Young and Hungry

Midwest Cult Craft Beer Arrives in D.C.

If you have any friends from Kansas City, you've probably already had a bottle of Boulevard Brewing Company beer enthusiastically shoved in your face. Hometown pride runs deep, but D.C.'s Midwest transplants aren't the only ones celebrating the fact that the Missouri-based craft brewery has started sending its suds to the area.

You may have already seen and enjoyed Unfiltered Wheat, Boulevard's easy-drinking top seller. But it's the brewery's Smokestack series of critically acclaimed complex ales that has beer geeks like me elated. From my first taste of Saison-Brett at Savor in 2009, I was hooked. Equally impressed by the brewery's offerings at the annual Brewers Association event the next year, and the next, I have been counting the days until Boulevard beer would be available in the District.

As of this month, these fine Midwestern brews are in restaurants, bars, and shops throughout D.C., northern Virginia, and parts of Maryland.

Among them are Tank 7, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale brewed with American hops, and The Sixth Glass, a strong Belgian-style "quadruple" loaded with caramel and dark fruit flavors. In August, D.C. beer fans will catch a rare taste of an English-style stingo in the form of a limited-release collaboration between Boulevard's Belgian-born brewmaster Steven Pauwels and Massachusetts-based Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project "gypsy" brewer Dann Paquette. Boulevard's fall seasonal release will be Nommo Dubbel, a spiced Belgian-style abbey ale brewed with molasses, coriander, cinnamon and star anise.

And that's just to start. According to Bob Sullivan, Boulevard's vice president of sales, the brewery will be sending all its Smokestack beers this way. That includes year-rounds like Tank 7, seasonals like Nommo, and limited releases like Saison-Brett.

Founder John McDonald, who started the brewery in 1989 and has expanded production from 6,000 to over 160,000 barrels per year (making Boulevard the tenth largest craft brewery in the country), has built a strong fly-over state following. Forty percent of Boulevard beer is sold in the Kansas City area, and 90 percent stays in the Midwest. Boulevard has only recently started seducing the sophisticated palates of east and west coast cities like Seattle, Portland, Boston, and D.C. Connecting with their original fan base is one of the reasons.

“If you move away, and there are a lot of people from the Midwest in D.C., there’s usually not a whole lot you can find that connects you to home,” Sullivan told me. "We're one of those things. And we're hoping the sense of pride in their hometown brewery swells even more when they see that we’re making beers at this level. We want them to try a Smokestack beer and say, 'Wow, has Boulevard come a long way.'"

Whether you are a Big 12 grad delighted to see a reminder of college, or you are drawn into trying your first Smokestack because of the beer's beautiful packaging or thoughtful name (there's a story behind each one), I think you'll agree that having Boulevard in D.C. is something to be thankful for. Peruse the brewery's beer finder for a complete list of bars and shops in the area carrying Boulevard beer.

For more info about the brewery, check out this video:

Photo by Tammy Tuck

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