Modern Times – Fortunate Islands

Living on the CT side of the CT-NY state line affords me the opportunity to sample beers that are distributed in both states. Some great beers from New England Brewing Co. (G-Bot & Sea Hag) don’t yet make their way into NY, and others like Cigar City’s Jai Alai out of Florida don’t distribute further into the Northeast than NY. One of the beers that falls into the latter category is Modern Times Beer out of San Diego, which I’ve heard a lot about but had yet to try. It wasn’t until recently that they showed up in my go-to NY bottle shop.  After passing it over when I first came across a store stocking a limited variety, I picked up a 4-pack of their Fortunate Islands as my first in a year-long series of weekly beer reviews.

First, the vitals:

  • Style: American Wheat (BJCP 2015 – 1D)
  • ABV: 5%
  • IBU: 46 (can), 30 (website)
  • Color: 4 SRM
  • Hops: Citra, Amarillo (can)
  • Malt: Two row, Wheat, Caravienna, Acid Malt
  • Cost: $12.99/4pk*

Working for a packaging design firm, my first observation is the can, which is nicely printed in a clean, retro design that extends nicely across the Modern Times lineup.  The name of the beer (Fortunate Islands) takes a back moderntimesfortunateislandsseat to the brewery name’s prominent placement, making it a little tricky to identify the beer’s name and style at first. But once you know what you’re looking at, it works.

The beer pours a golden straw color into my American Pokal glass and shows only a hint of white head made up of medium sized bubbles that quickly die as I take a couple pictures. It’s bright and nearly clear with tiny bubbles rising up from the bottom of the glass…my ballpark estimate of 2.5+ volumes of carbonation is validated by the recommended levels for this style. In addition to the clarity, the smell instantly tells me that this is pushing the boundaries of the wheat category. The aroma is one of fruity hops, much closer to an IPA than a wheat, and my first sip confirms this. The bitterness comes through instantly and is accompanied by a punch of hoppy flavors that lean much more to the fruity end of the spectrum than the piney, which only came through a little bit after warming in my hands. The can describes the flavor as tropical, and I can’t argue with that. My taste buds are not world class, but the flavor of the Citra hops dominate on my pallet and remind me of PipeworksBrewing ‘Lil Citra all-Citra session IPA that I had earlier in the week. The can and website also list Amarillo in this recipe. Both Citra and Amarillo contribute to the big puckering grapefruit taste, but none of the other individual aromas and flavors of these hops (melon, lemon, lime, passion fruit) stand out to me. Instead, they meld to form a nice, fresh, fruity aroma and taste that give way to a huge punch of grapefruit with a slight piney tail end.  The dry finish (FG stated as 1.008, the low end of the vitals according to BJCP) allow the hops (well above the high end of 30 IBUs according the same guide) to be front and center in this beer. A brewer might target an IBU/OG ratio of 0.4 for this style; Fortunate Islands comes in at nearly 1, and the result is evident.  The 2-row, wheat, and yeast (listed as the flavor-neutral Wyeast 1056 in the homebrew recipe) definitely take a back seat.

For comparison, I poured a bottle of Goose Island 312 UrbanWheat, the standard American Wheat in my book. Both lack any significant head retention and show only slight lacing as I drink them down, but the 312 is noticeably hazier (although not cloudy like a German wheat beer), significantly less bitter, and has a much softer mouth feel and prominent wheat flavor than the Modern Times. If one goes by the style guide, the 312 (added in the 2015 edition as a commercial example of the style) is a much better example. I’m in the camp of brewing delicious beer, style guide be damned, and Modern Times wins this competition hands down.

While Fortunate Islands lacks all of the attributes I would expect from an American Wheat (soft mouth feel, grainy or wheat flavor, a balanced bittering profile, and low hop flavor), it’s a very good beer, is well brewed as exemplified by the clean flavor and bittering, and leaves no doubt in my mind that the folks at Modern Times know what they’re doing. Everything except the grain bill tells me that this is a session IPA, so I’d describe this as a “West Coast American Wheat,” very much in keeping to the beers I’ve come to expect from San Diego.  I’ll definitely be stocking my beer fridge with Modern Times – it’s got the badge value of a new entry into the market, and I’m excited to share this find with friends.

JK’s Rating – 4 out of 6



*note: I plan on including the cost of the beer as a reference point because, for me anyway, this is a pretty important factor when buying beer.


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