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Koch notices for the first time that Lunar is on tap. He decides to order one. Adams cautions against it. He tells Koch that he's tried it before and found it oddly spicy. Koch flags down a waitress and orders one anyway. When the beer arrives, he grabs it and drinks gingerly.
"It's all right," he says. He passes the pint to Adams and Major.
"Actually, I like it more than I remember," Adams says.
"Like any beer, it grows on you," Major adds.
McDonald has built his reputation on retraining taste buds. In 1989, believing that Kansas City was suffering from light-beer fatigue, he launched his brewery with a more robust choice, Pale Ale. In 1992, he introduced Unfiltered Wheat. The Wheat now makes up more than half of Boulevard's business; it has helped the company become the fifth-largest specialty brewery in the nation. Boulevard has colonized an 11-state territory that stretches from Minnesota to Arkansas and from Indiana to Kansas.
In August 2006, Boulevard completed a $25 million expansion to its facility off Southwest Boulevard, ramping up production from the equivalent of 38 million bottles of beer a year to as much as 46 million in 2007.
When Boulevard opened the new building, it also launched Lunar. The expansion and the new beer should have signaled good times for the brewer. Until Lunar, the hometown company has had nothing but success. Its Wheat and Pale Ale hold their own against anything produced by microbrewers or giants elsewhere, and its seasonal beers have loyal followings.
But Boulevard faces a deluge from similar beers that have hit the Kansas City market in recent years. The onslaught includes the products of major companies, such as the Coors-made Blue Moon, and smaller breweries such as St. Louis' Schlafly. All of them are now vying for Boulevard's coveted tap handles and store cooler space.
Meanwhile, Lunar — the symbol of Boulevard's expansion — has made few fans.
In Kansas City, Boulevard dominates 65 percent of the microbrew market, says Bob Sullivan, the brewery's vice president of sales and marketing. But because only about 6 percent of local beer drinkers buy microbrews, Boulevard represents just 4 percent of local beer sales. To grow, the company needs to convert social drinkers.
McDonald admits that Lunar is "an acquired taste." He says he made the beer that he wanted to drink, not something that would do well among social drinkers. "Some people don't like it. It's not a beer that you are just going to drink because it's there. It's something that takes a little getting used to."
Now he just has to get you used to what he's selling.
Boulevard sales rep David Colgan bounces into O'Dowd's Little Dublin on the Plaza with a hint of Pale Ale on his breath. He has just finished lunch at One80, where he drank a beer strictly for business.
"The average businessman wants to drink beer at lunch," he says. "If I order a beer, maybe it will make that guy feel more comfortable and he'll order one, too." His goal is to create what he calls a "cultural experience" with the brand. It's a good strategy, but Colgan admits that he has gained 10-15 pounds in the last year, primarily from drinking beer with lunch.
Still, he envisions himself as a personification of Boulevard. Everything about his look — the baby-blue waffle-weave polo shirt stamped with a subtle Boulevard logo, the thick-rimmed glasses, the carefully spiked plumage of hair — has been cultivated to help him make sales. Colgan keeps the laid-back vibe of a guy on the hunt for the next party. Born in Ireland, Colgan has an accent that sounds ideal for a beer salesman. "It's about being around when it happens and taking advantage of it," he says.