The origin story of Boulevard Brewing Co. comes down to one seemingly crazy idea. Jeff Krum, president of Boulevard Brewing and friend of founder John McDonald, describes his involvement with the company as a “happy accident.”
“My friend had a crazy idea back in the mid-1980s to start a brewery,” Krum says. “It seems commonplace now, but at the time it really was sort of crazy. Most people he talked to told him as much, that there was only one other brewery in the state of Missouri at the time, and it happened to be the largest in the world.”
And they’re still the second largest brewery in the state. But unlike 30 years ago, there are now over 100 breweries in Missouri. Krum says time was on their side.
“We were fortunate in the timing when we started, even if it didn’t seem so in the early years, because it was still a pretty radical notion,” he says. “We had the benefit of timing. We had pretty strong tailwinds behind us for most of our early life.”
Krum trusted his friend’s instincts, invested in the idea and Boulevard opened in 1989. A couple years in, it seemed McDonald’s idea had found traction—sales were strong, and their reputation was growing. Since Krum had business organization skills he says McDonald lacked, he offered to come in one day a week to help “bring some order to the chaos.” One day quickly became five plus days a week, and 25 years later Krum describes it as a “long, fun ride.”
Today the company is a hometown hit, selling about one third of their product within 50 miles of the brewery. Boulevard beer is also sold in 42 states as well as several foreign countries. When asked why the idea for the brewery seemed so crazy in the beginning, considering craft beer’s current popularity, Krum acknowledges it’s difficult to imagine if you didn’t live through it.
“There was no such thing as craft beer in Midwest—it just didn’t exist,” he says. “For a beverage that’s 6,000 years old, the beer business is remarkably volatile.”
With the ups and downs, closings and consolidations that came pre- and post-Prohibition, Krum notes that by the 1970s almost every brewery in the U.S. was making basically the same beer—a light, pilsner style lager.
“[Beer is] a big tree with lots of branches and basically all that was being produced in the U.S. was one singular style,” he says. “But nobody knew any different at the time. The notion of making a beer like Boulevard Pale Ale (which was our first beer) or Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat (which became our most popular beer) were radical notions at the time. People had not seen or tasted anything like it for a while, not for decades and decades. Which means that most people that were alive had never experienced it. It was truly a revolutionary idea at the time.”
Krum believes the company has a reputation for producing balanced beers.
“We don’t seek extremes,” he says. “We spend a lot of time, energy and money on ensuring that every beer that we make is as good as it can be. When we first started, we invested in a lab and laboratory equipment and personnel and still do. I think most people will tell you that they may not love each and every one of our beers, but I think we’re known for not making any bad beers.”
In addition to ensuring quality production of their products, Boulevard makes an effort to remain environmentally conscious in their work. Krum says their sustainability efforts and the idea of “waste not, want not” have been part of their ethos from the very beginning.
“I was not far removed from the farm, so the idea of waste, of reusing what’s reusable and using the minimum amount of resources to do what you need to do is just sort of natural to us,” he says. “It’s not a new idea for us.”
Their eco-friendly efforts include: a zero landfill initiative, utilizing solar energy and natural light when possible and starting Ripple Glass, which provides a glass recycling solution for Kansas City and the Midwest.
“Ripple Glass was simply out of an awareness that built up over time, that all of this glass we were using putting out millions of bottles a year—virtually all of it was ending up in a landfill. There was no need for that, but it took somebody to step up and create a full-blown solution of collection and processing. So we did that. It’s just sort of in our blood I guess.”
When asked why passion is an important facet to Boulevard’s company culture, Krum referred to a truism in business—a company is only as good as its people.
“We learn that and live that everyday,” he says. “We work really hard to attract not only the best and brightest but the people who really put their heart and soul into making the best beer possible. We work really hard to maintain a relentlessly positive, upbeat and rewarding culture—open and transparent and rewarding and fun. So we tend to work hard, but we play hard and (for the most part) really enjoy one another and enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
- 1989: The first keg of Boulevard Pale Ale is sold to Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen.
- 1990: Boulevard installs a small, used bottling line.
- 2005: Boulevard breaks ground for a brewhouse expansion.
- 2006: New brewhouse opens.
- 2013: Boulevard sells to Duvel Moortgat, a family-owned Belgian brewery.
- 2019: Boulevard launches Fling, their line of canned cocktails.