Can anyone think of a better surprise from their boss than going to a brewery on a Tuesday afternoon for a tour and drinks while technically still working? I didn’t think so. This is exactly what happened to me a few months back! (Yes, for those of you wondering, my boss does Rock!)
Here at Team Cocktail Headquarters, we had talked about taking this particular tour many times, however, it’s difficult to plan because you often have to reserve your place months in advance due to high demand, so we just hadn’t been able to. Lucky for us, some special tours were added to get new videos for the Brewery’s website, and so, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, we made the quick trip to Kansas City, MO- home of Boulevard Brewing Company.
Our tour began in the gift shop—only because the old brewhouse was under construction for the installation of HUGE new fermentation tanks. We got a brief overview about how owner/founder John McDonald started brewing in 1989, after converting what was once an old Laundromat into a brewhouse—filled with used German 105-barrel fermentation tanks and other old apparatus. Following our history lesson, it was time for Beer-101, a very basic How-To video about making beer. The takeaway message was that beer is simple. It’s a mixture of 4 ingredients: Grain, Hops, Yeast and Water. It goes through a process of mashing, lautering, boiling, and fermentation—BAM! You have beer! Once we all had our intro-to-beer knowledge, it was time to go see the state-of-the-art equipment they used to make it!
The first stop was a cellar filled with old whiskey barrels—many with chalk marks all over the sides noting dates and changes to their contents. This is where the Boulevard magic happens; home to the smokestack series of brews, and other artisan beers. Using old-school fermentation in barrels allows the beer masters to extract natural bourbon/oaky/smoky flavors, adding a whole new dynamic to the beer. Yummmmy! Are you thirsty yet?
Following the brew-cellar, it felt like we time traveled.
We went from a 200-barrel cellar, to the most modern, sleek, high-tech brewhouse you could find. It had the production capacity for several hundred barrels per tank, using 6 large tanks each on 6hr cycles. This room allows Boulevard to mass-produce regionally, and makes it financially possible for them to also create their specialty brews. With several massive fermentation tanks, and line after line of stainless steel pipes, it was clear that the Team at Boulevard knew their beer!!. Being there will instantly make you thirsty, that’s for sure!
Have I mentioned the smell in this place?! Obviously it smelled like beer, but on the day of our tour, we were lucky enough to have an overwhelming smell of chocolate. Yes, you read right, Chocolate! We were there the day they were adding the chocolate nibs to flavor their specialty chocolate ale. From what I had heard at the time, it was awesome, and was one of those—if you see it you HAVE to get it—kind of beers…
After passing through the fermentation areas, the next stop of our tour was a birds-eye view of the bottling room. Talk about mesmerizing. I’m gonna be honest, I probably only heard half of what the guide was saying. I was so focused on watching the bottles being filled and capped and moving along the conveyers and being labeled then boxed in one smooth process. SO FLIPPIN COOL!!
On top of being the second largest brewery in the Missouri, Boulevard also prides itself as being one of the ‘greenest’ brewers. With solar panels, a green roof, KC’s first electric car charge station, recycled packaging, and their Ripple-Glass initiative, it’s clear they take being green seriously. Even byproducts from brewing are used as feed!
After all was said and done with the tour, it was time to return to the tasting bar. Using bottle-caps to collect our samples we were able to try any of the brews they had on tap. My favorite—Hoppy Wheat, not available anywhere but there! Needless to say, the end of the tour was a nice time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the local beer. You could also ask questions to learn more. It was a great afternoon! (Seriously, Best. Boss. Ever!)
…Now, almost 3 months later, the specialty Chocolate ale I mentioned before has been released, and has caused a ruckus in the Kansas City area! Even after Boulevard TRIPLED their production of the beer from the previous release, it’s still hard to find. In fact, I have yet to find it in a bottle at any liquor store! Luckily, finding it on tap was a little easier, and I finally got to taste what the hype was all about. (It was cooler knowing we were there the day the beer got its signature chocolaty flavor.) Anyhow, the flavor was definitely unique, very sweet and very hoppy, but also light. You certainly couldn’t drink very much of it at one time, but it’s a nice change from other, heavier, chocolate beers. If you see it somewhere, I’d definitely suggest trying it!
As always, Travel Global, Drink Local!