New Projects Manager: Justin Holmes

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.

JHolmes w/ Bananas


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. 

in the barrel warehouse


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.

JHolmes w/ Magnum at fest


Status Update: New Coffee Program Manager

Despite the utter insanity of 2020, it’s been a banner year for our coffee program, which has smashed existing records for previous years while simultaneously producing some of the most exceptionally tasty coffee we’ve ever roasted. One of the primary drivers of this wildly successful, caffeinated party-train has been Tessie Warnecke, who we’re thrilled to introduce as the new Program Manager for Modern Times Coffee. Tessie’s wealth of industry experience is matched by her passion for creating great coffees that are not only world class, but ethically sourced from seed to cup. She brings a tremendous skillset, a refreshing lack of pretense, and a focus on fostering both internal and external relationships to MT Coffee. TL;DR--We think she’s rad, and we’re excited about her new position. Let’s get to know her a bit, shall we?

Tessie (coffee program manager)


As we just mentioned, Tessie has been in the biz for a minute (over 10 years, actually), with her only absence from the coffee world being a brief stint as bartender for a Northern California brewery. She’s tried her hand at every role, from barista, to QC assistant for importers, to green coffee buying, and came aboard the MT mothership in 2016 as production assistant, bagging beans. Bear in mind, at this point the “coffee program” was roasting our OG house blend, Black House, for our similarly monikered core oatmeal coffee stout, the surplus of which (normally about 6 bags) was displayed on a single shelf behind the bar. From there, she wore an assortment of hats, including making her first forays into roasting and piloting the cold brew program (8 gallons per batch, at that point). Right before her current role, Tessie was instrumental in guiding the future trajectory of the program as Green Coffee Buyer.

You may recall that we mentioned she was a QC assistant for coffee importers—specifically Olam coffee importers, who Modern Times works with regularly. During some very formative years spent cupping 2-3 tables of 30 coffees each during busy-season, Tessie was struck by how vital it is to foster relationships with not just importers & traders, but producers as well. Flash forward to 2019, when Tessie represented MT on an exploration of a pretty traditional operation in Colombia, consisting of farms owned by the Maya family of Acresco Imports. Here, coffee was grown in rows, harvesting was methodical; exactly what you’d picture when you think “farm”. That same year, Tessie also traversed across Mexico from Oaxaca to Veracruz through the La Cañada region, this time seeing producers whose approach to coffee production was decidedly different than Maya farms. You couldn’t tell where the jungle ended and the farms began, many of which were owned by smallholders who contributed to a greater coalition. While there were stark differences in the way these chains operated, a common thread was some kind of cooperative system--whether that was all in the family, or within entire regional communities--and a painstaking care and pride for cultivating a top notch product and sharing it with people who care.

Tessie in Colombia 2019Tessie Colombia/Mexico


Caring is the name of our game. Whether Tessie is collaboratively curating coffee profiles for a decedent imperial stout, figuring out what barrels to age green beans in, dreaming up kegged lattes, or overseeing cold brewing, she (along with our cadre of highly skilled comrades in caffeination) is cupping, sample roasting, & adjusting until the exact right profile sings. Things may be different now, but they also offer unique opportunities for growth and collaboration; baristas, unable to sling coffee inside the tasting room, have transitioned into production roles, bumping our seasoned vets into management positions. This pattern of growth--fresh pairs of eyes and the ability to specialize within the department--is what Tessie digs, and hopes to perpetuate. Truly great coffee requires more than just excellent ingredients. It requires a chain of passionate and talented people that stretches from the soil to the cup, and we think the vast array of delicious and fearlessly innovative coffees we’ve released this year is a testament to the fact that we’ve got a pretty excellent chain—one in which Tessie continues to be an integral link. We can’t wait to see where she takes us next.