Great Beer for the New Year #4: Boulevard Manhattan Cask Still Ale. Imperial Stout Aged in Manhattan Barrels — sans bubbles. Kansas City, Missouri
Date: January 9, 2019
The Story— Boulevard began in a former laundry for the Sante Fe Railroad in Kansas City, Missouri. Founder John McDonald sold his house to get the money to buy a used 35 barrel German brew system, borrowed enough from his dad to get a “very old” bottling line and in 1989 started brewing beers that had been inspired by his trip to Belgium years earlier. Steady expansion led to a huge expansion and later to acquisition by Duvel Moortgat. It’s a Duvel company now; John McDonald still has an office at the brewery but decisions are corporate. But those decisions are coming from a corporation that makes excellent beer in Belgium, Czech, and in it’s three US breweries (Ommegang and Firestone Walker are the other two. Not a bad trio, huh?)
Boulevard is best known for lighter beers — its wheat and saison are its biggest sellers, but its Smokestack Series broke new ground for them and the brewery now produces “limited release” beers that a few decades ago could not have been sold, much less brewed, in the Midwest.
This uncarbonated Imperial Stout could only succeed in a market that essentially demands anything new. We’re not big fans of some of the departures from the highway that have filled coolers lately, but if we had to put up with all of them to have a chance to find a beer like this, we’ll pay the price.
What the heck is a “Manhattan Barrel”, Ellie asked, reading my mind as we looked at the label. We don’t spend much time with cocktails (we only have one hard working liver each), but, we learned, a manhattan barrel is, in fact, “a thing.” Bourbon companies add the vermouth to the barrel and age it for a depth of flavor you can’t make at the bar. Thirteen fermentable ingredients give the beer its complexity; a Scottish yeast and a couple of basic American hops are less evident. We’re guessing it would have been pretty good if finished conventionally, but they let it sit for months in Jefferson Manhattan barrels and allowed it to go flat. (If you want more details on the beer, they’re easier to find on Beer Advocate’s post than on the company website. ) We tasted it well over a year after bottling, but we’re guessing it will be good for years to come.
The Beer— Rich dark malt with lots of booze, chocolate and barrel. No surprises there. A touch of deep dark fruit and a hint of pear before even more dark fruits add breadth. Herbs, raisins and plum cake swirl in the palate and usher in a deep warming complexity. Stunningly moreish, but we couldn’t finish it all. We left it on the table — just in the glass we poured it into and I (with a day off) gave it a try the next morning. This time it was finished (sorry Ellie)– maybe even better than the night before.
Value — Very good. If you can still find this limited release, you’ll get change from your $20 bill and bring home a bottle that’s well worth a half a case of something else.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.