Boulevard Brewing Co. began distributing in Massachusetts a couple of months ago, an event that was met with understandable enthusiasm from people who are familiar with the Kansas City brewer’s fine beverages.
Boulevard, which has been around since 1989, is the 10th largest craft brewery in the United States, and many of its beers are rated among the best of their styles by the users of sites such as BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com. The company’s best-known beers are its pale ale and unfiltered wheat, but it also produces a lineup of seasonal beers and artisanal ales.
Those artisanal ales, known as the Smokestack Series, are the ones to buy. Already they are widely available in Massachusetts, in 750-milliliter bottles and four-packs of 12-ounce bottles. The four-packs, which retail for about $11, are the smarter purchase.
In order to give you an idea of what Boulevard’s beers taste like, I picked up a sampling of the Smokestack Series beers. That’s right, dear reader, I drank these for you.
Double Wide IPA: Boulevard’s imperial IPA pours a hazy orange-amber with a creamy head that won’t quit - indeed, it sticks to the glass until the last drop is gone. The aroma is at once floral, tropical, and grassy, and yet the malt character is substantial. The beer tastes earthy, spicy, almost dirty, almost smoky (or is the “Smokestack’’ name affecting my judgment?), making Double Wide stand out among the increasingly crowded field of double IPAs. 8.5 percent alcohol by volume.
Tank 7 Saison: Apricot color with a big, plush head, Boulevard’s take on the Belgian farmhouse style gives off a powerful spicy aroma with its yeast front and center. Tank 7 carries a lemon-peppery zing and a huge dose of spiciness. This is no traditional saison; if it were, its alcohol content (8 percent ABV) would be half of what it is.
Dark Truth Stout: A Belgian imperial stout with a serious attitude, Dark Truth Stout (9.7 percent ABV) is pitch black with a massive coffee head. This beer is all about the malt. Mildly sweet up front and mildly bitter toward the end, it suggests burnt semisweet chocolate, French roast coffee, and a wisp of grassy hops. Now and then the Belgian yeast manages to peek through, too. A spicy finish (everything Boulevard makes has a certain spiciness to it) zaps the roof of your mouth.
The Sixth Glass: Rarely does a beer poured so slowly create such a massive, foaming head. This Belgian-style quad’s head is loud too, making the kind of noises you expect from your bowl of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. Copper-brown with a candied-fruit aroma, The Sixth Glass is indeed sweet and fruity, with a big alcohol bite. Sip this one; it’s 10.5 percent ABV.
Baxter Brewing Co.
Boulevard isn’t the only recent arrival to Massachusetts that you should seek out. Baxter Brewing Co., whose operation is based in an old mill in Lewiston, Maine, recently began distributing its beer in Massachusetts.
Its first two products - Pamola Xtra Pale Ale and Stowaway IPA - are stellar. (Baxter, by the way, is the only brewery in Maine that cans all of its beers.)
Pamola is an exceptionally smooth pale ale. Honey-colored and hazy with a fat, frothy head, it emits an aroma of bready yeast with faint hops. It smells bitter but doesn’t taste so. Instead it goes down easy - and quick. But that’s OK; it’s only 4.9 percent alcohol by volume.
Stowaway (6.9 percent ABV) is darker - amber - with a denser head. With an aroma of flowers, oranges, and other fruit, you can tell it’s going to be a hoppy beer. And it is, but it’s not overly bitter. Though it measures 69 International Bittering Units, the sweet citrus bite is more orange than grapefruit. It other words, this isn’t Stone Ruination. I’m reminded of Troegs Nugget Nectar, a hoppy red ale, more than any other India pale ale.
Baxter plans to introduce a third beer, an amber ale called Amber Road, on Nov. 1. Bring it on.Steve Greenlee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGreenlee.