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.


An Open Letter From Anheuser-Busch

Anheuser-Busch (AB-Inbev) ran a commercial during the Superbowl mocking craft beers, craft brewers, and craft beer drinkers. It’s clear that AB is running scared from the craft brewers who have taken a big bite out of AB’s market share. Ironically, as they attack the craft brewers they’re gobbling up small breweries left and right, with more to come if we can believe the rumors. AB is only concerned about the bottom line when they take take ownership of other brands, not about building the Anheuser-Busch or Budweiser names, as they haven’t gone out of their way to tout the purchased breweries as part of the AB-Inbev family. If they want to regain some street cred for the AB brand, this won’t work, but I think there is a way to do it.  Just for fun, here’s an imaginary open letter from AB to the beer world:

Dear Fellow Beer Lovers,

At Anheuser-Busch we work hard to make great beer, day in and day out. Our team takes pride in making the worlds best premium lager, and we’re proud of what we do and the beer we brew. Sometimes that pride can cause us to lose sight of the fact that there are other great beers out there and other brewers working as hard as we do, and we owe you an apology.

Many of you have seen our latest ad in which we made some rather shortsighted comments about the beer community. We are ready to eat a slice of humble pie (pumpkin peach humble pie) and try to make things right. We respect the hard work and creativity going into all the great beers being brewed across the country and around the world, and we love to try new beers and get creative with our brewing as much as you do. Beer should be enjoyed however you like to enjoy it, whether you are tailgating before the game or sharing a pint with some friends at the pub. It was a mistake to belittle our fellow brewers and beer lovers who appreciate the art of brewing, especially our friends at Elysian Brewing. We will be pulling this ad from the air. Please accept our humble apologies.  

While we will never stop brewing our premium American Lagers, it’s time for AB to expand our lineup. We’re good brewers and we want to share that with you by offering beers for all tastes. Going forward, AB will begin brewing other styles. We don’t know what that will be yet: maybe a classic Kolsch, a spicy Belgian, or maybe even a pumpkin peach ale. It’s time we got creative and embraced the expanding tastes of our fellow beer lovers. To show our commitment to this, we are announcing our first new beer style in over 100 years. Paying tribute to our founder, Adolphus Busch, and our love of classic lagers, this fall we will be offering Anheuser-Busch Oktoberfest. We hope that you’ll like it.

The craft beer culture has always been a friendly and collaborative scene because it’s rooted in something we all share: a love of high quality beer. There’s enough room at the table for all of us, and we hope that you’ll welcome Anheuser-Busch to the community.



Beer Trends of 2014 & 2015 Predictions

Like most, my taste in beer changes not only with the season, but also over time. As I’ve discover new styles, I’m eager to get my hands on as many different examples to develop a better understanding of the variety of flavors that make up that style. Looking back over the past few years of my beer drinking, it’s interesting that my style of choice has coincided with the macro beer trends I see in the market.

My first go-to beer was Harpoon IPA. Until then, I had been drinking mostly Coors Light but I came to really love the taste of Harpoon. More than that, I enjoyed drinking a craft beer, and I enjoyed the idea that I liked an IPA, the hoppiest beers on the market at the time (when IIPA’s weren’t the thing that they are now), not suitable for women and children. Real beer drinkers only, please. From then until about 2013, I was on the Hop Head bandwagon…Harpoon, Dogfish 90, Dogfish 120, Sam Adams.  I went through phases with most of these east coast staples before I began trying the IPAs from the smaller brewers: Green Flash, Widmer, Brooklyn, Sixpoint, and on and on. With the exception of Green Flash West Cost IPA, most of them left me disappointed.  Too hoppy, too much alcohol, & not enough maltiness.

But much like my tastes, this was (and continues to be) the macro trend in the craft beer world, with brewers pushing the hop and ABV limits on IPAs and IIPAs into IIIPA territory.  I all but stopped buying IPAs after a string of let downs and a summer of being half in the bag at 2:00 after having a few beers while cutting the grass.  It seems I wasn’t alone, because 2014 was the year of the Session IPA.  Just about every brewery from to local taproom to Jim Koch put out a session IPA last year. While my taste for hop-forward beers isn’t what it used to be, I enjoyed more than my share of these over the summer.  There were plenty from which to chose, but the Founders All Day IPA and Two Roads Lil’ Heaven top my list, with Stone Go To IPA being the disappointment of the year. I see this trend continuing in 2015, with the sessionable ABVs moving into other beers: Pale Ales, Stouts (another style where the sky’s the limit on ABV), and even wheat beers. While 2013 seemed to be a race to the highest ABVs and IBUs, 2015 might be a race to the bottom. As someone who loves to drink beer but can’t handle the alcohol like I used to, I welcome the contenders. (update: I’m already seeing session lagers and winter ales on the shelves)

The breakout style of 2014 was the Saison. A traditionally low alcohol beer (in the 2% range), it’s become another middle-of-the-ABV-road that’s crisp, refreshing, and has a big enough flavor range to accommodate a lot of competition.  While it hasn’t been a staple product of local beer stores since craft beer hit the scene, I’ve seen a lot of brewers, both big and small, add a Saison (or, at the very least, a beir de grade or their cousins, the Belgians) to their lineup. I’ve yet to brew one of these; I tried a bunch, including the Saison DuPont, but haven’t found one I love enough to brew 5 gallons of it.  I really enjoy the style, but don’t know enough about it yet to try brewing my own.

So that’s what I noticed in 2014.  As I mentioned, I think 2015 will bring more session ales across a few more styles, which I’m looking forward to.  I don’t think Saisons will take off like IPAs did, but I’m glad to see them readily available. If I were to predict another trend for 2015, I’d go with Scottish Ales.  I don’t come across many (Brooklyn Winter is one I love!), but I expect to see these, along with more English-style ales, hit the store shelves, especially given the increased demand for session beers. I visited Scotland last year and fell in love with the local ales.  I think (partly due to the Outlander TV series, which my wife has turned me onto) that everything Scotland – from tourism to clothing to beer – will gain in popularity in 2015 as much as it has in my house.   

I’ll leave you with a couple recommendations, as I hope to always be able to do:

  • Brooklyn Winter – a tasty Scottish Ale to get you through the winter
  • Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere – A farmhouse ale that, while not what I think of as a winter beer, goes great with chicken soup!