Kansas City is well-known for its legendary barbecue and, unbeknownst to me, fountains, but not so much its beer, except for Boulevard Brewing Company. Go ahead, think “midwest” and “beer city,” and I suspect that Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and maybe even Madison come to mind before the “Heart of America” sitting on the Missouri River. However, a recent trip out to attend Boulevard’s first annual beer and music festival, Boulevardia, proved that KCMO’s beer scene is alive, well, and growing quickly.

 

Let’s get one thing clear: square one for Kansas City’s craft beer scene is Boulevard. It’s everywhere. You walk into a bar, nearly any bar, as far as we saw, and order a “pale ale,” and you will get handed a Boulevard Pale Ale. Same with “a Pils.” You’ll get Boulevard’s KC Pils, 10 percent of the revenue of which goes to local charities. From gas stations to fine dining restaurants, you will see Boulevard’s influence from giant signs to tap handles. How’d they become so ubiquitous? Well, longevity for one. John McDonald opened Boulevard in 1989 in a brick building where he was making furniture before he discovered the joys of Belgian beers. Fast forward 25 years and Boulevard is the 12th largest craft brewer in the country and the second largest in the Midwest (after Bell’s). A major expansion in 2006 brought a huge expansion into a 150 BBL brewhouse that raised the brewery’s barrelage to over 600,000 barrels annually. When I heard someone joke on the brewery tour that Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat outsells Bud Light in Kansas City, I could actually believe it.

Boulevardia was the draw for our little sojourn out to KCMO. It was an effort by Boulevard to build its own little country right in the middle of the city for three days. Two stages with a full slate of live music, a bunch of tap tents (including some with special tappings), food vendors, performers galore, local artisans, and even a bacon eating competition. They got the word out, and people listened (or read the yard signs placed along the roads). For a first time event of this size, the event was pretty well organized. Good signage, clear and wide pathways, plenty to see and do, lots of room in front of the stages. In other words, a success. Especially notable was the app designed specifically for Boulevardia that included a schedule, map, breaking news alerts, and a brewery passport, among other features. Slickly put together and useful, this should be the model for other breweries’ festivals.

But wait, what is a “brewery passport,” and what’s it for? Well, the crown jewel of Boulevardia wa the “Taps and Tastes” experience. Sort of like an outdoor mini-SAVOR with local and national breweries and a number of local restaurants pushing out small, beer-friendly bites. See the picture below, it was set up on an underpass overlooking the festival in general. Pretty cool venue! The problem with underpasses is that they’re more or less bridges, and bridges are, by their nature, choke points. So while the underpass provided a great view, it did get pretty crowded pretty quickly. The crowd was justified given the beer selection. Fans of sours were more or less in heaven. Local breweries (more on that in a minute) brought all kinds of Berliners, Flanders red and browns, goses, and other American wild ales. It wasn’t just local breweries bringing the goods either. Breweries renowned on the national stage like Allagash, Crooked Stave, Funkwerks, Odell, and Russian River, to name a few, were in attendance and pouring rarities and fan favorites. I don’t geek out about too much anymore, but I had a list of “want-to-try” beers three dozen deep in the Boulevardia app (PS, it had a cool filtering feature where you could make a list you wanted and then move it to a different folder once you had it, along with a rating). With the mass of folks trying to get all these beers, it was tough to get everything I wanted, but I have to say I was incredibly pleasantly surprised. For a day in June, a makeshift city-in-a-city in the American heartland was Craft Beer, USA.

Outside of Boulevard and Boulevardia, there were plenty of other great sights and tastes in Kansas City. Here are just a few:

A special thanks to the team from Boulevard, Ommegang, and Duvel Moortgat for being hospitable hosts to us and providing a place for us to stay. Between seeing the festival, checking out the brewery, and learning more about the Kansas City craft beer scene, this was truly a worthwhile trip. Be sure to check out some of our photos below in the slideshow and ask any questions you have in the comments!


Created with flickr slideshow.