Jeremy Danner / Courtesy Boulevard Brewing Company
Remember back before Northwest Arkansas had breweries of its own? Prior to 2011 there wasn’t much beer made in our area. And what little beer there was could only be found at one small brewpub on Dickson Street. Mass-marketed national brands – primarily light lagers – ruled local tap handles and beer coolers.
Back then the closest thing to local beer came courtesy of Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City. Established in 1989 by John McDonald, Boulevard was one of the first craft beer brands to hit Northwest Arkansas. Unfiltered Wheat, Pale Ale, and Dry Stout were welcome alternatives to fizzy yellow lagers. And located a mere 3½ hours away, the brewery was close enough to consider local in those days.
A lot has changed since then.
Northwest Arkansas recently topped 500,000 residents, with 13 breweries of its very own now.
A capital expansion in 2006 pushed Boulevard’s brewing capacity to 600,000 barrels per year (just a bit more than the 6,000 in McDonald’s original business plan). And in 2013 Flemish-controlled Duvel Moortgat acquired the brewery in a deal that raised more than a few eyebrows in Kansas City.
Society has also changed since 1989. Handheld devices provide instant access to information. Social media allows for constant, real-time communication between people and the brands they consume. The line between the virtual and physical worlds becomes blurrier with each passing day.
Social media’s rise happened to coincide with explosive growth in craft (or as some like to call it nowadays – independent) brewing. Facebook, Twitter, and beer apps such as Untappd give voice to small brewers and the people who enjoy their beer. In many ways word-of-mouth has been replaced by trending topics. People literally talk about beer 24/7 now. And if you’re a brewery with any hope for growth, a social media presence is a must.
Perhaps no brewery does social media better than Boulevard. It has a huge presence across most of the major social media platforms, frequently posting about beer releases, special projects, and community events.
The voice of the brewery is 35-year-old Jeremy Danner. He manages Boulevard’s official accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Once a brewer himself, he now serves as the company’s Ambassador Brewer – or as Danner calls himself, “the handshake between brewing and marketing.”
“My production experience makes me uniquely qualified to inform some of our marketing,” he told me during a recent interview. “But the main function of my job is talking to the people who actually drink our beer.”
Danner also speaks for himself through his own social media profiles. With over 8,500 followers on Twitter he has become one of the beer industry’s strongest individual voices. He’s highly opinionated and demonstrates a sharp wit.
He chuckled when I told him that his posts often amuse me.
“I hear that a lot,” said Danner. “Or I hear ‘I really hate you.’”
Two distinct voices
Danner said social media puts a spin on traditional marketing. Whereas the old approach was akin to a radio – i.e., one-way communication – the new approach is more comparable to a telephone.
“People are constantly reaching out to you, wanting to interact with the brewery,” said Danner.
To satisfy their curiosity, Boulevard is fairly straightforward in what it shares with its fans. Danner doesn’t post about everything the brewery is up to, but he is certainly straight to the point about how and why Boulevard does things.
“My personal feed is also very direct,” he said. “Some might even say abrasive at times. I’m a terrible liar, so I just don’t do it.”
If the phrase “shelf turd” is part of your vocabulary, no one’s really interested in what you have to say about beer.
— Jeremy Danner (@Jeremy_Danner) June 14, 2016
Though his personal style is completely candid and often controversial, he takes a more even-keeled approach with the brewery’s official feed.
“I do have to remember that I’m speaking for a company that employs around 250 people here in Kansas City,” said Danner. “So not only am I talking on behalf of this brand, but I’m also representing a company that a lot of people love and identity with.”
Boulevard boasts an expansive portfolio of beers, ranging from year-round staples to exquisite barrel-aged specialties. Most can be found in Northwest Arkansas within a few days of their release.
When asked about his favorite, Danner was quick to respond.
“Saison-Brett is hands down my favorite Boulevard beer,” he said. “It’s this really lovely dry-hopped Saison that we inoculate with Brettanomyces [a wild yeast often used for its funky character] at packaging. It kind of takes on a life of its own in the bottle.”
You can find Saison-Brett at most of the better beer retailers in Northwest Arkansas. A member of the esteemed Smokestack series, it’s only available during the month of June.
Danner said he’s also drinking a couple other beers in the lineup now that summer is here. An admitted fan of the Radler style (a beer-soda hybrid), he points to Boulevard’s version – Ginger Lemon Radler – as a standout.
Doppler Radler pic.twitter.com/r9u303KWZ6
— Jeremy Danner (@Jeremy_Danner) April 27, 2016
“It’s great when it’s hot out – super drinkable,” he said.
Most people are already familiar with Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat, the flagship beer that accounts for nearly half of Boulevard’s total volume. It serves as the base beer for Ginger Lemon Radler.
“It’s not a huge stretch for someone who likes our wheat beer to try our Radler,” said Danner. “The ginger is slightly spicy, and you get a tartness and citrus character from the lemon juice.”
Another warm weather beer worth noting is the recently introduced Tropical Pale Ale. It’s based off a collaboration beer brewed late last year with Cigar City – a trending brewery in Tampa Bay, Florida.
“We really loved that beer, but we wanted to reinterpret it in a way that made it more suitable for everyday drinking,” said Danner.
Collaboration #5 (as it was originally known) was available in 750mL bottles and 4-packs of 12oz bottles, and clocked in at 7.2% ABV. The new version is canned and is much tamer at 5.9%. Look for a bright, fruity character in a highly drinkable format.
If you spend any time on Danner’s Twitter feed you’ll soon recognize his love for baseball. He regularly posts about his hometown Royals.
The last couple years have been particularly good for the diehard fan. After suffering through some of their darkest days, the Royals have appeared in back-to-back World Series – beating the Mets for last year’s crown.
“It was always fun to go, win or lose,” said Danner. “But I cried all the way home after we beat the White Sox to clinch a spot in the postseason in 2014.”
The team’s ascent was extra special for the Kansas City-area native and Boulevard spokesman. As a longtime fan he watched as the brewery’s connection with the team grew significantly through the years.
“We’re not a sponsor of the team,” said Danner. “So we can’t say that we’re a partner. But we’re Kansas City’s beer, and the Royals are very much Kansas City’s team. You can go to the stadium and you can find Boulevard beer everywhere, which is really, really cool.”
— Boulevard Brewing Co (@Boulevard_Beer) June 14, 2016
The Kansas City beer scene
Today, Kansas City is becoming a beer destination for more reasons than just Boulevard.
“We’ve actually had quite a few breweries open up in the past few years,” said Danner.
One of his favorites is Kansas City Bier Company, open since February 2014 and located about four miles south of Country Club Plaza.
“They specialize in German-style lagers,” said Danner. “They’re using malt and hops that are all imported from Germany, and they have a German-trained brewmaster. They’re pretty legit.”
Kansas City’s original entertainment district, Westport, is home to several other popular beer establishments – including another of Danner’s favorites, McCoys Public House.
“They make some really fantastic beers,” he said. “And they also operate a beer bar and a BBQ restaurant.”
Fellow KC Beer cohorts The Foundry (a beer bar) and Beer Kitchen (an upscale gastropub) are located in Westport as well.
And don’t forget that two of Kansas City’s newest breweries – Crane Brewing and Torn Label Brewing Company – both poured their beers at February’s Frost Fest here in Fayetteville. Crane turned a few heads with a special sour tapping on that chilly day.
When asked if he was familiar with beer from Northwest Arkansas, Danner admitted he was a relative novice. A couple breweries have reached his radar screen, however.
“I’ve had stuff from Core,” he said. “They were a part of Boulevardia [an urban festival in KC’s West Bottoms district] last year. I was really impressed with their beers.”
And thanks to a fellow Boulevard employee who went to brewing school with Andy Coates, Danner is also familiar with Ozark Beer Company.
“They make a really badass imperial stout,” he said, referring to Ozark’s BDCS.
The Duvel deal
Acquisitions in the beer industry have run rampant over the last few years. Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased a controlling stake in Chicago’s Goose Island back in 2011. Recently the brewing giant announced it was buying Colorado-based Breckenridge Brewery. And last year Constellation Brands – producer of Corona and Modelo – purchased San Diego’s Ballast Point for $1 billion.
“When we announced we were joining the Duvel family it scared people in Kansas City,” said Danner.
Independent beer culture celebrates the local guys. Giving up control to outsiders is often seen as “selling out.” Even if the beer tastes the same, some of the mystique fades away.
Saison-Brett / Boulevard Brewing Company
“I think Duvel has proven to the people of Kansas City that they are the perfect partner for us,” said Danner. “It makes sense to partner with another family-owned company.”
Duvel, founded in Belgium in 1871, is focused primarily on craft beer. It also has a stake in Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York and Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles, California.
“Duvel wanted to acquire kick-ass, rock star craft breweries in the United States,” said Danner. “And for us nothing has changed.”
If anything, joining Duvel has given Boulevard the ability to do more of what the brewery really loves doing. A significant investment was made in its barrel program, which will lead to more specialty beers down the road.
“It’s always about the beer,” said Danner. “You can do everything you want to with marketing and sales efforts, but if you don’t have good beer none of it matters.”
Behind the beer
Boulevard makes great beer, but it also has a story to tell. It sees the people behind the beer as a distinguishing factor in an increasingly crowded industry.
“That’s what turns a brewery from just a factory into a brewery,” Danner said. “And social media is one of the best ways we can share that story.”
For those of us in Northwest Arkansas who came to know Boulevard before other craft beer brands, hearing that story is a lot of fun. In many ways the Kansas City brewery was our very first “local” beer.
And thanks to Jeremy Danner and his prolific social media presence, we can stay connected with Boulevard 24/7.
So tweet him some time. He might just tweet you back.