem of Portlandia. It’s brightly-colored and funky, but all wrapped up inside a great building with the sounds and smells of brewing beer. (The boil was starting as I was leaving and it smelled so good I almost turned around and go another pint.)
The stylings are retro-cool, with a big focus on the 70s and 80s. Look closely and you’ll see the the front of the bar, with a boxy fractal pattern, is actually made of old computer floppy disks. There’s an already-famous hallway filled with 70s-style string art, but I was more fascinated by the little dioramas built in vintage appliance cases that were nestled in the string webs. One, I discovered looking closely, had the California Raisins, which is an absolutely wonderful tip of the cap to the new city. It was at Will Vinton studios, of course, where they were animated in the 80s.
I can’t speak too much about the beer, given the small sample size. I had just three: Lomaland (a saison), Metabaron (a hazy IPA), and Ice, their pilsner. The IPA didn’t float my boat (too sweet and heavy, but backed by a grating pithiness), but there were three other hazies, so I’ll need to dig further. The saison was described as rustic but was in fact very clean and sparkling. The yeast character was somewhat subdued, which made it wonderfully sessionable. Maybe not quite in Urban Farmhouse’s league, but I’m putting it on my future short list, especially on warm days. The real winner was described with Californian enthusiasm as a “crushable pilsner,” but it’s actually far better than that. It begins with a beguiling whiff of sulfur on the nose, and has delicate but flavorful malt, pretty zippy hopping, and a crisp, dry finish. A wonderful beer.
(The pricing, about which there was some grumbling, was reasonable. Modern Times has moved to a scheme I’ve often favored, with differential pricing based on the beer. A pint of hazy IPA will set you back $7.50, but the Lomaland and Ice are just $5.50. The half-pint prices are reasonable enough to encourage sampling—as I did.)
I went in apprehensive that I’d find an aggressively hip place serving overhyped beer. Instead, what I found was a fun, homey brewery that has excellent underhyped classic beers, along with intriguing experiments and lots of IPAs. A great pilsner and saison? If Modern Times wanted to impress me, that was the way to do it. It’s definitely going to join my regular rotation.