On the Beer Trail: Boulevard Chocolate Ale in Missouri
Editor's Note: Ethan Fixell tours the country as a comedian—and as a beer drinker. In On the Beer Trail, he'll share his tales from the road, favorite destinations, and beer recommendations.
The legend of Boulevard Brewing's Chocolate Ale haunts Kansas City like that of Nessie or Bigfoot: Nearly everyone I spoke to had either tasted the beer months ago or at least knew someone who tried it, yet every bar was out of it or never carried it in the first place. Bartenders and barflies alike seemed to speak of this "holy grail" in hushed, reverent tones—as if the beer's existence could be shattered by the mere utterance of its name.
Frustrated that the "Show Me State" had yet to show me a goddamned drop of precious Chocolate Ale after three hours of barhopping, my comedy partner/travel companion Dave and I decided to take a break from our seemingly impossible quest at a locavore-friendly restaurant called Room 39. We had delicious meals and a couple of great Missourian beers (though I can't recall what, exactly, as I was blinded with disappointment at the time). When the check came, the waitress politely interrupted our conversation.
"Have you guys tried the Chocolate Ale yet?" Her face melted into an expression of ecstasy. "It's amazing."
"So we hear," I replied, rolling my eyes at Dave. If one more person mentioned...
"They should have some over at the Riot Room," she said.
We left so quickly that there are still Dave and Ethan-shaped holes in the front wall of that restaurant.
The Riot Room (I guess Kansas City likes to include the word "room" in all its establishments' names to affirm that each is, indeed, an indoor space) is a rock venue that looks and smells like any rock venue should. But with 52 taps, it also happens to house one of the finest craft brew selections in all of the city. Of course, it was just our luck that we'd arrived two hours before first call, and with our show kicking off around the same time, waiting around wasn't an option. As we turned to walk back to the car, our heads hanging in dejection, an angel appeared before us: all hail the Boulevard Brewing distributor.
We followed the delivery guy into the Riot Room to find one of the owners taking inventory. After a few minutes of schmoozing about music and beer, we convinced him to hook up the fresh new keg of Chocolate Ale—ostensibly the only one currently left in the city—and serve us the first two mugs of the day.
"Don't tell anyone you got this here before opening...but I appreciate your dedication," he said as he pushed two glasses our way.
The beer, a collaboration with local Kansas City chocolatier Christopher Elbow, is brewed with crushed, roasted cocoa nibs. While I expected a deep, dark brown, the beer pours amber—no darker than your standard pale ale. It smells rich and buttery, which develops into an equally rich chocolate flavor, but the brew somehow emerges as a smooth, refreshing ale. It's an exceptionally balanced brew, and surprisingly light and easy to drink. Sitting there at the Riot Room bar before opening time, hanging out with the bar's owner and one of my best buds, I'd rarely ever enjoyed a beer as much as this one.
Yet while the beer was excellent, the real reasons for its scarcity soon became much clearer. When a great beer like this—a collaboration between a respected local brewery a well-known gourmet chef—is produced in highly limited quantities, it can inspire absolute mania. People will hoard bottles and line up at bars for the stuff, hype snowballing into greater hype. Often, finally tasting such a sought after prize—the score in and of itself—becomes the focus.
So was all the effort worth it? Perhaps Boulevard doesn't think so,—they announced this past summer that they would not be producing the labor-intensive Chocolate Ale in 2013. For me, my quest was well worthwhile: but as much for the lesson learned as well as for the tasty beer. These days I've resolved that that when actively tracking down a curiosity, you've got to enjoy the journey. The payoff in the hunt for something unusual is only worth as much as the path it takes to find it.
About the Author: Ethan Fixell is a writer and comedian from New York City best known as one half of comic "dating coach" duo Dave and Ethan. He is also the creator and editor of ActualConversation.com. For more on Ethan, visit EthanFixell.com.