Boulevard Comes of Age
John McDonald Reflects on Turning 21.
On November 17, 1989, the first keg of Boulevard beer was sold to Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen just a few blocks from the brewery. John McDonald delivered that half-barrel of Pale Ale in his pickup truck. A handful of regulars looked on in amusement as the young upstart tapped the strange new brew. As the notable anniversary nears, we asked Boulevard’s founder and president to reflect on the brewery’s journey over the past 21 years.
When I first joined the Brewers Association in the early ’90s it was a small group of old-line local and regional brewers, older guys who had started the organization after World War II. Many of those breweries are gone now, and most of that group has passed away. Now I’m one of the older guys, which is still hard to digest.
When we started there were only around 100 breweries in the entire country, down from something like 4,000 in 1880. Now we’re back up to almost 1,500 breweries in America.
Back in 1989 there weren’t a lot of choices at your typical watering hole. Today, many retailers have 10 or 15 taps, some close to 100, all due to the impact of small, independent brewers, brewers focused on quality and diversity, brewers like us who started the new wave of brewing that has in a generation moved the U.S. from laughingstock to leader of the beer world. By the mid-‘90s the big brewers started making their own “craft” beers, beers that at least on the surface resembled ours. Before then, they didn’t think of us as a threat. They thought we were crazy, and maybe they were right.
There are lots of little things I’d change if I got a do-over on the last 21 years, but fundamentally, I think we had the right idea: the most important thing is what’s in the bottle. I still believe that beer is not suited to be a mass-produced consumer good, that it should be something worth drinking, and that brewing should ideally be a local or regional activity.
In the early years we’d raise a pint on every anniversary because we didn’t know if we’d see another year. Five or 10 of us would spend the morning cleaning up the place and then we’d invite our retailers and friends to come by and have a beer or two. The party grew as we did, and today we’ve run out of space. To celebrate our coming of age, we’re bringing the party to bars and restaurants throughout our distribution area. We hope that you will join us in a toast at your favorite Boulevard establishment at 10pm on November 17th, a toast to our coming of age, to 21 great years, and to many more.
It has been an amazing trip, and I can’t wait to see what the next 21 years brings. Here’s to you, dear friend: to your taste, to your appreciation for good beer, and to your support for our little brewery. We wouldn’t have made it without you. Cheers!