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Poteet says Samuel Adams' year-to-date sales in the Kansas City area are up 26 percent over this time last year. Leinenkugel, owned by Miller, has seen a sales leap of 75 percent the first half of 2007. Blue Moon, manufactured by Coors, has more than doubled its sales in the market, with 113 percent growth the first six months of 2007, compared with the same time last year.
In its own backyard, Boulevard's market share is still bigger than that of Sam Adams, Blue Moon and Leinenkugel combined. But whereas the others saw double- and triple-digit increases, Boulevard's sales have grown only 11 percent so far this year. The air conditioning inside the van blasts as Gary Briggs, the western Missouri salesman for St. Louis-based Schlafly Beer, rolls through midtown Kansas City. The boxy Dodge Sprinter 2500 is painted with pint glasses and Schlafly's company slogan, "The Craft Beer From America's Beer Capital." One side has holes for tap handles that run from kegs kept inside. For maximum brand recognition, the Schlafly name has been printed backward, ambulance-style, across the hood.
"We're not that prevalent here. We're gonna be," Briggs says of Kansas City.
Briggs is the antithesis of Colgan. Not particularly flashy, he's 40, with a shaved head and the imposing build of a construction worker. With Lunar, Boulevard offers five full-time beers and four seasonals. Schlafly brews six year-rounders, seven seasonals and four more special releases for what the company calls "the drinking holidays." If a bar owner wants a different style lager or flavored ale, chances are Schlafly offers it.
Until 2005, Schlafly focused on building a presence within a 100-mile radius of the Arch. Since then, it has expanded its reach to Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Briggs was hired last September.
One of the biggest hurdles for Briggs is teaching bar owners how to pronounce Schlafly. For the record, it's shlaff-lee. And in less than two years, the brewery with a tough name to pronounce has placed taps in Charlie Hooper's, Kelso's, Grinders, Waldo Pizza and the Hotel Phillips.
"The truth is, we want to be on anywhere we can get on," he says. "But this is Boulevard country.... I take what I can get."
Today, he has five stops to make. At World Market in Westport, he heads to the back room to grease the palm of a sales manager, offering him a bottle of Export India Pale Ale for home, then a sample of Raspberry Hefeweizen. "The chicks will dig it," Briggs says of the berry flavor.
Briggs heads to Charlie Hooper's, where he offers the assistant manager a neon Schlafly sign to put up next to a Golden T game because the bar previously agreed to carry his brand.
Briggs moves on to M&S Grill, where he hands Geordie Pollock, the restaurant's food and beverage director, an unfiltered wheat called No. 15 Ale. The bar has two Boulevard Wheat handles. Briggs wants one.
Pollock responds sarcastically, "What do you think about just moving all the Boulevard out? It's overplayed! It's old!"
Briggs nods seriously. Pollock stops joking. He tells Briggs that he'll consider the offer.
Briggs heads downtown to Paddy O'Quigley's and drops off more samples.
Next, he cruises a few blocks west to John's Big Deck. He silently appraises the place, figuring correctly that it's a blue-collar bump-and-grind spot after dark. He grabs a Raspberry Hefeweizen. Inside, he spots Jimmy Monaco, the stocky manager, flipping stools. Monaco sees the bottles and stops him.