Beer Genesis: Mesozoic Porter Series

This is the story of our Mesozoic Porter Series.

My kids have always been way into dinosaurs.

We’ve watched all of the shows on Netflix, hours of Dinosaur Train on PBS, and read every kids book we could find on them in our local public library. Okay, maybe not every book. But a lot of them.

So what is it about these creatures that captures the imaginations of our children? Why are they so interested in animals they can no longer see alive in the world around them? If you don’t find yourself often thinking about the world of the dinosaurs—the same world we live in today!—I challenge you to pick up a Mesozoic Series porter, have a seat, and imagine with us.

I think what interests us all is thinking about the fact that somehow the world can exist without us. The world doesn’t need us. For anything. And yet, we still have this intrinsic need or desire to be wanted, to have purpose, to mean something. To belong. Thinking about dinosaurs, which lived so, so long ago, compels us to dwell on our own infinitesimal smallness.

Dinosaurs exist at the crossroads of science and fantasy. Like much of scientific theory, we often base our latest assumptions on the theories that have come before. Theory upon theory, based on a scientific method of discovery. So much about dinosaurs is entirely unknown—because so much about our earth is yet unknown. We are left to fantasy based upon the best available science to us.

Check out this awesome BuzzFeed article about how we imagine and render dinosaurs. The article is based partly on a book called All Yesterdays, by CM Koseman (and co.). At some point, we simply accepted as fact the way dinosaurs have historically been depicted by artists. Today, some are challenging these preconceptions. It’s pretty cool.

Our porter series is named after the era of the great dinosaur. The Mesozoic era, which falls within the Phanerozoic eon, covers all of what we consider to be “the age of dinosaurs”—the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous time periods. We’re talking like 250-70 MILLION years ago. It’s absolutely mind-boggling.

Geologic time scale (GTS) categorized dates into groups as supereons, eons, eras, periods, epochs, and finally, ages. (Here’s a good wiki page on that.) The beginning of beginnings and so much of the earth’s unknown origins falls in the Pre-Cambrian supereon. It’s a massive amount of time. Like, incomprehensibly huge.

As we were brainstorming names, I found myself wanting to walk the line between catchy names, names that could be grouped together as a series (but also left room for other series’), and names that people could pronounce, but still learn something from.

I thought about using dino names from a specific period, but really, the only period with the good dino names is the Cretaceous. (That’s where all of our favorite dinosaurs live, contrary to pop culture’s insistent use of the word “Jurassic”. I guess we’re kinda stuck with it…)

Protoceratops Skeleton.

I thought about using the Ceratopsian phylogenic group, but nobody can pronounce that, and nobody can pronounce all those other dinosaurs within each of the families in that classification anyway. I considered Ornithischia and Sauraschia…. (Yes, I had entered the rabbit hole.) We needed two more beer names.

Tropical. Bananas. Oranges. Our two remaining beers are often associated with warm, tropical climates, so it wasn’t a stretch to connect those flavors to the climate we associate with the Mesozoic era. Taking that one step further, I looked at the geography of that time. Could those dinosaurs have eaten bananas and oranges, too? Were those plants even around?

Pangaea. The supercontinent of the Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. During the Mesozoic, this massive land formation split in two: the “northern” Laurasia and the “southern” Gondwana, which would later become today’s South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica, Indian subcontinent, and Arabia.

Pieces of Gondwana now today produce the majority of the world’s bananas, so we chose it as the name of our chocolate chip banana bread porter. Pangaea, on the other hand, simply looks and sounds more like “orange”, one of the complimentary flavors of our orange-chocolate porter. Oh, and we haven’t released Gondwana… yet. It needs more time to age.

Take a look at the description we printed on our Mesozoic Porter Series bottles:

MESOZOIC. Our small-batch porters are named after the era of the great dinosaur. These creatures have captivated minds and imaginations for centuries, and we’re still discovering new species and using the latest technologies to uncover the mystery surrounding these fantastical beasts. Imagine drinking one of our geological porters in the day of the dino and let it stir up your own creativity. What fascinates you the most about these animals from an age long-since passed? Join the conversation and read the full story on our website, search #beergenesis.

Beer Genesis: Mesozoic Porter Series

Beer Genesis: Ursa Major

This is the story of our Ursa Major Draft Dry Mead w/ Berries.

The recording & organizing of groups of stars as constellations is a prehistoric exercise. Our earliest artifacts designating constellations date back to 3000 B.C. Mesopotamia.

The wonder of these celestial bodies—the power they possess, the greatness of the cosmos juxtaposed against our own relative smallness—has caused humanity to ponder our own finitude since our very genesis. Today, 88 recognized constellations fill the sky seen from our planet’s Northern & Southern Hemispheres.

Like honey bees dancing from flower to flower in a field, our eyes bounce from star to star in the night sky, connecting each shining dot to the next in ancient patterns, retelling the stories told in days long since passed.

The story of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, & the lesser Ursa Minor, originate in ancient Greece. The Greek God Zeus was smitten by the nymph, Callisto; & when Hera, Zeus’ wife, learned of the affair, she transformed Callisto into a bear. Not knowing the bear was Callisto, Callisto & Zeus’ son, Arcas, approached to attack her with a bow & arrow. Zeus prevented her death by turning Arcas into a bear like his mother & placing them, side-by-side, safely forever in the sky.

Our small-batch draft mead features two of the bear’s signature foods: honey & berries. This uniquely-refreshing, carbonated, dry, short melomel features a combination of the very best locally-sourced honey, organic strawberries, blueberries, blackberries & raspberries, & a healthy dose, start-to-finish, of fruit-forward Mosaic hops. The result is a crushable, summer beer alternative that stands out like the best-known constellation in the Northern night sky. The next time life slows down & you find yourself looking up at the stars, tip back an Ursa Major & thank Zeus for summer. #beergenesis #ursamajordraftmead #draftmead #modalmead

BREWED WITH Wildflower honey & Mosaic hops. Fermented on organic blackberries, blueberries, strawberries & raspberries with one of our favorite locally-cultured yeasts.

Okay! Now I get to tell you a bit more about how this batch came to be; and, as always, tell you what went wrong. Every. single. batch. we’ve ever made has presented to us new problems to troubleshoot and solve. I guess that’s part of the fun of it?

I knew we were only making a 5-gallon batch of mead. This was a completely experimental endeavor, although I basically knew what I was doing, in theory, because of all of my other beer brewing experience. How much different could mead be? I thought.

We got right to work.

Many meads are made without boiling any ingredients at all—except maybe the water, if one chooses to pull it from the tap. We boiled ours.

We measured and added our ingredients, but chose not to add our berries until after chilling our must (that’s the word for unfermented mead) down to yeast-pitching temps.

It turns out, we made a measuring error on our honey, and we didn’t add enough during our brew session! I don’t recall our exact figures, but we added ounces as decimals—something like 2.5 lbs + 2.5 lbs instead of 2 lbs 5 oz + 2 lbs. 5 oz. Needless to say, we were off.

It took me a while to wrap my head around what had happened. I spent an hour or so during clean-up processing through it. I ended up adding in additional honey the day after. Disaster averted!

I was hoping the rest of the process would go off without a hitch. Far from it. I mis-measured the yeast stabilizer addition and worried for days about off-flavors, I made a berry concentrate using the same berries as in our original primary fermentation, but added way too much water. And then came time to cold crash and carbonate…

I didn’t prep far enough in advance and didn’t have the CO2 we needed to on hand to even begin the carbonation process. I had to hit up our local gas supplier before they closed for the day at 5 PM. I walked out with a full tank at 4:55. Then, I didn’t properly attach the regulator nut to the tank’s pipe threads. The tank was empty in four days. On a Saturday morning. I lucked out was able to grab a spare tank from our crew member, Matt. I was able to carb up the rest of our batch and bottle off of his tank. Thanks, Matt!

In all, making this mead was definitely a learning process. We made and corrected several pretty significant mistakes and will continue to experiment with minor process changes in future batches. Plus, we hope to roll out new draft meads of varying sweetness. If you get the chance to try a bottle of our Modal Community mead, we think you’ll find it to be a beautifully tasty experiment! We think it turned out pretty darn well!


Beer Genesis: Ursa Major

Beer Genesis: Mondrian Saison Series

Beer Genesis Mondrian Series Promo

By now many of you have had a chance to enjoy our Mondrian Saison Series beers. Four variations on the same base malt theme. With each new beer release, we plan to do a little write-up like this one, explaining the story behind the series name and each of our new beers. Kinda cool, I think.

To kick off our Beer Genesis posts, I get to write about our most recent batch, brewed all the way back around Christmas. (#beergenesis on Insta. or in a search on our website.)

To begin, one must start at the beginning. At the very earliest stages of planning and designing our Tangram Fox logo, I knew that I wanted to use each distinct shape within the logo to signify a different style of beer. By doing so, we maintain our easily-recognizable logo and incorporate within it an quick way to identify the style of beer one is drinking, buying, or sharing—but only for those in the know (or those who read our labels or follow us on Social). Kinda clever, we thought.

Before brewing our Saisons, I already knew that I wanted to use the color blue to represent them. I also had a vague thought to pair each different colored beer style with a different name theme.

From the genesis of Modal Community itself, back when I was labeling everything tongue-in-cheek as “Brothers McCutchin”, I’ve named every beer around the theme of baseball. (I chose to continue that tradition with our very first Modal Community Double India Pale Ales [DIPA’s].)

The idea was to continue the tradition of baseball, but add on other name themes, including more “refined” artistic themes such as jazz musicians, musical genres, musical modes, or other sports themes such as Chicago sports, the Bulls, American natural landmarks, and more. We’re in process, of course. (See what I did there? We’re MODAL!)

So I was leaning towards associating our Saisons with painters from the beginning—just because of the origin of the word Saison itself. It’s French for “season” and I naturally associate France with “high art”, and painters, and the first one to come to mind is Picasso (even though he’s Spanish [he lived much of his life in France]. And of course, I automatically think of the Old Guitarist painting and that beautiful blue color… (It was all kind of a cyclical thought process.)

So here’s the rest of the story…

Brew Day was all the way back on November 24, 2018. As usual, I invited a whole crew of friends over to participate and help out. For the first time, I scheduled a day-time brew session.

Rabbit trail: It basically turned into a flip-flopped brew day. Instead of cleaning up after the session in the middle of the night, I ended up wash/prepping equipment ahead of the session in the middle of the night—didn’t sleep at all! Oh, and I flooded my kitchen with water—twice! (That’s another story.) My chemist brew friend, Steve, knocked on my door at 5:30 AM to get our session started. I was mopping up water in the basement when he arrived. But I digress…

Around mid-morning, my friend John G. arrived to help out, too. This was his first time brewing with me and his first time ever actually seeing the Modal Community logo. John also happens to be a bit of an art buff and artist himself (He loves woodworking and has a great interest in art history and painting.)

So it turns out that the very first thing John thought of when he saw our Tangram Fox Logo was the work of Piet Mondrian.

“Ever hear of a painter by the name of Mondrian?” he asked. Me: nope. “Check this out!” he says, handing me his phone.

Mondrian: Composition with RYB

It was a picture of Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow. Not only did the painting feature bold, black lines and geometric shapes, just like our logo, but those smaller shapes were also colored. The similarities between Mondrian’s minimalistic style and our logo were undeniable. Love it. I was eager to learn more and spent the next several weeks gathering information about the painter and reading what I could.

Piet’s style stemmed from a deep-seeded belief in art’s transcendence—its ability to communicate to the soul—and he felt the best, purist art resembled nothing at all of the natural world. Of course, his works didn’t always portray that; and, of course, his own philosophy evolved over his lifetime. Looking at his early Paris works, he followed in the Cubist tradition of Picasso himself (and others) before finding his own artistic and philosophical voice in later works. Among these early Paris works were Tableau No. 2 and Compositie 8 (Composition 8) (1911-4).

In later works like Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-3), we see a Mondrian who has indeed abandoned representational painting and found his own place as abstractionist. Bright, dancing colors and textures influenced by the music of the day. (The influence of music on this late work is truly what I love about it!)

Here are a couple of my favorite Mondrian quotes (naturally, I relate to his musical vocabulary):

“I wish to approach truth as closely as is possible, and therefore I abstract everything until I arrive at the fundamental quality of objects.”

“True Boogie-Woogie I conceive as homogeneous in intention with mine in painting: destruction of melody, which is the equivalent of destruction of natural appearance, and construction through the continuous opposition of pure means – dynamic rhythm.”

“The rhythm of relations of color and size makes the absolute appear in the relativity of time and space.”

Every beer label description begins as a lengthy novel which must be distilled down to the most basic essence of beer and tribute. Here’s the full Mondrian Saison Series beer description we couldn’t print:

Dutch painter Piet Mondrian is the essential icon of Modernism. His minimalistic artistic vocabulary, using primary colors and values and geometric shapes, reminds us that beyond the chaos of modern life there is a universal beauty to be found in art which revives the soul.

The constructs of our post-industrial existence are still ill-fitted to meet our deepest needs and we continue to question them, answering the rally cry “make it new.”

Traditionally characterized as a refreshing summer ale brewed by farmers, Saisons represent the utility of the seasons, essential to peasant life. Brewed in winter, aged until summer.

We hope this Season our handcrafted beers revive your soul. As we strive to make the Style new by pushing beyond tradition, let us work together to reinvent how we interpret the world around us. Together we are Crafting Change.

If you want to learn more about Piet Mondrian, a great place to start is Wikipedia. Be sure to check out the References at the bottom of the page. Cheers!

Beer Genesis: Mondrian Saison Series