I spent six years living in Kansas City at a time when the craft brewing movement was just taking off. It was a great city for experiencing a bunch of good beers from throughout the Midwest, as both bars and grocery stores carried a wide variety of brands and styles of beer. There were also a number of brewpubs in town, where you could get a good burger and a fresh beer in your own neighborhood.
Apart from the small brewpubs, during the time I lived there Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Co. was the only real brewery in the city. Its beers were a source of civic pride and found on tap at virtually every restaurant and bar. Bottles of its Unfiltered Wheat seemed to be in everyone’s fridge.
Founded in 1989, Boulevard is now available in 31 states. It produces 10 different beers year round and numerous seasonal styles every year.
Moving back to Mobile a decade ago, I was disappointed — but not surprised — that I could not find Boulevard’s Bully Porter, Pale Ale or Unfiltered Wheat (still one of my all-time favorites) in our area, as it was still a regional brewery. However, in the past two years or so, as Boulevard got bigger and our own beer scene improved greatly, I’ve been happily surprised to occasionally find different styles of Boulevard on tap in and around Mobile.
Recently I was excited to find Boulevard’s Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale and The Calling IPA, neither of which I’d ever tried, in bottles in local grocery stores. The Calling IPA was excellent, a lighter IPA with very little head and hints of fruit in the finish. The Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale tasted very much like a lighter European ale, almost like a saison — clean, with a nice, hoppy flavor and not much aftertaste.
Like all of Boulevard’s beers, they are bottle conditioned, meaning that, unlike most beers you find today, they are not artificially — or “force” — carbonated by having CO2 injected into the beer. Instead they are naturally carbonated by having a small amount of active yeast and sugar added to the beer when it is bottled. This process causes what is, in effect, a second fermentation inside the bottle, and usually results in both gentler carbonation and a richer flavor.
Because the fermentation takes place in the bottle, bottle-conditioned beers also stay fresh longer than most beers, and actually improve with age like wine. While I’m not sure I’m willing (or patient enough) to age my beer, a number of breweries now produce bottle-aged beers that actually come packaged in bottles that look more suited for wine than beer — some even with corks! Unfortunately, a number of them are priced like wine as well, some at $11 and $12 a pop.
I chose to sample a more reasonably priced (at $7.99) Alabama-brewed option, Madison’s Blue Pants Brewery’s Brettanomyces Fermented IPA. I’ve had Blue Pants’ American Amber before, and liked it a good deal, so I was looking forward to the bottle-fermented IPA.
When I popped the cap, however, I was rewarded with an explosion of foam, like a 6th grade volcano science fair project gone awry. I don’t know if I didn’t let the beer age long enough, or if they left too much yeast in the bottle, but it was a mess. Once the foam subsided and I cleaned up, I had about half a bottle left. The resulting IPA was OK — thin for an IPA and not nearly worth all the trouble to get to it.
Back to the Boulevard.
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