Our new line of craft beer BBQ sauces celebrates two summer staples: savory barbecue and cold, refreshing beer. Each is made with a different style of beer sourced from some of our favorite regional American breweries. Our Boulevard BBQ Sauce is smoky and sweet, made from tomatoes, molasses and spicy chiles and enriched with the crisp KC Pils Lager from Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Company. For more summer cooking — and sipping! — inspiration, we chatted with Boulevard brewer Jeremy Danner all about beer, barbecue and what he’s drinking now.
Tell us about your background. How did you get into brewing, or what’s the story behind Boulevard Brewing Co.?
I became really interested in craft beer on my 21st birthday. Up until that point, I thought I didn’t like beer, but I had a friend who was a brewer at a pub near my house. I visited him on my 21st birthday and he bought me beer and lunch. That was the day I realized that beer could have flavor. Our founder, John McDonald, had a similar moment over a beer in a European beer bar. We refer to it as the epiphany beer, the beer that opens your eyes to what beer can be. Once you have that beer, you can’t go back. You’re hooked.
What’s special about the beers you make? Can you tell us a little about the different beers?
We believe in brewing balanced, enjoyable beers at Boulevard. Our beers that are very hoppy still have enough malt to balance out the bitterness of the hops, and our malt-forward beers have enough hop bitterness to keep them from being cloyingly sweet. We brew beer that you want to have more than one of. Crazy extreme beer is cool and I enjoy drinking those beers, but I feel like we brew comfort beers, beers you want to drink all night. Over the course of a couple of years, with seasonal and limited release rotations, we’ll have around 35 different beers that cover the spectrum from an easy drinking pilsner (KC Pils) all the way up to a whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout.
What are your favorite beers for summer? Specific styles?
I tend to reach for beers that are a bit lighter in flavor with a crisp finish as the weather gets warmer in Kansas City. 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer is perfect for summer. There’s a nice citrus flavor and aroma from the hops, but the wheat aspect of the beer makes it really drinkable and refreshing. I’m really excited for us to debut our Ginger-Lemon Radler. Our take on the old German tradition of mixing beer with a carbonated citrus soda or lemonade is going to be in my hand (and my stomach) a lot this summer. I tend to avoid darker beers that have more roasty and chocolate flavors during the warmer months.
Why is beer best for BBQ and grilling?
Our Pale Ale is the ultimate BBQ beer in my opinion. The caramel flavors you get from the malt go perfectly with the caramelization that happens as you cook meat on the grill. We have a saying around the brewery, “Pale Ale loves cow.” It’s true. It’s hard to beat our Pale Ale with a grilled hamburger. The other attribute that makes beer ideal for grilled meats and BBQ is the carbonation. Foods that are rich and fatty can tend to camp out on your tastebuds and palate, but the carbonation in beer comes along and scrubs your palate clean so you can really taste that next bite of food or drink of beer.
Any tips for pairing? What are the best beers for foods on the grill?
I tend to go for beers that are more malt forward for pairing with grilled foods. As I mentioned above, the caramel malt flavors go nicely with the caramelization that happens when you grill meat. For grilled vegetables, I’m a fan of saisons or wit beers. There’s not that caramel malt flavor that you get from pale ales, but the spicy yeast character pairs up with any herbs or spices you use to season the veggies. For grilled seafood, I like lighter, more sessionable IPAs. The citrus character of the hops is great with fish. You just need to be careful not to overwhelm the food with a beer that has too much intensity of flavor.
Describe the BBQ sauce we created with your beer. What’s special about it, and what do you love about it?
I’m a fan of tangy BBQ sauce, and this sauce certainly has a nice zip to it, but it’s definitely not just a one-note sauce. After the initial tangy flavor, there are notes of black pepper, a sweetness from the malt we use in KC Pils, and then a good heat that subtly builds up as you taste the sauce. The sweetness is nice and serves as a bridge between the initial tangy character and the heat, but it’s not an overly sweet sauce. I like BBQ sauce that enhances food rather than overpowering it. The sauce is great and really makes me want a beer.
What are some of your favorite ways to use it?
I like to brush BBQ sauce on grilled foods near the end of grilling. I like there to be a slight crust from it, as opposed to just drenching food in BBQ sauce before it goes on the grill. I’m not much of a breakfast food for breakfast guy, so I’ve kept a bottle in our office fridge and I use it to spice up leftovers that I’ve brought in for breakfast. Just this morning, I enjoyed it on some brats I grilled last night. I’m something of a workplace curiosity with my steaks, brats and chili for breakfast while everyone else is eating fruit and cereal.
Any tips for amateur brewers?
Start simple and brew styles that you normally drink until you really dial in the process. A lot of homebrewers start out brewing these crazy beers that are barrel aged and infused with flavors. You don’t really have an accurate representation of your brewing skills if you start out with beer styles that can easily hide flaws. Brewing a fairly normal style that you drink a lot will allow you to gauge your brewing. A good pale ale still has enough flavor and character to be an interesting beer to brew, but there aren’t huge flavors for any brewing flaws to hide behind. Keep records. Brewing good beer is all about repeatability and consistency. Finally, have fun. If you’re not enjoying homebrewing, you’re doing it wrong. Even in a professional/commercial setting, we have a ton of fun making beer.