Hometown hero Boulevard Brewery faces a fight for our taps.

Bully Wars 

Hometown hero Boulevard Brewery faces a fight for our taps.

Page 6 of 7

He begins the tasting by noting that one brew, named Demolition, is a Belgian strong ale by Chicago's Goose Island Brewery, which is owned in part by Anheuser-Busch. The patrons pick up their samples, sniff, sip and swirl.

"What an aroma!" says Roy Williams, a bespectacled man who brought a home-baked loaf of multigrain bread for everyone to munch on.

"It looks real dark, but it's not that heavy," adds a sunburned guy with a mane of long hair tucked behind his ears.

"I'll pick up a six-pack," one patron says before stomping off to the cooler.

Two and a half years ago, Oliver noticed a conundrum facing consumers. Liquor-store shelves were filled with niche brands not available in most bars. But customers balked at spending $10 for a six-pack of untested ale. So Oliver started invitation-only beer tastings by sending out e-mail blasts to customers who used store discount cards to buy microbrews. News spread by word-of-mouth. Today, Oliver offers tastes of five beers. Over the next few hours, 125 people will stop by. The same thing is happening at liquor stores all over the metro.

"I just want to expand people's beer," Oliver says.

These beer tastings are aimed directly at Boulevard's key buyer, a group that liquor-store owners say constantly demands new tastes. Oliver says there's high demand for Olathe's Flying Monkey; Weston's O'Malley's Irish Cream Ale; and O'Fallon's Wheach, a wheat-and-peach beer made just outside St. Louis.

"We have repeat customers for them. We have people coming in looking for them. There's times when we've been out of all of them."

Oliver offered Lunar in a tasting in April. He says it's still hot among his cultured crowd. "In the last couple months, it's slacked off a little bit, but all in all, it's one of their better-selling ones, right behind the Wheat."

And Lunar has been selling so well at the Cellar Rat, a wine and beer shop at 17th Street and Baltimore, that owners there recently wheeled a flatbed cart loaded with cases to the front of the store so that customers wouldn't have to wander far to find it. "We just bring it in and sell it," says Ryan Sciara, Cellar Rat's managing partner. "I sell more Lunar than probably anything right now."

This is exactly the sort of real-beer-drinker crowd that McDonald would like to tap. So Boulevard recently pushed its own retail-store party.

On July 12, a Boulevard rep gave out samples of Boulevard products at the Gomer's near 99th Street and Holmes. Taylor Little, a summer marketing intern from the University of Missouri-Columbia, stood in front of a card table set with Boulevard pint glasses, promotional posters, catalogs and seven of the company's beers, including Lunar.

Little proudly proclaimed Lunar his favorite. "The first time I tried it, I didn't like it at all. It kind of grew on me."

Like a street proselytizer willing to turn anyone on to Jesus, Little tried to encourage even the most unlikely store patrons to try Boulevard.

"What is that, a German beer?" asked a tottering old woman who passed Little's table on her way to grab some Michelob.

"I'm a Bud Light man," added a man in a security uniform.

"What's your response to a low-carb beer?" asked another elderly woman with a sweater tied around her neck.

Kenneth Hill, a middle-aged man in a camouflage T-shirt and khaki shorts, stopped to try a sip of Pale Ale. "Shit don't taste like Miller," he said. "Is this an import? Which one tastes like American beer?"

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