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Boulevard wants to give Kansas City a brewery of its own.

Boulevard wants to give Kansas City a brewery of its own

It's the second-largest brewery in Missouri--only 80 million barrels a year behind Anheuser-Busch.

But the owner of the tiny new Boulevard Brewing Co. says the cross-state colossus isn't his competition. John McDonald just wants to give Kansas City a beer of its own.

"I really think people should have the opportunity to drink different kinds of beer," McDonald said last week. "Not everybody should be doing the same things. Some people still want a beer that tastes like a beer."

Five years ago, only 29 so-called microbreweries operated nationwide. Now there are 225, according to the Association of Brewers, a trade group in Boulder, CO. Even so, the small breweries account for less than one percent of all beer made and sold in the U.S.

"This is a market niche that's just opening up," said Jeff Mendel, assistant director of the association's Institute for Brewing Studies. "These breweries are tapping into peoples' desires for more flavor, more freshness. They're use local history and images that allow the customer to feel like, hey, this is ours."

Hereford House manager David Reed agrees. The downtown restaurant has gone through almost two kegs a week since it began selling Boulevard beer a few months ago.

"We went with it because it's made in Kansas City," Reed said. "It's actually becoming one of our top sellers."

Another 62 taverns and restaurants in the Kansas City area have signed up to sell Boulevard beer on tap since production started in November. McDonald also sells to a bar in Lawrence, KS, and a hotel in Wichita.

He estimates he will sell between 2,000 and 3,000 of his 31-gallon barrels during his first full year of operation and will make enough to cover costs by next fall.

"We're finding people really receptive," he said. "I think a lot of people here are just more open to a higher-priced beer than they would be to wine or something else."

McDonald, the 36-year-old self-employed carpenter, brewed at home for four years and toured more than 20 brewing operations in Europe and the United States, before deciding to take the plunge himself.

His brother, a plumber, helped him convert a Kansas City warehouse into a large, airy room that now holds the 50-year-old copper brew kettle he bought second-hand from a German brewery, two new fermenting tanks and a second-hand bottling line: McDonald's five employees won't start bottling the beer for at least few more months.

Equipment and start-up costs were about $680,000, McDonald said. He invested his own money and attracted 20 investors, including Charles McElevey, a former brew master for Rainier Brewing Co. in Seattle who has served as an independent consultant since 1980.

The dark amber beer that McDonald and McElevey developed, called Boulevard Pale Ale, is heavier and sweeter than most American beers. McDonald scorns the sweet designation, calling the beer instead "more flavorful, more complex."

The two also are working on a second beer, a lighter, wheat beer similar to types popular in the Midwest before Prohibition. Such a beer already is sold at the Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence, a combination small brewery and restaurant that opened early last year.

McDonald is optimistic about his brewery's chances.

"There's enough bar-restaurants to sell to that if one goes out of business it won't kill us," he said.

But he knows his limitations. He must compete with import beers for a segment of the public that, although it seems to cut across economic lines and occupations, is mostly male.

McDonald says he doesn't expect to grow beyond the Kansas City area anytime soon. In part because he doesn't have the trucks necessary for distribution.
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Title Annotation:Boulevard Brewing Co.
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:May 7, 1990
Words:624
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