Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 22, 2013

This Boulevard’s for you

With the number of wineries, breweries and distilleries our family has toured, you’d think we were big drinkers. In 1985, husband Art and some friends even embarked on a four-week trip devoted to the wine and champagne regions of Germany and France. Art said they toured so many well-known vintners that by the end, he could have conducted the tours himself in French or German if the need had arisen.

This came to mind last Sunday when we visited the Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City. The “we” in this case included Art, younger daughter Katie, daughter-in-law Lacey and me. Older daughter Mariya was at a conference in Las Vegas and wouldn’t return until early the next morning.

Upon arriving, we were given eight bottle caps, each redeemable for one small glass of the brew. When we left, we still had five caps. “That way we’ll each have a souvenir,” Art said, “including Mariya, who isn’t even here.”

Near the start of the tour, the guide asked if anyone in the group of approximately 20 didn’t like beer. Katie’s was the only hand to go up.

He grinned and said, “OK, you’re the designated driver.”

Then he and another brewery employee led us through the Boulevard plant.

While most of Art’s trips to wineries have been in Europe, I’ve toured one in Wisconsin and another in California. Not long after we married, we visited the McCormick distillery in Weston, Mo. In 2005, we and the girls stopped at Dewar’s “World of Whisky” in Scotland. The four of us also visited the Guinness facility in Dublin in 2008 and the Heineken plant in Amsterdam in 2009.

Yet with all this alcohol-related touring, Art considers it a big month if he has a couple of bottles of beer - and I drink even less than he does. In contrast, it was obvious that some of the folks on the Boulevard tour were very familiar with the brew, and a few St. Patrick’s Day revelers outside had already had their share before arriving. But our consumption seems to be limited to only certain occasions. Of the three - hard liquor, beer and wine - beer is Art’s favorite and is most often consumed after a warm day of walking. My first choice is a glass of wine.

This low consumption seems to run in our families. Art’s dad once worked as a bartender, but like Art, only rarely drank. On his Mom’s side, a once-per-year excursion into the realm of alcohol was the bottle of Mogen David wine given to his mother's dad at Christmas. What Art recalls most clearly was after he tried some, his grandfather told him that if he wasn’t careful, he’d pee in the bed.

I don’t recall my family having any drink containing alcohol in our home, save for maybe a couple of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Much like Art’s family, no one really had anything against it, but, rather, just didn’t care for it much. I do recall Dad mentioning enjoying a beer after a warm day of farm chores, but that was it.

Still, we always seem to enjoy seeing the processes and the places where alchololic drinks are made, including the passion each producer seems to show for his particular product. I must admit I hadn’t really thought much about the beer-making process until I’d been on a tour. I didn’t have a clue what hops are and had never noticed them growing in a field until one of our trips to Germany. I learned the flowers of the plant are used as a flavoring agent in beer, giving it its bitter, tangy flavor. In contrast, the other ingredients - barley or wheat, water and yeast - are all common ones.

But each beer-making facility promotes its own range of flavors by the addition of small amounts of other ingredients or subtle changes to a process that is otherwise identical from brewery to brewery. Our tour guide spoke about the various “fruity,” “citrusy,” “nutty” and “salty” flavors of Boulevard beers.

I tried one called “Hibiscus gose” that was flavored with hibiscus flowers. It was indeed salty - so much so that I had to ask Lacey to help me finish it.

Boulevard is one of the breweries that stores some of its beer in wooden barrels that had previously been used to age whiskey. These barrels impart unique flavors as well.

Art is rather partial to the wheat beers that are unfiltered so the yeast remains in the final product. While he enjoys the Boulevard wheat beer, he said he prefers the German varieties that have a more fruity flavor that reminds him of peaches.

Along with promoting their flavors, the breweries, wineries and distilleries use various advertising and marketing strategies to set their products apart from their competitors. The “This Bud’s for you” phrase that Anheuser Busch used to promote its Budweiser beer is just one of many slogans beer companies have used to promote their products. Many are so successful in this regard that the sayings become part of the culture and are recognized even among non-drinkers.

Having had experience in advertising, I find many beer ads quite amusing. But, as our girls are fond of saying, I find almost anything amusing - including learning about the process of making a beverage that I really don’t care about all that much.

Left: Katie and Mariya at the Dewar distillery in Scotland; middle: Katie and Mariya at the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam; right-top: sign in the Boulevard brewery; right-bottom: Katie and Mariya in front of the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland.

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