While everyone was busy standing in line for Hopslam at the Flying Saucer tonight, I was in Lawrence shmoozing it up with (what I'm told is) a who's who of the KC beer distribution scene. The occasion was the grand release of Boulevard's first collaboration beer. You've probably heard all there is to hear about about the Boulevard/Orval Imperial Pilsner so I'll do my best not to repeat anything that's already been said. Personally though, I was impressed...
There's a definite Pilsner flavor here, this beer is pale and crisp but it does have a pleasant sweetness and fantastic balance that makes it so much more than just a plain Pilsner. I enjoyed the five or six glasses of Imperial Pilsner I had tonight and I look forward to picking up a bottle of my own to give it a formal review. Considering I had such low expectations for this Imperial Pilsner, I'm pretty happy about the outcome. Your mileage may vary, but I think it's totally worth the price of admission ($12 per 750ml) to drink a part of brewing history. Seriously you guys, Jean-Marie Rock came to Kansas City and made a beer with Boulevard, how are you NOT going to try a bottle of this?
But back to the release party... The event was held at the Oread, a new hotel right next to the KU campus in Lawrence. "Lawrence?" you might ask, "but isn't Boulevard a Kansas City brewery?" Well, yes and yes... but John McDonald is a KU alum and, like all Jayhawks, feels some sort of weird affinity for mediocre Lawrence and it's lame university. Despite having the drive to Lawrence in the densest of the century, I was looking forward to spending some time with some Boulevard insiders and industry "professionals." I say that because there were a number of other bloggers there as well as folks who run liquor stores. Not exactly the group I was expecting to elbow through to on my way to get a glass of Imperial Pilsner... but that made it all the more fun. Some of these guys didn't seem to care that Steven Pauwels and Jean-Marie Rock were there, while the others were absolutely oozing with geeky excitement.
I went to the Oread with pretty modest expectations. I was hoping to get a glass of Imperial Pilsner and maybe shake the hand of either of the men who were responsible for making it a reality. By the end of the night I'd had my picture taken with both Pauwels and Rock, drank the better half of an Imperial Pilsner Smokestack bottle, I got a signed label and spoke at length with both of brewers about the genesis of this beer.
Steven Pauwels mentioned that this beer was first conceived during a trip to Tucson during a chemist convention. It was here that Rock and Pauwels got to talking about brewing a Pilsner, something similar to what Rock remembered having some thirty years earlier. Fast forward to January 2010 and the first, in what I hear is at least a four part series (more on that later...), collaboration beer has hit the market. I had to ask Pauwels what contribution Boulevard had on this beer. While Rock's influence is more obvious, Pauwels said Boulevard's contribution to this beer is in it's balance. I have to agree (it's not like I could argue with Boulevard's head brewer), the mellow pale malt and crispness do not over power your palate and are balanced out with a subtle sweetness that ties it all together.
I asked Pauwels about the big No. 1 on the label of this bottle, asking if there were any other collaborations in the works. He said that he hasn't gotten anyone to commit yet, but he's been genuinely surprised at the response he's gotten from other brewers. It was encouragingly vague news, but I wanted more. I overheard from a bald, skinny man in a white Boulevard button-up shirt that, "There are three or four more collaboration beers in the works for this year." He didn't elaborate any more than that... I'm willing to bet he's full of it but he was asked by a distributor how much a six barrel of Tank 7 was and he quickly rattled off "$76" ...so he may be more in the know than I think. For now though, I'll file it under B.S., feel free to prove otherwise by dropping me a line.
Needless to say, I had a great time. Having the opportunity to meet Pauwels and Rock in a setting like this was fantastic. The beer itself hasn't an epiphany but I enjoyed it much more than I expected and I won't hesitate to pick up a couple bottles when I see it on the shelf at the liquor store.
I'll leave you with this fun fact: Jean-Marie Rock's session beer of choice is Stella Artois. Also, he told me he doesn't like dark beer and hates Guinness. Pauwels had a few choice words for people who buy beers to age them, but I'll save that for another time.