Boulevard Brewing, renowned for its Belgian-style beers and the 10th-largest craft brewery in the country, appeared on the Washington metro area scene and Baltimore in early June. The Boulevard story begins in 1988 when founder and homebrewer John McDonald constructed the brewery in a turn of the century brick building on Kansas City’s historic Southwest Boulevard. After installing a vintage Bavarian brewing system, Boulevard distributed its first beer, a Pale Ale, to a local restaurant in 1989.
The major, three-story expansion in 2006 included a new German brewhouse in a 70,000-square-foot building, giving Boulevard lots of room to grow. In 2011, the brewery made more than 157,000 barrels, about 100 times the production in its first full year of operation. About 55 percent is in bottles and the rest in kegs for draft serving.
The concept for Boulevard’s emphasis dates back to McDonald’s visits to Belgian bars while living in Europe. Tasting the bold Belgian brews, he developed a passion for these styles and mused, "Why can’t we make these in the U.S.?" He decided to do so, opening the brewery and becoming it’s first brewmaster. Boulevard later hired Steven Pauwels, a Belgian brewmaster who has been responsible for the development of most of the brewery’s beers for the past 13 years.
Under Pauwels’ direction, Boulevard now makes seven year-round beers: Unfiltered Wheat Beer; Pale Ale, Single-Wide I.P.A., Amber Ale, Bully! Porter, Dry Stout, and Pilsner. Their five seasonals are Irish Ale, Boss Tom’s Golden Bock (a Maibock), ZON Belgian-style Witbier, Bob’s ‘47 Oktoberfest, and winter’s Nutcracker Ale.
Boulevard’s specialty collection of bigger, bolder beers is called the Smokestack Series, named after the most visible part of the old brewery. These higher-alcohol beers include four year-round beers, one of which is their best selling Farmhouse Ale, Tank 7, up to five seasonal beers, and various limited release beers. A new line of sour beers, to be called the Love Child series, is under development.
Coming to the DC metro area and Baltimore from Boulevard is the full line of available Smokestack beers, and the extremely popular Unfiltered Wheat Ale, which accounts for more than half of the brewery’s sales. Many of the Smokestack beers come in both 750 ml and 12-ounce bottles. In our experience, the Boulevard Smokestack series provided some of the most complex and enjoyable artisanal beers we have ever tasted.
Unfiltered Wheat Beer (4.4 percent alcohol by volume, ABV) has a lemon and grass nose which presages its lemon front. These move into the middle and are joined by a light tartness in the finish. The tartness increases to medium in the aftertaste. This wheat beer rendition is quite unusual for the style in its tartness and very tasty. Ratings: 7/7.5.
Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (8 percent ABV) has a complex aroma of apricot, lemon, pepper and melon. Very smooth, the medium-bodied Tank 7 begins with a light lemon and melon sweet front. A light pepper joins in the middle and a slight grapefruit is added in the finish. In the aftertaste, the grapefruit increases to medium, with a slight bitterness, a mild dryness, and a hint of alcoholic warmth. Ratings: 8.5/8
Harvest Dance (9.1 percent ABV) is a wheat barleywine style ale and Boulevard’s October/November Smokestack release. Lightly effervescent throughout, Harvest Dance’s apricot, grapefruit and Chardonnay wine bouquet yields to a sweet apricot and vanilla front. The vanilla continues in the middle and finish where a vinous character melds in. The aftertaste displays a melange of apricot, pepper, white wine and alcohol. Ratings: 8.5/8.5.
Bourbon Barrel Quad (11;5 percent ABV) is Boulevard’s November/December Smokestack release. An alluring nose of sour cherries, bourbon, vanilla and alcohol merges into a modest vanilla front with a touch of sour cherry. The sour cherry increases in the middle to moderate. The cherry disappears in the finish as light bourbon and medium alcohol emerge and continue into the aftertaste. Deep in the aftertaste there is a slight re-emergence of sour cherry. Ratings: 9/9.5.
Other Boulevard Smokestack beers include Summer release Saison Brett (8.5 percent ABV, 8.5/8.5), The Sixth Glass quadrupel (10.5 percent ABV, 9/10), Double Wide IPA (8.5 percent ABV, 7.5/8.5) and Chocolate Ale, the Spring release ( 9.1 percent ABV, 7.5/8)