Brewer Bytes with Boulevard Brewing Co.
An Interview with Jeremy Danner, Brewer
Posted on 11/19/2013 by Chops
It wasn't too long ago that the mention of "beer" and "Missouri" conjured up visions of billowing smokestacks and corporate behemoths. The American craft beer movement has been steadily changing that perception, and it's thanks to breweries like the Boulevard Brewing Company. Boulevard has grown to become the largest craft brewery in the Midwest. Their wildly popular Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer is the region's best-selling craft beer. Boulevard is also well known for their artisan line of specialty brews, including their delectable Smokestack Series. BrewChief recently caught up with Boulevard brewer Jeremy Danner, who happily offered up some Brewer Bytes.
What inspired you to get into brewing?
I had what a lot of us refer to as the beer epiphany moment at the end of a beer fest in St. Louis, Missouri. I was there pouring for 75th Street Brewery. I hadn't yet moved into the brewhouse and was a bartender at the time. The fest had just ended and I was able to taste a tiny bit of New Belgium's La Folie from the bottom of a bottle. It was my first sour, and up until that moment, I had no idea that beer could taste like that. Ending a really cool day with a mind-blowing beer like that made me realize that I had to work my way into a brewing job.
What do you feel sets you apart from other brewers?
I think our love, borderline obsession, for balance sets Boulevard apart. We make malty beers and we make hop forward beers, but we believe that every beer needs to be balanced to remain drinkable. I like to compare beer to food and I think that hops are like salt in a way. Most dishes benefit from salt to help coax flavors out and make them pop, but you'd never hear a chef talking about making the saltiest soup in the city, but a lot of breweries brag about hopping rates or alcohol percentages, things that ultimately say very little about the flavor or intention of the beer. We definitely like hops, but we feel like there should always be that hint of malt sweetness to keep hoppy beers from becoming overpowering. The same is true with our maltier beers. We dig complex malt/fermentable profiles, but that touch of hops keeps the beer from being too cloying or sticky.
What was your worst brewing experience?
I've grained out to the floor a couple of times on our original 35 bbl brewhouse. The lauter has a plug that you pull to start the flow of grain to an auger that sends it out to the spent grain silo. If things are just a bit soupier than they look when you pull the plug, the grain rushes out and overflows the hopper making a gigantic mess. Everyone does it a couple of times, but it's still a giant bummer of a mess. I've also clogged a heat exchanger or three and broken a couple of oscillating u-tube densitometers. Google that. They're not cheap. They must really like me to let me stay around.
What was your best or most rewarding brewing experience?
I've been incredibly lucky to have several cool experiences at Boulevard. Brewing Collaboration No 1 Imperial Pilsner with Jean-Marie Rock from Orval was awesome. He's a brewing legend and thinks about every single detail of every step of the brewing process. His exhaustive approach to brewing was very cool to be around. More recently, we won gold in the Wood & Barrel Aged Sour category at GABF with Love Child No. 3. We had a big crew out from the brewery and just lost our minds when they read our name off. Medals are always cool, but to win with our sour was an amazing feeling.
What are your favorite breweries outside of your own?
I drink a lot of beer from Deschutes, Victory, Firestone Walker, and I have to mention the sour stuff from New Belgium. Locally, I really dig McCoy's Public House. They make a ginger shandy that is probably my favorite non-Boulevard beer on the planet right now. I've also been known to drink a Stiegl Radler or two.
Where is your favorite place to enjoy a cold pint?
Outside of my backyard, my favorite place in town to drink beer is the roof of our brewery. We have an unobstructed view of downtown Kansas City from up there. It's also one of my favorite places to take guests.
How do you feel about beer reviewing and its impact on the industry?
I think reviewing is great. We're lucky to be a part of an industry with such passionate consumers. I work in a factory, but we happen to be making something that people truly love. Everyone uses Q-Tips, but no one goes to Q-Tip festivals or tastings and there aren't Q-Tip review sites. Maybe there are, but the point is that people spend their free time sharing their thoughts on this beer that we brew. We appreciate positive reviews, but we don't lose our minds when someone writes a negative review either. The beautiful thing about beer is that we all taste things differently and we can (usually) all be right about something we're tasting or experiencing in a beer.
What would you say to a beer snob who is hating on your brews?
It's cool to not like one of our beers. We make over 30 different beers over the course of a couple of years. You're bound to find something you love in there and it's totally okay to not like a few of those. I think it's important, though, to note the distinction between a beer you don't like and a bad beer. Bad beers have obvious flaws that make them bad, but sometimes a beer is technically sound and you just don't like it. There's definitely a difference between the two.
What would you say to a beer novice who is trying your brews?
Drink everything. Seriously. Drink styles that you don't think you'll like. Drink beers your friends hate. Everyone has their own journey into beer and shouldn't let others influence their tastes.
What advice would you give to a new craft beer fan?
Be nice to people. I can remember when I first got serious about beer and I was sort of a beer jerk. I secretly mocked people that drank beer that I viewed as inferior. Luckily, I realized how ridiculous it is to act like that. We're not going to get folks drinking better beer by telling them how stupid they are for drinking beer we don't approve of. That's just a silly approach. Instead, turn your friends on to good pilsners and guide them into discovering better beer. Be cool, man.
What is the best thing about being part of the beer industry?
Free beer! Really though, the free beer is nice, but the best part about the beer business is the people. You hear it so many times that it sounds cliche, but beer people really are good people. I've met a lot of lifelong friends through beer and the hospitality I experience when I travel just rocks.