There may not be a commemorative plaque in the Denver International Airport. But at a table on the second floor of Concourse C in January 2010, two men sat down to write the next chapter in Kansas City's beer history.
They were supposed to have four hours to hash out a collaboration between Deschutes Brewery, the country's fifth-largest craft brewer by sales volume, and Boulevard Brewing Co., the 10th largest. Deschutes' brewmaster, Larry Sidor, and Boulevard's brewmaster, Steven Pauwels, had just five minutes.
This past May, Sidor and Pauwels were behind the Brewhouse Bar at Boulevard pouring a test batch of White I.P.A. slated to be released by both breweries in July and reminiscing about the snowstorm that all but obliterated their planned summit.
The beer is golden-yellow, with a spicy nose from lemongrass and coriander and a strong finish of sage. While the White I.P.A. stands for two regions — the wheat country of the Midwest and the hops nation of the Pacific Northwest — it's also a symbol of why Boulevard isn't just KC's hometown beer but is also making this city relevant to the larger beer community.
Boulevard and Deschutes have similar origins. In 1988, Boulevard founder John McDonald began construction on brewing facilities in a century-old brick building on Southwest Boulevard, the former site of his cabinetry shop. A little less than 1,700 miles away, Gary Fish was busy opening Deschutes Brewery & Public House in Bend, Oregon.
The Portland, Oregon, brewing scene has exploded over the past 23 years — the Oregon Brewers Guild lists 35 separate breweries in the metropolitan area — but Kansas City's scene has failed to get carbonated. In addition to Boulevard, only the 75th Street Brewery, McCoy's Public House, Doodle Brewing Co., Gordon Biersch, and Granite City Food & Brewery are producing their own beers for sale in the metro area.
Kansas City was supposed to look a lot more like Portland by now (or even like St. Louis, which boasts 13 breweries and brewpubs), a city where the beer at your local bar comes from a different neighborhood rather than a different state. But launching a brewery can prove as challenging as making the beer itself.
The craft-brew revolution seemed ready to ignite three years ago. Dead Canary Brewing Co. announced itself to the world on Blogger on October 19, 2008. On that Sunday, the two partners, Jen Hardin and Sarah Gumpert, fired their first shot: "Slap your existing megabrew [sic] in the nutsack and try a Dead Canary already!!"
Hardin, 27, and Gumpert, 24, tended bar together at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in the Power & Light District. Their first experiment with home-brewing is the stuff of Internet legend — or at least legend on the Dead Canary blog. In the summer of 2008, the duo had decided to brew a stout in a midtown kitchen. The air conditioner was broken, and as the water boiled on the stovetop, the indoor temperature rose to 102 degrees.
"Halfway through, that's when the windows started opening and our clothes came off, but we were like, we're not going to stop this now," Gumpert says. "We're butt-naked, and I'm wondering what we're doing."
They made it through the brewing cycle, and the story of two naked 20-something women making stout captured the imaginations of KC beer geeks, most of whom were (and are) older and male. Hardin and Gumpert found a name for their fledgling brewery after Gumpert mentioned that the boiling water "killed the canary." It wasn't long before the pair began to think about bottling outside that kitchen.