Editor's Note: In today's edition of our brewer interview series, we're chatting with Jeremy Danner, one of the brewers at Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, MO. They've got some new collaborations and special beers up their sleeve...Take it away, Jeremy.
Full name: Jeremy Danner
Title: Brewer, Boulevard Brewing Co.
Tell us a bit about your career path and how you got to Boulevard.
I had a beer epiphany on my 21st birthday at a local brewpub where a friend of mine was the brewer. Before that day, I'd never really tasted craft beer and didn't think I liked beer at all. I discovered that beer could have this amazing depth of flavor and character. From that moment, I was pretty much hooked. I spent the new few years working in bars and restaurants that focused on beer before landing a bartending job at 75th Street Brewery in the Waldo neighorhood of Kansas City.
I spent a lot of time hanging out with the brewers, probably bothering them, but learning as much as I could about the process. One day one of them left for another job and I was asked to train in the brewhouse. From there I spent some time as a brewer's assistant at the Power Plant Brewery and Restaurant in Parkville, Missouri, before finally ending up at Boulevard. I was originally offered a temporary position on the bottling line. The very next day our Brewmaster, Steven Pauwels, called to tell me that he'd had a brewer give notice and wanted to offer me that job instead.
How would you describe your brewing style?
We make about 30 different beers over the course of a year here at Boulevard, so our brewing style is fairly diverse. Our most recognized beer is definitely our Unfiltered Wheat, but we also brew several Belgian style beers including some that are aged in oak whiskey barrels. We believe that beer should be balanced and drinkable. That's not to say that our beers are brewed timidly. We brew beers that have very strong, bright hop characters, but we temper that with a nice malt backbone.
Which beers and breweries inspire you?
The first beer that inspired me was La Folie from New Belgium. I had just a tiny taste from the bottom of a bottle at the end of a beer festival. Before that puckeringly sour beer hit my tongue, I had no idea that beer could taste that way. I thought I'd learned a lot about beer, but that moment really blew me away and made me realize I had so much to learn about beer and brewing.
What is a typical day like at the Boulevard brewery?
I work in the brewhouse producing the wort that will eventually become beer. We run our brewhouse 24 hours a day during the week and have three brewers that cover shifts around the clock. Right now I'm on the afternoon shift so I come in at noon and usually inherit a brewhouse that has 3 or 4 batches of beer currently in process. I spend my day prepping raw materials, monitoring brewhouse operations, and cleaning and sanitizing the tanks into which I'll be brewing. It's very similar to being a line cook in a restaurant that never closes. Our days are long and fast paced, but incredibly rewarding. Other brewers specialize in cellar work: yeast handling and harvesting, fermentation monitoring, and dry hopping among other duties and we have a filtration team that prepares finished beer for packaging.
What are some of the challenges you face in the job?
Since we heat up our brews with steam, the brewhouse can get very hot, up to the high 90s in the peak of the summer. I'm constantly moving bags of grain that weigh 50 pounds or more. One of our brewers once wore a pedometer to work but took it off midway through his day because he really didn't want to know just how far he ran and walked. Folks think we sit around and drink beer all day—that couldn't be farther from the truth. We definitely have a cold beer when we're done working, though.
Can you tell us about Terra Incognita, your collaboration with Sierra Nevada?
At the base of every collaboration is a common respect for the other brewery and definitely a friendship. The Brewers Association asked us to collaborate with Sierra Nevada for their annual event, SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience. The focus of this beer was to combine the strengths of both of our breweries into one (hopefully) amazing beer. Sierra Nevada is known for their deft and judicious use of hops and at Boulevard we've become known for our work with wheat, barrel aging, and Brettanomyces. We both brewed beers at our separate facilities, then aged all of it here at Boulevard in Missouri oak barrels. After fermentation was complete with our half of the collaboration, we held a blending session to merge the two beers into one. Finally we added Brettanomyces at packaging to create a beer that has a nice, earthy funk to it.
What other new stuff will we be seeing from Boulevard in the coming year?
Who knows? We continue to experiment and develop new beers all the time. We have an upcoming collaboration with Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project based out of Massachusetts. We became friends at a beer festival and over some beers later that night decided we should make a beer together. We've taken a somewhat unexpected route and are brewing a unique style.
What's next for craft beer, overall? Where do you see the industry heading?
I see a trend towards breweries making more sessionable, easy drinking beers. I don't think the "extreme brewers" have found their outer limits by any means, but I'm really seeing a recent shift to beers that have big, bright flavor, but with fairly low alcohol by volume. We always joke that we'd drink beer even if it didn't have alcohol, but the buzz sure is a nice side effect. People who are true beer lovers are beginning to seek out beers that they can have more than a couple pints of. I dig the crazy, gnarly hoppy barleywines, but sometimes it's really nice to sit and drink a beer that doesn't require much thought or attention.