Just a day after we learned that Portland’s beloved Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. was shutting down operations, comes an even bigger set of brewery closures. Late Monday, the California-based Modern Times Beer announced a sweeping set of closures and a huge reduction in the company’s beer distribution, which will see Modern Times close 4 of its 8 brewery taproom locations and refocus its distribution solely on California and the Southwest. The announcements initially arrived via social media, as seen in the Instagram post below, with a longer blog post on the Modern Times website going into more detail on the closures. As they put it, in an extremely grave tone:
Today is the most difficult day we’ve ever had at Modern Times. Over the last two unimaginably challenging pandemic years, we’ve done everything we could to keep all of our newly-opened locations afloat in a landscape we never could have imagined when we began building them. As new leadership has stepped up and taken the helm over the last few weeks, it became clear that the financial state of the company that we are now tasked with directing is not just unsustainable, but in immediate and unavoidable peril. As a result of this, we are forced to make some incredibly hard choices, which—while necessary for the health and continued success of our company—will result in many of our talented, hardworking staff losing their jobs. As of the end of this week, we will be closing our Portland, Oakland, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles locations.
The above quote makes reference to some of the upheaval that was already plaguing Modern Times before the closures were ever announced—it’s been only a month, in fact, since the company introduced new CEO Jennifer Briggs, who arrived after 12 years as the VP of HR and Organizational Development at New Belgium Brewing. She replaced founder and original CEO Jacob McKean, a Stone Brewing alum who founded Modern Times in 2013 and stepped down in 2021. after an industry wide spate of accusations about sexist, toxic and racist workplace cultures. The closure statement suggests that the dire financial straits the company is facing weren’t fully understood until this new CEO came onboard, saying the following:
We truly wish things had turned out differently—in so many ways—but as a new leadership team faced with the choice between immediate action and dire consequences, we have chosen to do what we must to ensure a future for Modern Times, though it comes at a high cost. We’ve arrived at this current moment as the result of a combination of factors: four straight years of rapid, costly expansion followed by an unforeseen and financially devastating global health crisis, and an industry-wide decline in sales. Taken together, these factors have stretched our finances and company culture to a point that is simply no longer sustainable.
The “costly expansion” referenced always made some investors wary of Modern Times, and there were always accusations that the company was expanding too fast or spreading itself too thin, long before they were operating 8 brightly colored taprooms adorned in the trappings of 1990s pop culture. Back in 2019, cracks arguably began to show in the foundation when the company announced it was looking for equity investors among its consumers via crowdfunding company wefunder, though Jacob McKean still maintained majority ownership. And keep in mind, this crowdfunding was happening before the arrival of a two-year viral pandemic, and the widespread allegations of a toxic workplace culture.
In the meantime, Modern Times locations in Point Loma, North Park, Encinitas and Anaheim will remain open and operating as usual, but the company’s announcement also makes it clear that the brewery’s distribution footprint is shrinking significantly, pulling out of the Pacific Northwest and East Coast at the very least. They haven’t stated specifically what states will be in the new distribution footprint, only that “we will be turning our distribution and hospitality efforts back to Southern California and the Southwest as we do everything we can to step away from the opacity and unanchored optimism of the past and build a smaller, smarter, more focused and more equitable company for the future.”
For fans of Modern Times, this will no doubt be a blow, just as it will be to the employees of four different brewery locations who will now be out of work. For a company that has often embodied “modern” beer culture, flavors and design since its founding in 2013, this latest twist is sadly par for the course in the way it highlights so many of the challenges facing the beer (and craft beer) industry in 2022.
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