Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Local favorite Boulevard Brewing Company are fond of lecturing beer drinkers on what is traditional and what they are willing to do on their (apparently rarely edited) FAQ.

First, they claimed that they would never use aluminum cans as they were a "traditional brewery". This claim was removed from the FAQ shortly after Boulevard moved to the use of aluminum bottles (decidedly less traditional than aluminum cans). Savvy internet users will find slightly older versions of the FAQ on internet archiving websites if they wish.

Shockingly, they have not edited away they other two high and mighty claims they make in their FAQ which they have since violated.

In response to the question "Will Boulevard ever make fruit beer...?", Boulevard answers a terse "No". Boulevard has been making a seasonal beer with fruit added for over a year now.

Two other answers detail why Boulevard will not expand outside of the Midwest, but it has long been courting the West Coast with a substantial portion of its sales and market resources (while distribution mishap after distribution mishap plague the loyal Kansas City market).

Now there is nothing wrong with Boulevard using Aluminum bottles, putting fruit in beer, and answering the siren call of the lucrative West Coast market per se. This does all raise several questions in my mind.

1. Did Boulevard ever truly hold the snooty values communicated on its FAQ?
2. If they did, why are these values so easy to abandon?
3. Does Boulevard truly value the craft beer ethos many see in its Smokestack series?
4. If so, how easily will Boulevard abandon that apparent value?

And as you may have asked yourself today as you stumbled over piles of 6 month old Seeyoulator and 10 month old Two Jokers (both highly regarded on the internet, but is nobody buying it?) to buy some Bell's Hopslam in the fleeting moments that your local liquor store had it available:

5. Is the Emperor wearing any clothes?


  1. Discouraging and a bit frightening, but your questions bring up good points! I think I'll just cross my fingers on this one.

  2. Great post. I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill; none of what you're complaining about, in my opinion, amounts to an abandoned "value", but I love the fact that you're raising the issues.

    Zon is not a fruit beer.

    The statement about aluminum cans was stupid in the first place.

    They remain a regional brewery - selling a few cases of Smokestacks on a coast doesn't change that fact.

  3. BBQ is clearly a fruit beer in that the added cherries are a significant aspect of the flavor.

    Harvest Dance is a little more borderline as you could argue that it doesn't really matter to the flavor that they added grape juice, but they did add grape juice.

  4. I read that FAQ before I started writing about beer and it reminded me of everything I hate about beer geeks. It was so dismissive of fruit beers (which I like) and dismissive of convenience. It seemed like there were a bunch of starched shirts over there at Boulevard. I'd also had a couple of run ins with Boulevard over the years and that also fostered that image.

    Since I've started writing about beer and have met a lot of Boulevard's people I realize that my previous perceptions were a little incorrect but the starched shirt beer geek ethos still exists in the organization.

    As for the FAQ, I don't think it was well thought out in the first place and they are notoriously awful about updating the website. Hopefully the new marketing person over there will free up some time for the people to update the website. Maybe throw up a mention of a Smokestack beer that wasn't included in the original 4.

  5. John - you claimed that "Boulevard has been making a seasonal beer with fruit added for over a year now", and neither Harvest Dance nor BBQ qualifies as a seasonal. I think you'd cut them special slack for their more experimental Smokestack Series, though, as I said in my own blog post, I agree that the FAQ ought to be edited to remove the dismissive reference to fruit beers, which can be wonderful.

  6. Sounds like a lot of SOUR-MASH to me! A classic conflict of Artist and Critic. I wish I could get any of these fine beers without breaking the lay, fruit or no fruit.

  7. Boulevard was definitely created in a different era (the 80’s for Christ’s sake!) and now the world of craft brewing they helped to originate has caught up with, and ultimately put them behind the national craft brewing scene (need I say Dogfish Head, Lost Abbey, or Russian River). It is no wonder that their initial values have changed and they have been ‘so easy to abandon’ them as you and others feel. Have they abandoned their values or tried to update their image and brew what more people want? Maybe they now have a chip in their previously gleaming armor for the fact they have done this in a less than consistent manner, but to be ‘shocked’ by this is a little less then realistic. Is it sad to see KC’s first modern day big time brewhouse approaching the precipice, echoing the all too familiar signs of ‘commercial’ American Breweries? Yes. There is no doubt about that.

    The one thing Uncle Boulevard needs to keep in mind is that as people are amassing to buy their beer, some of those ‘masses’ are watching with great interest as it relates to the spirit of the movement. I for one do not care to comprise my brewing so that I can drink it on a golf course or a pool in Kansas City, mean while for the possibility of doing so at Laguna Beach.

  8. Kyle, Rogue was being adventurous 20 years ago. Vinny Cilruzo was brewing big IPAs at Blind Pig at the same time. Just saying that its not like Boulevard paved the way or anything. Craft beer had been established well established as of Boulevard's founding. They were one of the few that figured out how to get big without the aid of internet word of mouth.

    I am happy to see them change, as I don't particularly care for (or mind) what they were 5 years ago. I would just like to see them be serious about changing the brand. Every good brewery has a strong brand. Boulevard had a strong brand 5 years ago. Now they are doing more interesting things but its like one foot it the old Boulevard puddle and one foot in the Smokestack puddle. A lot of their press mentions their range of beers but excludes Smokestack. You have to look hard on the website to find mentions of Smokestack. I would like to see them decide what their image is and then let us know what it is going to be.

    Dan, I have to consider BBQ to be a seasonal as it has been released two years in a row at approximately the same time. But either way my point stands. They made a big point out of poo pooing fruit beers and then made some anyway.

  9. Once again, the critic and the artist, this is a bunch of drivel.. John,what were you doing in 1989, IN THE MIDWEST, to further a need for fresh, all malt beer to a crowd that 10 years before were smuggling coors around the heartland?

  10. 1989? He's talking about NOW. What is Boulevard doing NOW. Not 2+ decades ago.

    And right NOW, Boulevard is making average craft beer. The Smokestacks are more interesting, but at that price point they'd better be.

  11. Anonymous, I guess the problem is that I don't elevate brewers to the status of artists. Maybe the lambic blenders of the Senne Valley, maybe. Either way, Boulevard is producing product for wide scale public consumption and as such should not and probably would not want to operate free of feedback from the masses.

    I'm willing to concede the Boulevard was one of a much smaller number of craft brewing presences in the Midwest in 1989, but that really has nothing to do with the status quo.

  12. I agree with Bull that it is more of a situation of the company evolving beyond the orginal FAQ, and not having someone full time to sit around and update a webpage. I do agree that the FAQ is old news and needs to be updated, but in the grand scheme of things it's probably more important to get beer on the shelves than to update a web page.

    The core of what Boulevard does well is make drinkable beer. To fault them for making approachable beer that has a large market share seems a little arrogant. While Unfiltered Wheat isn't the most exciting beer, it is still a good everyday beer and it is what paid for the brewery expansion. Without the foundation created by the Wheat, they would not have been able to do the Smokestack Series.

  13. Who attacked Boulevard for making approachable beer? I certainly didn't. You'll notice I'm one of the few vocal internet people in town that doesn't take opportunities to take cheap shots at large breweries like AB-Inbev. Heck, I tweeted that Bully! was Boulevard's best beer.

    I attacked them for having a fractured brand (and nobody seems to deny this in the comments, rather choosing to rebut me via straw men), Something Anheuser-Busch, Sierra Nevada, and Jolly Pumpkin have never had. Nothing to do with size, and nothing with success.

    Boulevard is a large brewery with a lot of personnel outside of the brew house who aren't doing anything to brew the beer made or physically place it on the shelves. So that Boulevard must choose between brewing beer or updating their marketing materials is a false dichotomy. Their decision to practically deny the existence of Smokestack in some media (including their website) and to promote it as though it were the primary focus of the brewery in others is intentional.

    My concrete suggestions would be:

    1. Stopping attacking "experimental" methods and national distribution when the old Boulevard hat is on while pursuing them with glee when the Smokestack hat is on. Decide what your values are, stop doing anything that violates them, and try to communicate them to the rest of us if you can.

    2. Figure out a way to embrace a brand that includes the 12 oz line and the Smokestack line simultaneously. Lots of breweries, bigger and smaller than Boulevard (Sierra Nevada, BBC, Avery, Bells, Rogue to name a few) produce broadly appealing beers and specialty beers under the same brand.

    3. When I click on "Beer" on the Boulevard website, I should see information on the Smokestack beers, not a link to effectively a separate website with a different look and feel. Can you imagine if Sierra Nevada made you go to a different website to find out about Bigfoot?

    4. If the Smokestack beers have to have their own website, it should receive a reasonable amount of attention. At present it appears to have not been updated in a long time, features a retired beer (Saison) and has no information on any of the Smokestack beers other than the original 4 year round beers.

  14. To answer the questions posted by John,

    1. Yes, until the last couple of years, Boulevard was adamant about not making beers with any fruit flavor, and only in glass bottles.
    2. I think they began to bend this rule, in view of the big variety of beers available to the consumer--and to make sales. The aluminum bottle was aimed to gain sales at stadiums, and other places glass isn't allowed.
    3. Yes, I think Boulevard values the craft beer heart--but the company has a split personality torn between mass sales and beer geeks. However, the bottom line is the driving force there!
    4. In regards to the abandonment of standards, I think it all relates to sales and marketing; they are cranking out the new Smokestacks at a furious pace--promoting them on the basis of image, rather than carefully crafting wonderful beers. I liked Harvest Dance, but really didn't like Two Jokers--couldn't drink a small glass of it. Why didn't the hyped collaboration turn out an impressive Belgian beer? They're saying there will be another 4 or 5 collaborations this year?!

  15. John -

    I think you went way overboard when you complained that some sloppy FAQ writing amounts to an abandonment of values, but I agree with everything you say in your most recent comments.


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