Boulevard Brewing Story:
It was the summer of 1984, and John McDonald was thirsty. On vacation in Europe, the future founder of Boulevard Brewing Company wandered into a bar specializing in Belgian beers. He tried one, then another and another, amazed by the variety, the aromas, and the flavors. He was hooked.
Back home, John couldn’t stop dreaming about those beers. But dreaming was all he could do, because American beers of the time were homogenous and unremarkable. Kansas City, once home to more than a dozen breweries producing a wide array of beers, had succumbed to the industrial onslaught. Nothing was left.
After art school John made his living as a carpenter, always fascinated by the creative process. He couldn’t shake the memory of those amazing beers, and he began to wonder, began to consider the possibilities. He started homebrewing. He visited breweries. He put together a business plan, sold his house to raise money, and set out to find the rest of the resources he would need to start a brewery.
“I want to do something different”
As John talked to potential investors, he often heard the same question: “You want to do what? You want to compete with the biggest brewer in the world on the other side of the state?” “No,” he answered, “they do what they do really well. I want to do something different. I want to make big beers, a variety of beers, beers with color and flavor and aroma and body, beers for real beer lovers.”
No place like home
He didn’t have to look far to get started. John lived and worked in an old brick building on Southwest Boulevard that had once housed the laundry for the Santa Fe Railroad. He moved his carpentry shop to a corner and began to build a brewery. It wasn’t ideal, but it was his.
The first beer
It took more than a year and every bit of the money he’d raised to retrofit the building, find the equipment – including a vintage 35-barrel Bavarian brewhouse – and get everything up and running. Finally, in November 1989, the first keg of Boulevard Pale Ale was ready. John loaded it into the back of his pickup and delivered it to a restaurant just a few blocks away.
Roll out the bottles
For the first year the brewery produced only draft beer. The small crew worked long hours brewing, kegging, cleaning, and then selling, convincing bar and restaurant owners to put Boulevard beers on tap. Still, John knew he needed bottles. But there was no money, and bottling lines weren’t cheap. Rejected by bank after bank, one institution finally saw promise in his vision and made a loan that enabled Boulevard to install a very small, very used bottling line.
Word was spreading – Boulevard was making surprisingly good beer. The original business plan called for someday selling 6,000 barrels a year. By the third year sales passed 7,000 barrels, and continued to climb. Boulevard began selling its beers in neighboring cities and states. The original Bavarian brewhouse, designed to produce only a few thousand barrels a year, was approaching 100,000 barrels by 2004, turning out a dozen 1,000 gallon brews each and every day. But it had reached its limit, and a decision loomed.
When John built the brewery deep in the heart of a century-old urban neighborhood, he hadn’t worried about outgrowing it. But it had happened. Now, consultants said the smart move was to relocate to a new site with plenty of room. But the brewery was tightly woven into the fabric of the city, and the Boulevard team was committed to its continued revitalization. So in 2006 a $25 million expansion project brought a new building with a 150-barrel brewhouse, packaging halls, offices and hospitality spaces.
Ommegang Brewery History:
A Tradition Born in 1549
Holy Roman Emperor King Charles V visited medieval Brussels in 1549 with hundreds from his Royal Court. To welcome the King, merchants, vendors, cooks, brewers, musicians, theater troupes, dancers and more lined up around the city walls and joined in a celebration as his entourage passed by. That parade became known as the “Ommegang,” a word that variously means “coming together” and “walking about.” The Brussels Ommegang Festival continues to this day.
The First Farmhouse Brewery in America in 100+ Years
Belgian breweries Duvel Moortgat, Affligem, and Scaldis join with importers/entrepreneurs Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield to build an authentic Belgian-style farmstead brewery in Cooperstown, NY. They locate this cultural transplant on an old 140-acre hop farm in the Susquehanna River valley, in a part of upstate New York once known as Nova Belgium.
Our First Beers
We open in winter with Ommegang Abbey Dubbel, an 8.5% ABV traditional Trappist-style dark ale. Brewed with a complex array of spices and packaged in 750ml bottles, Abbey breaks the mold of the emerging American craft beer scene.
Our Portfolio (and Reputation) Grow
We expand our offerings with Hennepin Farmhouse Saison, Rare Vos Amber, and 12oz bottles. High-end culinary magazines and restaurants across the US take notice.
Ponder the Profound
Responding to a fan’s fantasy of “the perfect beer,” we introduce Three Philosophers, a Belgian-style quadrupel ale. A touch of Belgian kriek – a cherry beer – makes it distinctive, and offers a delicate note of dark fruit.
Witte and First Draft Offerings
Witte Wheat Ale – an authentic Belgian-style witbier – becomes the first Ommegang beer packaged in kegs. Other Ommegang beers are also now available on draft. Distribution expands to 44 states.
Belgium Comes To Cooperstown
Our first full-scale beer festival is held in July. Over 40 breweries and importers join 1,500 beer aficionados in a celebration of Belgian-style brewing that includes tasting, camping, local foods, and music. The festival is a hit. Over the next 15 years, more than 50,000 people participate.
Five Million Bottles
Brewmaster Randy Thiel (1997-2006) holds bottle number 5,000,000 – a commemorative three-liter Jeroboam of Three Philosophers.
Demand for Ommegang beers leads to the expansion of our brewing facilities, increasing capacity some 40% by 2008.
Our first Visitor Center opens, complete with tasting room, store, 100 seat cafe, and outdoor patio.
The natural amphitheater behind our brewery becomes home to our Summer Concert Series, which kicks off with performers such as Wilco, Lyle Lovett, Jack White, The Avett Brothers, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, and The Old Crow Medicine Show. Concerts continue today, drawing as many as 40,000 people per year.
Game of Thrones
HBO and Brewery Ommegang initiate a historic partnership that will run through 2019, with over a dozen beloved brews that honor the characters and storylines from the hit fantasy series.
Honoring Upstate Hops
In cooperation with Cornell University, we establish an experimental hop yard to promote local hop farming and introduce Hopstate NY, a beer made exclusively with NY-grown hops. The recipe evolves each year, employing the best hops New York has to offer. Starting in 2018, the beer includes New York barley, further supporting local agriculture.
Sours, With a Little Help From Our Friends
Partnering with Liefmans, our sister blendery in Belgium, we create two aged and blended sour beers: Ommegang Rosetta, a kriek-style beer, and Ommegang Pale Sour, a delicious and highly drinkable mixed-culture sour ale. Americans begin to develop a taste for the style – both beers quickly become top sellers.
Deepening our dive into hop-forward styles, we launch The Farmhouse Series, featuring exceptionally interesting and impeccably fresh beer available only at the brewery and limited locations in NY state.
Mixing it Up
Reinventing an age-old Belgian tradition, Blenderie Ommegang offers extremely limited releases only available at the brewery in 750ml bottles. These customized creations blend our own brews with others from our extended Belgian and American family of iconic brewers.
An expanded and radically renovated Tap House opens with a 20 tap bar, 10 tap tasting room, enlarged café and kitchen, covered patio and expanded store, enabling us to properly host several hundred visitors at a time.