In the interest of enlightenment and delightenment, I took a field trip to Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Mo., last Friday.
The point, since there really was one, was to hang out with brewer Jeremy Danner as I work on a piece of writing for some other post on some other day. But there were many great nuggets to be had that do not fall into that niche. And those nuggets, I share today.
While I’ve been in a sizable brewery in the past (Dogfish Head and New Belgium come to mind), this was a much closer look at the inner workings of a 150-barrel brew house shooting for an output of 175,000 barrels of beer in 2012. The 10th largest craft brewery in the US, Boulevard employs 100 fulltime employees and distributes in 23 states. For one, I never really thought about the amount of concrete necessary to make 600-barrel fermenters structurally sound. Seeing the fermenters from the underside was a good way to exercise my jaw. It kept dropping. (No, it didn’t–that’s just a figure of speech.)
Aside from spending time with the brewers, including Brewmaster Steven Pauwels, here are some cool things I got to do:
1. Attend the Brewmaster’s Luncheon. This was a three-course (actually, there was an additional, surprise amusé not on the menu) shindig featuring three beers from Pauwels and the victual delights of KC Hopps Corporate Executive Chef Ryan Sneed. I was pretty happy with Sneed’s Chilled Avacado and Sweet Corn Bisque, Shatto Cream, Cilantro Oil and Crispy Bacon Lardons (paired with Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale), not to mention the Braised Pork Cheeks, Sweet Corn Pudding, Glazed Carrots and Morel Demi Glace (paired with Boulevard Amber Ale). Delicious, both.
2. Taste. In the interest of quality control, each employee of the brewery does sensory analysis twice a day. They do a lot of education of staff and analysis of beers to ensure that quality beers are being released. I tasted two pale ales and two double IPAs. One of the pale ales served had a good six months on it, and wasn’t suitable for release in its current form (I noticed, and passed the test). The double IPAs had subtle differences, and it seemed that it was a matter of subjective preference within the group I was a part of as far as which beer was better. If I remember correctly, one was bottled using an experimental synthetic cork. (I tasted some other stuff, here and there, as well.)
3. Talk. I talked with a number of brewers, as well as folks in marketing, the lab and other walks of life at the brewery. Interestingly, I really enjoyed my time (over lunch) with Dali Grabar, the brewery’s Engineering Project Manager, as much as anything. Having installed brew houses around the world, he came on board full time with Boulevard after installing their 150-barrel brew house a few years ago. I’ve never thought about the importance of a role like Grabar’s in the day-to-day operations of a brewery. In addition to planning and executing expansions and other projects, Grabar’s job is to “eliminate the unknowns,” and “to provide [the brewers] with the best tools” to make good beer–consistently.
It’s good to think about the things you hadn’t thought about. Field trips are great, aren’t they?