Boulevard Silver Anniversary Ale: A discussion with Doug Odell & John McDonald

boulevard-silver-110414On November 17, 1989, John McDonald drove his pick-up a little over a half mile to Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen. In the back was a half-keg of the Boulevard Brewing Company’s Pale Ale. A day later and a little over 650 miles away, Doug Odell tapped the first keg for the Odell Brewing Co. — a craft brewery he launched with his wife Wynne and sister Corkie in Fort Collins, Colorado. Boulevard and Odell were officially in business.

It’s 25 years later and the two pillars of the American craft scene have decided to celebrate their shared roots with a beer collaboration. Silver Anniversary Ale is an American Strong Ale. The label is a split design with half of the logo coming from the creative team at each brewery. This collaboration is also unique in that both the Boulevard and Odell versions will be on draft simultaneously here in Kansas City.

Silver will debut on tap at the 25th Anniversary Silver Celebration Pub Crawl hosted by Boulevard and Odell this Saturday, November 8. By Monday, it should start appearing on taps around town and next Tuesday, November 11, it will begin appearing in 750ml bottles. Jax Fish House (4814 Roanoke Parkway) is also having a five-course beer dinner featuring Boulevard and Odell ($65) on Tuesday the 11th.

The Recommended Daily sat down with Boulevard founder John McDonald and together we rang Doug Odell in Fort Collins, Colorado, to talk about how they got started and their new collaboration.

How do you decide to brew Silver?

Odell: John and I met up during Boulevardia and that was the start of the beer. We referred to it as an American strong ale and decided on malts, the approximate alcohol by volume and that the IBU was going to be 45. That was the base we would follow and then you could use whatever yeast you want and hop it whatever way you want. We did what we like to do. We chose some interesting flavor and aroma hops to give it that good bright character.

McDonald: Doug and I both started with the same kind of thing. It was in the vein of English top fermented ales. I just got back from England and I have to say, I think English style beer made in the U.S. is better than it is in England.

Odell: I agree with you. We had this starting date in common and that type of beer was our inspiration – the idea that we wanted to go back to the beginning.

When did the two of you first meet?

McDonald: The first time we met was probably two or three years after we started. It was a GABF [Great American Beer Festival] week.

Odell: It’s amazing to see how John’s whole facility has progressed. We’ve followed the same path, but just to see what Boulevard has been able to do in their home state is pretty impressive.

McDonald: I’ve always kept an eye on what they’re doing. I think they’re one of the premiere craft brewers in the country. It was helpful to call them up when we had a problem with something and found out what they were doing with it. Colorado and Missouri are not that far apart. We’ve always been trapped here in the center part of the United States together.

Odell: Our motto for the longest time has been we only sell beer in states where no one lives. Then we went into Texas this year and that changed.

How has the craft brewing scene changed over the past 25 years?

McDonald: Beer has gotten pretty crazy these days. When we started back in the 80’s, this would have been a wild beer in 1989. But those beers that we made then would be a pretty straightforward type of beer today.

Odell: I think the way people viewed beer in 1989 was that it was all just American light lager. I was a little concerned about deviating from what people were used to in beer. We started with a beer darker in color and hippier on character and darker malt.

In September, we had a celebration for a whole week. We brewed four beers that we made in the beginning and I remember my overall impression was that these beers were pretty tame.

McDonald: Pale ale is a great example. The beer we made in 1989 was really true to the style of a pale ale character. But IPAs have gotten considerably more hoppy. It’s interesting how things change.

I’m surprised that it’s still as frothy and interesting. I think that’s what’s neat for me. When Doug and I started there were just a few of us and the idea was that there was no way we were going to succeed. I felt that way on a lot of days. But now I see how many people are interested in craft brewing and buying into projects.

Odell: I think it’s a rather symbiotic relationship. Are we creating these new styles and bringing our customers along for the ride or are our customers demands what we base our brews on?

Silver Anniversary Ale is out in bottles next week.

Silver Anniversary Ale is out in bottles next week.

What was it like to work together in the brew house during your recent brew day out in Ft. Collins?

Odell: Well John burned his hand while we were dumping the hops by hand. We opened up the door and there was the big blast of steam. I broke my collar bone crashing my bike the day we were supposed to brew together in Kansas City, but otherwise everything has gone pretty smooth.

McDonald: They’ve done a great job of adding a new brewhouse and evolving as we have.

Odell: We moved after five years and then built this building from scratch. We purchased it in 1994 and I remember the day I brewed on that a lot. We still use it for special projects. But I’m not really nostalgic for all of the hard work that John and I had to do every day.

McDonald: We used to dump all the grains by hand. We’d dump them off a palette on the front of a fork lift and line up all these 100-pound bags.

Odell: Our first five years, we’d get malt from England in 110-pound bags. And we’d haul it around. I wouldn’t want to try that now.

McDonald: Our mill is still on the old brewhouse. We used it just to grind wheat and specialty malts. It’s not a very good mill because it pulverizes everything. But it’s amazing – that animal feed mill is what every small craft brewer starts on.

Have you had a chance to try the beer?

McDonald: I actually haven’t had it yet.

Odell: I like it. It came out like I had in mind. It’s a strong ESB in that it was a little more malty than pale. It’s not as bitter. It’s a little more malt forward. I think we got the balance right between bitterness, hop flavor and the malt backbone.

[Images via Facebook: Boulevard, Odell]

Jonathan Bender

Jonathan Bender is the founder of The Recommended Daily.

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