Boulevard Chocolate Ale and the Anti-Valentine

Posted on 15 February 2011


I know I’m a day late for anything Valentines-y…but I’m going to admit, I really don’t care.  I’ve never been a big fan of the holiday (and for those nay-sayers to say I’m just a sore single, I’m happily attached), and indeed have the worst possible luck on the 14th of February every year.  I swear to you all, I’m going to end up coming to my demise on some future 14th of February (hopefully very far into the future, though!).  Anyways, regardless, I figured I’d share something relate-able to those V-day celebrations…chocolate.

If you live in Kansas City (or anywhere within an hour’s drive…perhaps 2-5 hours drive), you’ve no doubt heard of culinary confectionery genius Christopher Elbow’s pairing the hometown brew (for those not paying attention to titles, that would be the Boulevard Chocolate Ale).  However, unless you’ve got perfect timing or some sort of inside connection, I doubt you’ve tried it.  While I must admit sampling from a paper (clean) coffee cup might not have been the height of beer connoisseur pride, I found myself a winner (and a loser) for the week.  Taste-wise, it was an epic win, but as for marketing, let’s just say Boulevard had a terrible strategy with this one.

The Boulevard Smokestack Series beers provide an exceptional upgrade to their everyday beers and the Chocolate Ale proved no exception.  Even as it sat in the bottle, the sheer sensory profile was overwhelming.  The label was cute and reminded me of vintage Hershey-esque wrappers, though I found the description on the reverse rushed (distiguished?  What ever happened to spell check?).  Chocolate emanated from the glass in both smell and color…the molecules of rich cocoa floating throughout provided a visionary tease.  It poured a gorgeous sable color with the just-perfect 1″ creamy head.  As my sexy Cheesehead comrade exclaimed, it was “like a Hershey’s bar…but a beer!”  The soft stereotypical ale body was the right foundation for a killer finish of coffee and cocoa.  Unlike its heavy stout counterparts, I think the lighter Boulevard Chocolate Ale reigns as the top of its niche.

However, in my statement of its delightfulness, I must announce its shortcomings.  The bad boy froths at the slightest rumble, the bottle size is inconvenient (I love the aging capabilities of other Smokestacks, but with the earlier expiration date, I would have loved the four-pack bottles on this release), and the people at Boulevard totally dropped the ball.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Boulevard’s workings, they occasionally release a seasonal or “limited edition” Smokestack.  They only produce so much of the beer and thus only sell so much to the distributors who, in turn, limit the number of cases each store is allowed.  This time around, since they underestimated their demands, there isn’t a store in KC that got more than 4 cases (that’s 48 bottles).  To put this in perspective, my place-of-work only scraped 3 cases (36 bottles).  After employees, we sold 30 to the public (and that’s with a Limit 1 and our biggest beer guy missing out!).  They were gone within 20 hours solely off of word of mouth…and we were closed for 9 of those hours…and that was with hiding it behind the counter.  This happens, a lot, between hype and what I like to call “Boullies.”  These Boulevard freaks stay loyal to the brand-no matter how out of left field they bat.  Now, here’s where things get really problematic: Chocolate Ale was sold to stores as early as Tuesday, advertisements went through the media Wednesday, Thursday, and (really unfortunately) Friday.  It is my understanding that one article even cited Friday as the release…by then there wasn’t a bottle between all of the retailers in my part of town.  The absolute worst part of it all?  Chocolate Ale appeals to the masses.  Between the Boullies, the beer geeks, casual drinkers, and employees there wasn’t a bottle to spare for the chocolate lovers or romantics seeking an awesome V-day gift (and sometimes the converse was even true).

Boulevard talks of re-releasing the Chocolate Ale next Valentine’s Day, but I say what is going to make next year any different?  For example, every year, Bourbon Barrel Quad (another highly popular Smokestack) only increases in numbers of fans but does not grow at the same rate for amount produced.  I’m looking forward to a similar situation next year…much to the dismay of my poor phone lines.

Just remember, be kind to your retailer…it’s not our fault.



Posted in: Beer