While they have been on tap at STL bars and restaurants since July of 2014, it’s just been since November 13, 2015 that Modern Brewery has had their 12 tap tasting room open. Located in the same building as their brewery, the tasting room is just steps away from the brewery itself. As soon as you step through the entrance, you can see the stainless steel equipment used to brew the delicious beer you’re drinking and the aroma of hops and wort fill the air. Over the low hum of chatter you can hear the rumbling of pumps, the spraying of water and the clanging of metal on metal.
I attended the grand opening of Modern Brewery’s tasting room and was pleasantly surprised by the space, the atmosphere and most importantly the beer. A few days later, after the craziness had died down a bit, I was able to catch up with Brewmaster Ronnie Fink to get to know the man behind the beer at Modern Brewery.
Name: Ronnie Fink
Position: Brewmaster, Modern Brewery
What’s Your Favorite Beer Brewed by Modern Brewery? Citrapolis IPA. I love Citra hops so much. I even named my dog Citra.
What’s Your Favorite local beer (not brewed by Modern Brewery)? Any IPA that 4 Hands does or Schlafly TIPA. I’m not even really a hop-head but you can tell a lot about a brewery by how they use their hops. I also really like Schlafly’s Coffee Stout when it’s fresh.
What’s Your Favorite non-local beer? Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust comes to mind first but Pliny the Elder from Russian River shaped my thoughts about brewing. I went to UC Davis and Pliny was $3.50 there so I drank a ton of it. I could name others but I have a hard time coming up with “favorites.”
How did you end up as a professional brewer?
For me it’s a little different because I never really was that big into homebrewing. I dabbled a little bit but I really just brewed a few batches with neighbors. Then, in college, I was going to dental school and I realized I didn’t want to do that. I talked to my buddy Beamer (Modern Brewery President and CEO Beamer Eisele) because we were best friends in high school and he told me about the brewing program at UC-Davis that he was interested in. We discussed the idea that we could both go there and then open our own brewery. We went there and then after we graduated I went to Free State in Lawrence Kansas for three years to get the necessary knowledge of running a brewery. Luckily, with them being smaller, I was the fourth person on staff so I could see the brewing, the filtering, the bottling line, you name it. I saw which equipment was awesome and which equipment I would never want to work with again. On top of all that, I was actually put in charge of QA Lab because I had a chemistry background. I knew how to brew beer but that hands on experience was invaluable. It was the best thing that could’ve happened for us now and for me then.
What’s a typical day like for you at Modern Brewery?
On a brew day, I typically get in at 6:00 AM so Kyle (Brewer Kyle Matthias) can get out at a normal time. I come in, begin to brew and then answer emails for my personal Modern Brewery email address as well as the firstname.lastname@example.org address. I’m also in charge of the hops and malt so a lot of times I’ll set aside an hour after I’m done brewing to manage inventory on those. I usually finish up my brew around noon, then move on to the inventory, ordering anything we need and checking more emails. On a brew day, I’m working in the brewery for eight or nine hours. On non brew days, I’m kegging, filtering and doing literally everything. There are five of us on the payroll and all of us around here do everything, especially with getting the tasting room open. That was everyone doing 80 hour weeks and even now, when work is “over” we all put in time behind the bar serving customers.
What’s your most favorite and least favorite beer to brew?
I’ll start with my least favorite to brew and that’s basically anything dark. The worst thing ever on a brew day is a stuck mash and since we don’t have rakes we have to stir everything by hand. The first time we did Arkham’s Finest, our Coffee Chocolate Stout, it was a 16 hour brew day for a single batch of beer. I’ve definitely had better days. We have it better dialed in now but I still have nightmares about Arkham.
My favorite beer to brew is definitely Citrapolis, just because the playlist that I listen to the entire day is “The Chronic” by Dr. Dre. I listen to it on a loop and people get so sick of it. It plays non-stop and if anybody touches it, they’re dead.
What are some upcoming beers from Modern Brewery that you’re excited about?
There are actually a few beers that we’ve been talking about lately that I’m getting pumped about. We have our All Black which is a Black IPA that’s taken off with a few accounts recently and we want to do a version of that with lactose. Kyle’s been bugging me to do a lactose beer for a long time so I think we’re going to do that one soon, maybe call it “Darkseid” after the comic book villain. So that’ll be a “Lactose Black IPA” which isn’t really a style but it’s something we want to do so we’re doing it. We’ll be brewing a Barleywine soon but that won’t be ready until probably this time next year. I’ll never push anything out before it’s ready. Oh yeah, I don’t know how I forgot about this one but we’re fermenting an all Mosaic hop IPA right now that we’re excited about. It’ll be 6.5% ABV and 70 IBUs so it’s a little less alcohol than Citrapolis and it’ll have a bigger focus on hops, more of a West Coast IPA.
If someone’s never had a Modern Brewery experience, what’s something you want them to know about your beer or your brewery?
The way we envisioned our taproom is a place where you’ll always feel welcome. I don’t want to be a place where people come to get drunk, I want to be a place where you can come to try, finally, any one of our 12 beers we have in rotation in a relaxed atmosphere. We don’t want an environment where people have their noses up at you, we want to be inviting. Everyone belongs here and we want to know who our customers are. Even on a day like today where we’re not all behind the bar, we’re still hanging out, talking with customers and ready to help out if we need to. Also, we’ll never put out a beer that we wouldn’t stand behind. We’d dump it before we do that and I know Kyle feels the same way I do. My life is in this company. At the end of the day, it says Modern Brewery on the label but I know that I brewed the beer, Kyle knows he brewed the beer, and we care too much to let bad beer get to good people.
Modern Brewery’s Tasting Room is open from 4pm-10pm every Friday and Saturday. While food isn’t served inside, you can BYO or visit one of the food trucks that are typically in the parking lot. If you’d like to swing by for a pint or have any questions, see below for their address and additional contact info.