After months of uncertainty that followed the February announcement that it was closing 4 of its 8 brewery locations, influential West Coast brewers Modern Times have confirmed that the brand is almost certainly headed toward a sale in the near future, which could threaten the continued existence of the brand. The company believes a court-ordered receivership sale of Modern Times will happen soon, which would effectively put the company at the mercy of its new ownership, which could either continue operating the existing locations or shut them down entirely. Or as the company put it, in a message to its fans:
So, what is a receivership? It’s complicated, but it boils down to this: our bank nominates someone to oversee the sale of the Modern Times business. Once approved by the court, this nominated person, or “receiver,” will be the final word on our financial decisions for the immediate future, and in charge of the sale of the brand to interested parties. While this isn’t a comfortable position for any company to be in, a receivership should hopefully allow Modern Times to be sold as a “going concern,” as opposed to “turning off the lights” and liquidating the equipment and inventory. A going concern sale would raise the odds of the new buyer keeping our talented staff, amazing products, and renowned customer experience intact. Obviously, this is not an ideal situation, but across a field of exceedingly difficult choices, it’s the best one available and is far preferable to ceasing operations entirely. We expect this process to move swiftly. Financial situation aside, we have an amazing brand.
Obviously, this is putting a positive face on a very precarious scenario, especially for Modern Times employees, who also possess some ownership stake of the company. Their plight reflects the struggles Modern Times has experienced since at least 2019, owing to the company’s rapid expansion and focus toward “on-premise” consumption at satellite tap rooms, all of which obviously became much harder to operate effectively during the pandemic. Today, the company cites such factors as rising gas prices and supply chain issues with aluminum cans as other existential concerns.
Modern Times CEO Jennifer Briggs, meanwhile, was officially introduced to the company as recently as January of 2022, and has effectively been handed a huge mess to sort through, following original founder Jacob McKean stepping down in 2021 during an industry wide wave of accusations about sexist, racist and misogynist workplace cultures. One has to wonder whether McKean saw the coming economic stress as well, and the difficulty that Modern Times would have paying down its debt, when he hit his parachute in 2021.
Regardless, despite the positive spin, this is clearly a make-or-break moment for Modern Times, which will have to convince its new ownership that the existing business structure is still valuable and valid in the current beer scene—a prospect that would have seemed ludicrous only a few years ago, when Modern Times was widely cited as one of the most successful brewery models around. Of course, that was before they’d amassed more than $16 million in debt. For the sake of its employees, we hope Modern Times will be able to survive, and find some kind of homeostasis in the process.