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"You guys are from St. Louis, aren't you? How do you say it? Sh-a-flow-ee? Sh-ef-a-fly?"
Briggs places the Raspberry Hefeweizen on the bar. "This is our Raspberry Hefeweizen. It's our summer seasonal. It's a pretty good summer drink for the ladies."
"Like a Smirnoff Ice," Monaco says.
Briggs swallows his pride and nods. Comparing beer to Smirnoff makes beer geeks cringe, but he knows that plenty of women are drawn to what he calls "fruity-type drinks."
A week later, Monaco calls Briggs to tell him that Schlafly's Raspberry will replace Lunar. Next, Briggs learns that M&S Grill will bump off a Wheat handle for Schlafly American Pale Ale. And World Market agrees to carry the Raspberry Hefeweizen. A week after that, Briggs lands additional taps in Lee's Summit at The Peanut and Habanero's Mexican Restaurant. Clancy's Café & Pub agrees to replace a Lunar tap with Schlafly's No. 15 wheat.
Briggs isn't concerned that most of the managers who have picked up Schlafly can't pronounce it. "As long as they are trying, that's all that matters," he says.
Schlafly is after the same customers that McDonald describes as serious beer drinkers. But Schlafly owner Tom Schlafly claims that he's not looking for a head-to-head fight.
"We are definitely going after the same customers, but our approach to Kansas City is absolutely not going to be choose between us and Boulevard," he says. "It's more about expanding your horizons a little bit."
But when Schlafly and McDonald cross paths at Kansas City's Central Library on June 27, that rhetoric sounds like a setup for a surprise attack.
Schlafly is in town to give a reading from his new book about his company's struggle for survival in an Anheuser-Busch-saturated market. The book is titled New Religion in Mecca: Memoir of a Renegade Brewery in St. Louis. McDonald had agreed to introduce him. They go back. Schlafly began his company out of a brew pub in 1991, two years after McDonald founded his brewery. When Schlafly ran out of some beer styles a few weeks later, McDonald shipped him some Boulevard.
Times have changed. As McDonald steps off the elevator into the library, he faces a full-on Schlafly sales blitz. In front of him stands a 5-foot pyramid of empty Schlafly six-packs, adorned with plastic, logo pint glasses and coasters. In a corner nearby is Briggs, offering samples of seven ales.
Briggs looks up to see McDonald, the baron of Kansas City beer. Briggs notices that he is running out of everything except wheat and pale ale, the Schlafly flavors that directly compete with Boulevard. "People really want to try something different, which is good," Briggs concludes.
Sipping a Schlafly pale ale, McDonald looks confident and unflustered. He approaches Schlafly, hands him a copy of his book and asks for an autograph. Placed along the massive wrap-around bar inside Gomer's in Parkville is a row of short-stemmed snifter glasses, grape-embroidered towels and a metal bucket meant to act as a communal spittoon. The wine-tasting paraphernalia has been repurposed for beer. Nearby stands Jason Oliver, a 34-year-old in a black T-shirt that reads "Lord of the Beers."
As a half-dozen tan and trim patrons gather around him, Oliver pulls 12-ounce beer bottles from a plastic tub of ice. He pours nips into the glasses. Above him is an inflatable Chiefs helmet hanging from the ceiling; a blown-up race car next to him advertises Winston cigarettes.