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Boulevard Brewing Co.: Craft Beer, Sustainability On Tap

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Kansas City, MO, has been treated to a decade of excellence. Between the Kansas City Royals winning the World Series in 2015, the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl in 2020 and 2023, and Sporting KC winning the MLS Cup in 2013, Kansas Citians have had a lot to cheer about. Like any city celebrating its professional sports franchises, beer is consumed by gallons. 

So, it makes sense that Kansas City is one of the best markets for craft brews. Boulevard Brewing Company has been a staple in the community since its inception. 

In 1984, the brewery’s founder, John McDonald, was inspired by a bar he visited on a European vacation. The spot served Belgian-style ales, which he felt had more flavor, color, and appearance than the “homogeneous and unremarkable” American beer of the time. Kansas City had once been a hotspot for breweries, something it is recapturing now but had lost as big beverage producers moved into the area in the 80s. 

McDonald originally started as a carpenter, but after experimenting with homebrewing and visiting other operations, he saw an opportunity.

He sold his house to raise capital, but while investors seemed skeptical, McDonald said toppling the big players wasn’t his plan. 

“I want to do something different,” he said on the company website. “I want to make big beers, a variety of beers, beers with color and flavor and aroma and body, beers for real beer lovers.”

Photo Courtesy Boulevard Brewing Company

The brewery officially began operations in 1989. The first batch of Boulevard Pale Ale debuted and was delivered to a local restaurant in November of that year. The production space was an old laundry used by the Santa Fe Railroad, which McDonald retrofitted to fit a 35-barrel Bavarian brewhouse.

By 2004, Boulevard was creating around 100,000 barrels a year, outgrowing its old space. Outside voices said it was best to relocate, but Boulevard decided to stay. It made a serious impression on the Kansas City community. 

In 2006, the business spent $25 million expanding the existing space. Eight years later, Boulevard became part of the Duvel Moortgat family, which owns a collection of artisanal breweries in Europe and the U.S. In 2016, “Cellar Five” opened, where it houses six 1,000-barrel fermentation tanks, a canning hall, and a high-speed canning line.  

Sustainability has been engrained in Boulevard’s business practices for a few years. In 2010, it took the first steps toward becoming a zero-landfill company.

All waste is recycled or composted, and the company works with local businesses for waste sourcing and donating. Anything that can’t be recycled or composted is sent to a local cement business and incinerated into ash for concrete. 

Solar power arrays were introduced in 2011, then expanded in 2019 to support power needs. Solar energy enables free electric vehicle charging and reduces strain on Missouri’s electric grid. 

Photo Courtesy Ripple Glass

The brewery also set up Ripple Glass, a recycling venture tackling Kansas City’s poor recycling rate. Started in 2009, Ripple has a modern facility that processes glass into fiberglass insulation. It saves energy and lowers emissions associated with recycling conversion. The closed-loop approach has saved more than 1 billion Kansas City glass bottles from landfills since 2009. 

Some of Boulevard’s beers also have nifty initiatives associated with them. The proceeds fund projects involving tree planting, water conservation, and nature conservation.

Purchasing a Space Camper IPA donates money to organizations doing the abovementioned work. However, if you buy Terror from the Deep Double IPA, funds go toward cleaning up single-use plastic from waterways. Cybersonic C-Hops funds more tree-planting efforts and nature preservation. 

All of these efforts have raised more than $70,000. Much of the proceeds help Bridging the Gap, a Kansas City climate action firm. It works with local businesses to improve eco-friendly practices and establish a network of like-minded leaders. 

Like many breweries we’ve written about, Boulevard is big on philanthropy. In October 2022, Vine Street Brewing Co. collaborated with Boulevard for the Buck O’Neil Barrel-Aged Saison. This beer honors Hall of Fame fielder Buck O’Neil, who played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Baseball League. Proceeds go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Photo Courtesy Boulevard Brewing Company

Rapper Tech N9ne collaborated with Boulevard for the Bou Lou wheat beer. In May 2018, Tech N9ne’s record label Strange Music decided to make a brew inspired by one of his biggest hits, Caribou Lou. It pays homage to one of Kansas City’s musical legends. 

Boulevard prides itself on being a safe space for everyone. The brewery welcomes people from all walks of life. The business supports the LGBTQ+ community, with some beer purchases supporting the Kansas City Pride Community Alliance.

“​​Today, our city continues to be welcoming to all,” the company website says. “Regardless of race, color, religion, disability, creed, sex, gender identity, and expression, we are all deserving of love and a beer.”      

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