Boulevard Brewing Co. rolls out a debut-rich 2016 schedule

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Boulevard ambassador brewer Jeremy Danner offers me a beer. It’s a cool October morning, and a group gathered in the tasting room of Kansas City’s largest brewery has just filtered out. Danner is behind the bar, offering a small pour of Test Coffee Porter, due for release in January under the name Early Riser Coffee Porter.

“Our goal is to get these beers on and test them out well in advance and try to figure out what we want to do,” Danner says.

Early Riser is a blast of Colombian Cauca Cajibio Estate coffee — imported by Midwest Coffee Trading in Gardner, Kansas. Danner says this version of the seasonal beer is pretty close to the one that will be out in bottles and on draft from January through March.

“It’s not Bully Porter,” Danner says. “Obviously, Bully Porter is really bitter. I think it’s high 50s in IBUs, if I recall correctly. So this is really designed to showcase the coffee.”

The Test Coffee Porter’s appearance in the tasting room is fleeting, but Early Riser’s arrival in 2016 will signal the start of Boulevard’s new releases. In late September, the brewery released next year’s schedule, which features 10 new beers — eight in the limited-edition Smokestack Series.

“They may not be 100 percent finalized,” Danner says, “but this is what we’re looking to do.”

Joining the lineup of year-round beers in April is Session Fruit Pale Ale. If that sounds like Boulevard and Cigar City’s Collaboration No. 5 from this year, it definitely was inspired by it, Danner says.

“In making the test batches of that beer, we thought it was really cool what the grapefruit and the passion fruit brought to the beer,” Danner says. “I think we like those flavors and like the way that they present — for me, the passion fruit and the aroma. But it doesn’t make the beer sweet or necessarily tart. It didn’t take over. So I think we like the idea of playing with that in a more sessionable version.”

The plan is for Session Fruit Pale Ale to be released in cans. Danner says Boulevard is still finalizing the recipe, testing different fruits and flavorings and using Pale Ale or Pop-Up Session IPA as a base. “We’re going to make that beer,” he says. “We just don’t know exactly what it’s going to be.”

In the Smokestack Series, the hugely popular and sought-after Chocolate Ale returns with a twist when it begins showing up on store shelves and in local taps in January.

“We’re messing with the idea of doing raspberry to kind of refresh chocolate ale,” Danner says. “We thought it’d be cool to refresh the beer and also bring Christopher Elbow back into the collaboration.”

When Chocolate Ale was first released, in 2011, chocolatier Elbow worked closely with Boulevard on the making of the beer. Since Chocolate Ale’s debut, Elbow has played a more ancillary role, sourcing the cocoa nibs and tasting the beer.

“This kind of gets him more involved than he was,” Danner says.

But why raspberry?

“We wanted to do something that was still very approachable,” Danner says. “You understand the audience for Chocolate Ale. It’s something that beer dorks get excited about but, at the same time, it’s probably our most popular among mainstream beer drinkers. This might be the only Boulevard special release that they buy that year. We wanted to do something that made sense to people and didn’t seem like a crazy leap.”

In 2016, Boulevard will release two versions of Rye-on-Rye (in February and in August), a big beer aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels.

“The first one for sure is the Rye-on-Rye-on-Rye,” Danner says. “The idea is to take Rye-on-Rye out of the Templeton Rye barrels it’s been aging in and put it in fresh Templeton Rye barrels — so kind of a double aging, in a sense. It won’t be blended with fresh beer at all. It’ll be 100 percent barrel-aged. It’ll be boozy but cool.”

Danner says to expect a “much more whiskey-forward” beer, something he calls “Rye-on-Rye on steroids.”

“That’s the beer that taught me how to drink whiskey,” he says.

As for the August release of Rye-on-Rye X-2, it’s still in the planning stages. “We have ideas,” he says, “but we haven’t determined anything solid.”

Also being worked out is a March release that’s listed only as “Smokestack Seasonal.” “We don’t have a for-sure idea nailed down,” Danner says.

In April, Tripel Julep — the Smokestack year-round beer Long Strange Tripel, whiskey-barrel-aged with mint — returns to the lineup, just in time for the Kentucky Derby. ”Kind of a play on the mint julep but with Tripel,” Danner says.

Love Child No. 7 follows in May. “We have some different base beers that have been souring, so we might see some inclusion of that,” Danner says.

Saison-Brett comes back in June. In July, Collaboration No. 6 is unveiled, but whom Boulevard is working with is still a secret. “We’re talking to the other brewery right now,” Danner says. “I’m only aware of one conversation that we have going, and it’s an exciting one. But I can’t say anything.”

Funkier Pumpkin hits in September. Think Funky Pumpkin, barrel-aged and inoculated with Brettanomyces. “We’re looking to do a bottle release with that — 750 ml — and making that a Smokestack beer alongside Funky Pumpkin,” he says.

Look for the experimentation with Imperial Stout X to continue into the new year. “The idea is to do something new, which we haven’t finalized yet,” Danner says.

Bourbon Barrel Quad will close the year in November.

With good news also comes bad. In 2016, Boulevard will say goodbye to Spring Belle saison and ZŌN Belgian-style witbier.

“I don’t know if beers ever die, but we say it’s retired,” Danner says. “I’m personally bummed because I love ZŌN. I think there are a lot of people around the brewery who love ZŌN, and it’s kinda special because it was one of the first Belgian beers that we brewed with Steven Pauwels, bringing that recipe over and making that summer witbier, but it just doesn’t move enough, unfortunately.”

With ZŌN sales lagging, Boulevard cut its production run to a bottle-only release. But its time is up.

“[Ginger-Lemon] Radler became that summer star for us,” Danner says. (Radler will get an extended release in 2016, from March through November.) “When you have a beer that’s able to take over the volume of that beer and then some, it’s tough to justify brewing that [ZŌN]. We knew that Radler was going to be popular, but we didn’t quite know how big it was going to be. We want to extend that so there’s more time that you can drink Radler throughout the year.”

Even though ZŌN won several medals at the Great American Beer Festival, it proved one sad fact: “Medals don’t sell beer,” Danner says. “I am bummed that it didn’t win this year because it would have been five years in a row medaling at GABF, which is unheard of, and it would have been a nice swan song.”

Even as ZŌN fades into retirement, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2016. And there could always be more.

“We try to say, ‘This is it. This is what we’re making,’” Danner says. “But we know that things will likely pop up that we want to brew or have the opportunity to brew. We’ve been very clear about saying this is subject to change — because of production limitations or fermentation capacity, a beer might drop from the list, too. So people have to be prepared for that.”

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