Modern Times Beer becoming SD’s first employee-owned brewery

Modern Times in North Park. (Rick Nocon)
(Rick Nocon / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Here’s a new twist on the old local-brewery-sells-out story:

Modern Times, a four-year-old brewery based in Loma Portal, Friday announced its sale - to its staff, becoming San Diego’s first employee-owned brewery.

“This is my single proudest achievement as founder & CEO of Modern Times,” majority owner Jacob McKean said in a prepared statement. “I’m supremely excited for our deserving employees, who have shown an almost perverse degree of dedication. ... Now, they will benefit directly from the company’s success as co-owners.”

Employee-owned breweries are rare in the United States, although this small group includes notables like New Belgium in Fort Collins, Colo., Deschutes in Bend, Ore.; and Harpoon in Boston.

“I think they are the only employee-owned brewery in California, let alone San Diego,” said Jill Davidson, president of the San Diego Brewers Guild. “It is amazing to see a local brand grow so fiercely and give back so much to its employees.”

Modern Times is one of San Diego’s fastest growing breweries. In 2016, a year of modest growth for most breweries, Modern Times’ production rose 82 percent to 40,500 barrels. (A barrel of beer is 31 gallons.)

The sale is only partially complete. About 30 percent of the company’s shares are now held by employees, McKean said, adding that his goal is to eventually have employees buy the remaining 70 percent.

Modern Times, which now employs 114, operates a tasting room in North Park as well as its original brewery. There are also plans for Modern Times outposts in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

McKean had been a vocal critic of Saint Archer and Ballast Point, two San Diego breweries that in 2015 sold to outside corporations - the former to MillerCoors, the latter to New York-based Constellation Brands.

“Modern Times is proof that a start-up brewery can compete and win in the craft beer market without selling out,” McKean said Friday, “all the while taking outstanding care of our employees and rewarding our investors.