Comic-book pages cover the entire north wall in Modern Times Beer's tasting room. At first glance, it's a clever and cost-effective way to decorate the spacious, two-story warehouse wall, but closer inspection reveals deeper significance. While there are the standards—X-Men, a little bit of Spider-Man—it's mostly the loner, anti-heroes on display: Ghost Rider, Morbius, Spawn, The Maxx, to name a few. Outsiders, if you will.
This seems especially relevant when Amy Krone, Modern Times' director of arts and crafts, points out the tumbleweed chandelier hanging above us.
"That one's covered in thorns, so I made one of the brewers [hang it]," she says. "It's just LED lights inside of some tumbleweeds we found on Morena Boulevard."
Tumbleweeds? Could a brewery be more blatant about its outsider status?
"We just wanted to create a super-weird, interesting tasting room that has strange shit that you can look at," Krone says. "You look at so many tasting rooms around the city, or even elsewhere around the country, and everything's so sterile. There will be a couple pictures on the wall, or a TV, which we're totally against."
It's rare to hear a business describe itself as "super-weird" and "strange," but she's right: Everything about the way Modern Times presents itself visually is unlike anything else in the craft-beer scene. Where most brands go for aggression—gargoyles smashing through the bottle, for instance—Modern Times' logo is clean and feminine, like something you would order on Etsy. Additionally, the tasting room—at 3725 Greenwood St. in the industrial boonies of Midway—feels more like an artist's retreat-slash-Neverland than a brewery, with projects like the comic-book wall or, say, a mural of Michael Jackson and his pet monkey made from 11,000 Post-It notes.
Yet, as strange as it sounds, everything is cohesive—the result of a unified, collaborative vision shared by Krone and Jacob McKean, Modern Times' owner, who met while they worked at Stone Brewing Co., doing graphic design and social media, respectively.
"Part of the whole schtick of Modern Times is that [we] wanted to make it pretty," Krone says. "And Jacob's always a fan of typography and really great packaging. When we were working at Stone, I would be on thedieline.com, which is this really famous packaging blog, and he would be looking over my shoulder, and we'd be critiquing together."
When asked about the opportunity to direct feedback to these designers whom she's long admired, Krone says: "I was, like, 'Oh my god.' Just to have the chance to even see an email from Christian Helms is like total design—." She stops short and waves an invisible fan on her face. "It was an awesome experience for me."
We move from the comic wall to a bookshelf that houses Modern Times' merchandise. Krone points out trading cards that she illustrated, which depict Modern Times' brewers and other local beer dignitaries as if they were superheroes. For instance, the "Mike Tonsmeire" card lists "Title" (Flavor Developer), "Superpowers" ("Can sour a beer with a single glance") and "Kryptonite" ("ethyl acetate"). Many of these brewer illustrations also made it onto T-shirts as incentives during the brewery's successful Kickstarter campaign last year. It's a genius idea that fosters familiarity with the crew and reinforces the notion that this is less a company than a roguish collective that's earned the opportunity to do whatever the hell it wants.
"The Stone aesthetic was very gargoyle and aggressive," Krone says of the differences between designing for Modern Times and Stone, which she insists was a positive, "life-changing" experience with some creative freedom. "With Jacob, because he's totally different and has different ideas about his brand, I can do these wacky trading cards. Or I did a poster for the L.A. rollout in the same style. I have a lot more creative freedom and I don't have to fight so hard for it. He's got a weird idea, I've got a weird idea. We mash weird ideas and come up with something weirder."
She says this all while, over her shoulder, the giant multicolored Michael Jackson Post-It mural looms over everything with an omniscient eye.
"That is definitely the strangest thing I've definitely ever done in my life," she laughs. "It's fucking weird."