Boulevard Chocolate Ale shows why we can't have nice things



A sample of the comments on Boulevards Facebook page.
  • A sample of the comments on Boulevard's Facebook page.
It's been less than a month since Boulevard Chocolate Ale hit the shelves, and euphoria has sadly given way to griping. People have complained about manufactured hype and inadequate supply. Conspiracy theories about shipments and marketing decisions have run rampant in the comments section here and media across town. And then, Boulevard discovered that some batches had an unwanted taste. Founder John McDonald and brewmaster Steven Pauwels recorded a video last week to somberly offer an apology and a refund. It's the second apology in two years for Boulevard on what was supposed to be a fun little collaboration. The apologies are not the issue; it's our behavior that has led to this moment that is troubling. Kansas City, I don't think we can have nice things.

I wasn't there for the first conversation, the one that would eventually lead to Christopher Elbow and the Boulevard Brewing Co. producing Chocolate Ale. But back in 2010, I imagine it was the kind of casual suggestion that gets everybody in a room excited. Pauwels and Elbow have a strong mutual respect, and both have made it known that they are glad the other is here to represent Kansas City. Pauwels takes Elbow chocolates to beer festivals for tastings, and Elbow has regularly incorporated Boulevard products into his ice cream and sorbets at Glace.

The idea that they would be working together was captivating initially because it was two of the signature brands in Kansas City, and their combined expertise suggested this could be something special. Boulevard unveiled the first round of Chocolate Ale last February and was caught completely flat-footed by the overwhelming demand (here's the first apology in February of 2011). Boulevard thought that this was a one-off, seasonal addition to its Smokestack Series. Those who failed to get a bottle let the brewery know that was unacceptable.

So Boulevard agreed to remake the beer and vowed it would return in 2012. The production was nearly quadrupled — Chocolate Ale was still on tap at several places around town even at the end of last week (although that may be as much a factor of price as availability, with some bars gouging people to the tune of $8 a glass for a taste). While you might not have been able to get a bottle, you could have tried a glass without much effort this year and made the decision whether it was worth the hype or not on your own.

Cut to last week with the second apology, the 'unwanted flavor,' and the 'Chocolate Fail' front-page story in The Kansas City Star. Boulevard got bullied into making Chocolate Ale return, and it feels that their unhappiness may have made it into the bottle. It's not quite the plot of Waitress, but it's hard not to think that the reluctance of Boulevard (and the temperamental nature of chocolate) manifested concretely in that unwanted flavor.

Boulevard has genuinely tried to make its hometown happy, and while its missteps are like those of a bumbling prom date, we've been a bratty dance partner. Production or flavor issues aside, Midwestern civility has been left in the liquor-store parking lot. We have hoarded. We have been rude. We've forgotten that beer is best shared because we were too concerned over updating our status.

Boulevard shouldn't (and likely won't) make a third incarnation of Chocolate Ale. This is one chapter in the company's two-decade history that they're ready to forget. What was supposed to be a gift became a burden. Boulevard has owned up to its faults, but we've failed to admit our own, and that starts with being ashamed.

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