Boulevard is back.
As long rumored and often delayed, Kansas City’s most famous brewery this week resumed selling its beer in Wisconsin again after a roughly seven-year hiatus.
These days, Boulevard Brewing is part of an international brewing concern, albeit one with considerably less baggage than, you know, some other ones. In 2013, Boulevard’s 60-year-old founder sold the brewery to Duvel Moortgat, a 142-year-old Belgian brewer that already owned Brewery Ommegang in New York state. At the time it joined Duvel, Boulevard was already a pretty big deal, producing about 185,000 barrels of beer, selling it in 25 states and ranking 12th on the Brewers Association’s list of the largest craft brewers.
Since then, it has continued to grow, to 220,000 barrels of production last year. This time around, Wisconsin is Boulevard’s 38th state. Duvel Moortgat USA is now the 12th-largest brewery overall in the United States, a list that includes all brewers and avoids the slippery “craft” definition.
In 2015, when I wrote on Duvel Moortgat’s partnership/buyout of California’s beloved Firestone Walker, I noted that Duvel had been a pretty good steward of its two other American holdings. Perhaps it’s just semantics or beer romanticism, but Duvel hooking up with American breweries that already had a Belgian bent feels very different than Anheuser-Busch purchasing Goose Island or Golden Road.
Again, perhaps it’s naive, but I read it as being more about the actual beer than market strategy and distribution networks.
And while Boulevard does have a broad portfolio with all-American easy drinkers galore, it’s signature beer is right at home in the Duvel family. So let’s talk beer.
Get Tank 7ed
Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale is widely acclaimed as one of the best American saisons, and for my money it’s the most market-changing beer in Boulevard’s portfolio. Wisconsin brewers are warming to saisons, but they’re still underrepresented for such a diverse and delicious style.
Named after the cantankerous fermentation vessel that held the experimental batch when the brewers finally locked down the recipe, Tank 7 is a big (8.5 percent ABV) beer that borrows the best of the original Franco-Belgian and modern American interpretations of the saison.
The hazy gold Tank 7 has a bright aroma that is loaded with citrus and floral character and a gentle cut-grass note that all carry through to the flavor, along with a modestly sweet maltiness. It’s light in body for such a big beer and finishes dry with an ample bitterness that lingers a bit on the palate. Saisons are excellent companions to many meals, and Tank 7 is particularly well suited to herbed and/or roasted chicken, pork or fish.
Available year-round, Tank 7 comes in four-packs of elegant, Belgianesque 12-ounce bottles or single 750-milliliter bottles. Also, there are Tank 7 socks.
From the other tanks
Boulevard’s portfolio runs quite a gamut, from approachable beers like the American-style Unfiltered Wheat Beer to Bourbon Barrel Quad, a heavy, complex Belgian style that the brewery manages to kick out year-round.
It’s been quite a while since I had much Boulevard beer aside from a snitch or two at the Great Taste of the Midwest. (Unfortunately the brewery’s Rye on Rye on Rye, one of my bizarre highlights from last year’s festival, was a February limited release.) As such my other hot beer takes are limited to samples Boulevard was kind enough to send in advance of the Wisconsin launch.
Ginger Lemon Radler: I generally like the combination of lemonade or soda and light beer, though a bold-flavored adjunct seems to be just the kick a radler or shandy needs to keep from being boring. (Exhibit A: Leinenkugel’s Grapefruit Shandy.) Boulevard’s summer radler — it offers Cranberry Orange Radler in winter — gets this formula darn near perfect. The ginger adds a zesty, exotic spiciness to the usual light, drinkable profile, and the citrusy, modestly tart finish delivers on the radler’s promise of refreshment. Year-round, six-packs of 12-ounce cans, 4.1 percent ABV.
Tropical Pale Ale: This subtle take on a fruited hop-forward beer has passion fruit juice and grapefruit peel and juice introduced relatively early in the brewing process. As a result, Tropical is balanced, with a touch of acidity and the fruit character accenting the citrusy, slightly piney hops and sturdy malt. At 5.9 percent ABV and with a moderately full body, Tropical isn’t exactly the summer crusher you might expect from the package. Year-round, six-packs of 12-ounce cans.
The Calling: A fine example of how an imperial IPA can be both delectably sweet and bracingly bitter, I think I’m going to have The Calling in my fridge quite a bit. The tropical fruit and pine hop profile is familiar but very well executed here, and the warmly sweet malt manages to poke its head through all those hops and find Peter-Paul-and-Mary harmony with that fruity hop character. The Calling dries up on the finish, inviting another sip. Year-round, four-packs of 12-ounce bottles, 8.5 percent ABV.