The Commons Brewery is shuttering their southeast Portland brewery and tasting room and leasing it to San Diego’s Modern Times Beer. It’s not a purchase, acquisition or takeover of The Commons Brewery as they have chosen to close the brewery and lease the space to figure out their next steps while offering Modern Times Beer a Pacific Northwest opening in their “The Belmont Fermentorium.” The building at 630 SE Belmont, along with an adjacent space at 600 SE Belmont will become a production space, taproom with food and eventually a Modern Times coffee roaster and cafe.
“After 2 years of lagging sales and battling cash flow, I have had to make some very uncomfortable decisions” said The Commons Brewery founder Mike Wright. “At the end of this year we will shut down operations on SE Belmont and vacate the building. I have leased the building to Modern Times who will operate out of the space. The Commons has not been sold.”
What’s next for The Commons? Founder Mike Wright opened nano brewery Beetje out of his garage in 2010. That tiny project became one of the most successful Oregon nano breweries ever and blossomed into a full 7bbl production brewery renamed The Commons in 2011. By 2015 they expanded into a production space and taproom with a new 20bbl system on southeast Belmont as one of the most talked about Portland breweries of the last ten years. Unfortunately, that did not equal sales and The Commons appears to be the first high profile Oregon victim of the slowing growth of the craft beer industry.
“This is a classic small business cash flow story” says Mike Wright. “Sure, there is plenty of industry nuance and hindsight that can be evaluated, but this boiled down to simple debits and credits. That’s the sinister simplicity of a cash flow problem. Your debt is clearly defined, but revenue is a rollercoaster. The belief was that we’d eventually break out and get past those challenges. We did not.”
On a more positive note, Mike Wright still owns the building which he is leasing to Modern Times and their full story may not be written yet.
“I’m not ready to write the last chapter in this book yet, but this is definitely a defining moment for The Commons” says Wright, though he admits he is not quite sure what that’s next. “I am motivated to find a pathway forward for The Commons, but that’s not yet clear and I don’t want to make any claims that I cannot follow through on.”
former Commons brewer Sean Burke (left) and Mike Wright
The Commons Brewery will remain open and still in production until late 2017. New beers like Galaxy Myrtle, fresh hop Myrtle and Raspberry Lime Ricky are fermenting along as well as new collabs with Allegory Brewing and Level Beer on tap now. Flemish Kiss will be in bottles again by mid-September. The Commons will keep their 7bbl brewhouse in storage and leave their newish 20bbl brewhouse to Modern Times.
“We want you all to know we appreciate the support over the years the friendships we’ve made along the way are sincere and will carry forward. We’d love to see you in the tasting room to talk about beer, or the Blazers/Timbers, or the sweet hike you just got back from. I hope to offer another chapter sometime in the future.” – Mike Wright.
Where one door closes (atleast for now) another opens, though it may be a bittersweet transition, we atleast have a new Modern Times brewpub and production space to look forward to. Modern Times Beer founder and CEO Jacob McKean addressed the big news in a letter posted in it’s entirety below:
First, a little background. I’ve loved the city of Portland for a long, long time. I’ve been visiting regularly for well over a decade, and I gave serious consideration to starting Modern Times in PDX. I ultimately decided to stay in San Diego, where my roots in the brewing scene were deepest, but I never gave up on the dream of building something in Portland. I love so much of what Portland stands for: the kickass food and drink scene—of course—but also the bike culture, the appreciation of good design, the ubiquity of Secret Aardvark, the progressiveness, and much, much more.
Once it became clear that Modern Times was going to be a success, I began giving some thought to how we would grow. And what I decided then—which I’ve been telling people openly for years—is that I’m not interested in building a giant new brewery in some dreary suburban industrial park here in San Diego. It’s not my jam for a whole host of reasons. So what I decided we would do instead is build another location like the Lomaland Fermentorium somewhere else: a place that functions as both a production brewery and a neighborhood hangout. And that “somewhere else” for me was always going to be Portland.
I knew that was going to be the plan well before I was able to act on it. It’s been something of an open secret within Modern Times from the beginning, in fact. Even before we started distributing in Portland, we scheduled collaboration brews there, both to deepen our relationships with brewers we admire and to give ourselves a business excuse to visit a city we love.
Since we’ve started distributing in the PNW, we’ve been blown away by the acceptance and warm welcome we’ve received from beer drinkers and brewers alike. I was given no shortage of warnings about how difficult it would be for an out of town brewery to succeed in Portland, but I always felt like we had a chance to be the exception to the rule. And thus far, that has indeed been the case, which is incredibly heartening and has reaffirmed my feeling that the second Modern Times production location should be there.
So, with an eye towards finding a space that could be leased and built-out in time for a 2019 opening, we started working with a real estate broker. He began sending us raw spaces, which would have required over a year to build-out, which is what we expected going into this.
But after we’d begun the search, I got an email from Mike Wright, who owns The Commons and the 10,000 sq ft building on Belmont that the brewery occupies. We’ve collaborated twice with The Commons and developed a close bond with them. Hell, even before the collabs, when Modern Times was just a tiny start-up, I got an incredibly gracious email from Mike saying that he’d had a chance to try a can of Lomaland and that he was extremely impressed. As an insanely stressed-out new business owner who looked up to The Commons in a big way, that email meant a great deal to me.
When Mike contacted me earlier this year, he let me know that the current space wasn’t working well for their operation and asked if I was interested in leasing the space. It pretty quickly became clear to me that this was something we should do. It filled a real need for Modern Times—we’re capacity constrained, in part due to our success in the Pacific Northwest—while helping out a friend of the brewery who had shown us support and solidarity along the way. Just recently, we officially signed a lease on the space.
I need to pause here to make very clear what is not happening: we are not acquiring The Commons. The Commons is vacating their space, and Modern Times is leasing the space from Mike, the building’s owner. I realize this key point will probably get butchered in the telling and retelling of this news, but at least I did my best to make it clear.
So, what does this mean for Modern Times? It means that on January 1st, 2018, we will be the new tenants of 630 SE Belmont St, which we’ve dubbed The Belmont Fermentorium. We plan to close for about a month, while we bring in new equipment and add some of our distinctive art installations to the tasting room. After we re-open—with a suitable celebration—The Belmont Fermentorium will begin producing all of the Modern Times draft beer for distribution in the Pacific Northwest. First year capacity should be around 7,000bbls.
Obviously, this will mean even fresher, better, locally-brewed draft beer for all of our fans in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The tasting room will serve the greatest hits brewed on-site, in San Diego, and at our forthcoming R&D brewery in Los Angeles (which will open before the end of the year.) The Belmont Fermentorium will also function as a pick-up location for The League of Partygoers & Elegant People.
Additionally, we’ve signed a lease on the neighboring building (600 SE Belmont), which is a 10,000 sq ft raw shell (the same size as 630 SE Belmont.) This space will take at least a year to renovate, but once it’s complete, it will house a packaging hall and tank farm, which will allow us to brew and package all canned beer for PNW distribution. Final capacity for combined spaces should be around 20,000bbls. Once 600 SE Belmont opens, we also plan to add a coffee roaster and café, along with a full food set-up. It should be pretty radical.
Alrighty, that’s it for now. We’re incredibly excited to be coming to Portland, and we’re so looking forward to becoming a pillar of the local brewing community in a city we love so dearly.
- Jacob McKean, CEO/Founder Modern Times Beer
Modern Times current Cellar Manager Mat Sandoval will head up the brewing operations in Portland while hiring for other brewery positions locally. The tasting room will be moved into the new adjacent space and it’s still to be determined if the Cheese Annex will continue but regardless they plan to have food options. Meanwhile the Commons beers aging in barrels and foeders may need to be drank soon, “We’ve been tasting through all of that in the last few days” says Mike Wright “Some of it is getting kegged off, some if it has gone in a direction that warrants dumping. We’ve definitely found some great stuff to blend and put on in the TR. The Flemish Kiss in the foeder is getting packaged soon. The timing of that is mostly luck; it just happens to taste great right now.”