No Historic Postcard series on the Kansas City beer scene, past or present, would be complete without a profile of our present day hometown beer, Boulevard Brewing Company.
The mantra, “to brew the best glass of beer it can and offer it to local and regional beer drinkers,” still holds true today, over 33 years after its founding in 1989.
Boulevard founder John McDonald could be considered a true renaissance man in terms of his path to Kansas City’s brewing history books. In an age where the beer industry was, and really still is, 80% controlled by the big-box brewers such as Anheuser-Busch or Miller-Coors, McDonald was literally building his future as a carpenter and visiting Europe in the mid 1980’s to learn the old-school craft of brewing fine Belgian-style ales.
On November 17, 1989, Boulevard Brewing Company rolled its first keg off the line. Urban legend has it that keg was carted straight to Ponak’s Mexican Restaurant just down the street, where Boulevard’s first commercial account was located. Boulevard’s first year of production was a little over 1,800 barrels, all of it the brewery’s flagship brand, Pale Ale.
Over the next three years the brewery grew exponentially, increasing sales to 4,500 barrels in its second year of operation. By mid-1991, Boulevard was available in over 100 bars and restaurants in Kansas City and staff at the brewery had grown from three people to 12. Equipment upgrades included a new mash tun, two 30,000 pound grain silos and automatic bulk grain system.
Additionally, three new brands joined the original Pale Ale; Unfiltered Wheat, Bully! Porter, and the now classic Irish Ale, the latter being a must-have for any self respecting St. Patrick’s Day reveler. Just sayin’.
In 1993, another brand was added, Bob’s ’47, Boulevard’s first entry into the Lager category. Named for former Muehlebach Brewery Brewmaster Bob Werkowitch, who gave McDonald the recipe for his beer he brewed for the US Brewmaster’s Academy in 1947, hence the name Bob’s ’47.
The brewery has enjoyed consistent growth over the years, expanding and adding more brands such as Nutcracker, a traditional Winter Warmer, and Ten Penny Ale, a traditional pub-style ale, to its growing family of craft beers.
After 15 years, McDonald was approached by Michel Moortgat, principal of the Duvel Moortgat Brewery in Belgium about a possible merger. Shortly thereafter, Boulevard became the first US brewery to become part of the Duvel brand since its inception in 1871.
Boulevard continues to be Kansas City’s hometown brewery and has continued to modify its family of brands through the years. While some may have disappeared, such as Ten Penny Ale, new introductions such as Space Camper Cosmic IPA or the new Quirk Hard Seltzer are gaining favor to a new generation of Boulevard drinkers. To that, we proudly say, “Cheers!”