Modern Times tends to be a haven for those cut from gloriously different cloths. The common thread: obsession with cranking out seriously tasty beverages. Where some might anticipate chaos, what instead emerges is a kind of synergistic radness that can’t be faked. That’s the exact brand of ingenuity and out-of-the-box brain-blasting that drew in Justin Holmes, our current New Projects Manager and one of the high priests of thel barrel warehouse. If you’ve ever wondered how Thai bananas or candy cap mushrooms ended up in one of our dessert stouts, or how that delicious beer you just sipped spent the perfect span of time in freshly-emptied gin barrels, you can rest assured that Justin probably had something to do with it.
Justin is a true jack of all trades. He’s worn a bunch of hats (ex. job coach, dry-cleaning delivery guy, non-profit coordinator), but hadn’t heard his true call to destiny until he tuned into a radio interview with a local brewer. What really drew him in was how obviously dedicated this interviewee was to their craft—a chill individual in a unique industry that spent their days doing something they were super into. Bingo. Shortly thereafter, Justin got a retail gig at Stone Brewing (funnily enough, working alongside a handful of homies that would later also be colleagues at MT). From there, it was great persistence (or as Justin calls it, “being annoying”) that propelled him to the back of house, where he took charge of casks & firkins, both of which are notoriously tricky vessels to deal with. There, he turned what may have seemed like a tedious task pawned off to the new person into the perfect opportunity to begin honing in on the small-batch wonders that we’re now accustomed to associating with his work.
Justin came to Modern Times at a point where we had a meager 300 barrels (as opposed to the 2,000 he had overseen at Stone), lured in by the growth potential of a smaller operation with an emphasis on variety, unique equipment, and most importantly, the collective view that innovating, alongside people that take great care in their work, was a day-to-day thing. This particular trait has morphed him into a sourcing powerhouse; what started as an appreciation for ingredients (presumably instilled in him by his chef parents), has since lead to the establishment of relationships with equally passionate individuals that now provide access to a an unparalleled treasure trove of the highest-quality adjuncts, from cocoa nibs to first dibs on barrels.
This has subsequently opened the door not only to boundless flavor possibilities, but a myriad of teachable moments. That never-leave-it-alone attitude generates an atmosphere of constant learning, whether today’s lesson is distinguishing the subtle differences between cinnamons and vanillas, realizing that Ikea has a global monopoly on cloudberries, or collectively agreeing that dried pineapple cubes can sometimes yield aromas akin to a porta-potty air freshener. The results of said learning have been supremely delectable, with highlights including liquid legends like Creature Times Aged in Tequila Barrels and Chaos Grid: The Final Course. When all is said and done, it’s the unbridled badassery and collaborative energy of this team that initially attracted him and the one to which Justin attributes the bulk of MT’s successes.
Modern Times’ barrel program now consists of approximately 1259 filled vessels, as well as 130 on deck, and the new year brings a wave of new opportunities for some of our most staggeringly delicious and wholly unique creations to date. In the future of the barrel program, Justin sees a focus on working with craft distilleries to utilize unique spirit barrels for aging, continuing to discover craze-mazing adjuncts, and potentially indulging in some experimentation with his true-love, smoked beers (stay mad, haters). He and the team are forever searching for that Ratatouille moment (i.e. a symphony of flavors so moving, it may or may not illicit multi-sensory hallucinations), but Justin assures us that with the pure talent, sheer willpower, masterful palates, and overall good vibes that abound in the warehouse, they won’t have to chase the high for very long before setting a new bar.