by Eric Barton
If you’ve been to one of the metro’s more spacious liquor stores lately, you might’ve spotted Boulevard Brewing Company’s newest brews. You really can’t miss them: The Smokestack Series, as they’re called, are sold in champagne-style bottles, complete with a cork and antique-looking labels. They sit on wire racks that might otherwise display the newest offering from Napa Valley, rather than Southwest Boulevard.
I say the metro’s spacious liquor stores because not everywhere can carry these things. Some of the smaller shops complain that the 25.4-ounce bottles don’t fit in their beer cases. But if you’re looking for a bottle of beer to impress some dinner guest, these things are pretty damn striking (despite that they're so hard to uncork that it made several of us look like big pussies). And after The Pitch staff downed all four of them the other day, I’m happy to say the beer inside the bottles is pretty damn good.
Back in August, The Pitch reported that Boulevard was facing stiff competition from other specialty beers and was having trouble moving Lunar ale. But these four new Smokestack Series beers aren’t meant to be mass marketed like Lunar. That’s evident with the hefty price tag; I bought ours from Cellar Rat for $7.49 each, which is like buying two beers for the price of a six-pack. But it seems likely connoisseurs, at the least, will shell out a bit more dough for the uniqueness of a champagne bottle full of gourmet beer.
And unique they are. After our afternoon taste test, here’s our take on the four new brews:
Description on the back: It’s meant for the “mature connoisseur” and is “a deep and mysterious libation, dark auburn and full bodied.” It becomes “more ominous,” the label promises, with a sixth glass.
Our take: Those who liked this one raved of the honey and cream flavors. It tastes like somebody floated a scoop of ice cream on top of a Newcastle. But with 10.5 percent alcohol, this one’s also so strong it’s like it was mixed with a shot of grappa. One of our tasters suggested this change to the label: “See if your honey can make it to the sixth glass.”
Description on the back: It’s named after Harold “Trip” Hogue, who got Boulevard’s first brewing equipment up and running back in 1989. The label reads: “We offer this rich, golden Tripel in grateful tribute to dedication, everywhere.”
Our take: Imagine a more flavorful Blue Moon, with maybe coriander and orange peel. One taster described it as “girl beer,” because the sweetness can mask the fact that it has 9 percent alcohol. “It’s like the ultimate wine cooler.”
Description on the back: It’s inspired by the “brisk, unruly” Saison beers of southern Belgium. “Truly an artful balancing act, it is both rustic and subtle, robust yet effervescent, spicy and fruity. A votre santé!”
Our take: It’s got a bitter bite, like a Pilsner Urquell. It’s light yellow, with no more of a head than your typical Bud. This is the weakest of the four, with 6.2 percent alcohol, and the one that’s probably the least unique. Still, it would make for a fine picnic beer.
Description on the back: “The classic India Pale Ale is a traveler’s beer, aggressively hopped to withstand the long, hot ocean voyage to the British East Indies.”
Our take: Truth is, there are no trips in our near futures to the East Indies – hell, it’s rare to make it south of 75th Street. But this one still had most of our tasters raving. One of our more astute drinkers noted that “This one does have a real floral bouquet.” It’s the “FTD of IPAs,” someone added. It’s got a heavy head and a strong, heady hop flavor, like the IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
So, in conclusion -- if it’s possible to write a conclusion after tasting four crazy-strong beers – this new Smokestack Series is pretty damn good. It’s hard to say more than that, only because the price is a bit steep for your average consumer. Let’s hope Bully throws these in some regular bottles someday. Until then, think of the Smokestack Series as the perfect thing to bring to some party where it’s not appropriate to get shitcanned off beer. Yeah, this is just the thing to bring to, say, your girlfriend’s father’s house, because he’ll have no idea those tasty and stylish brews in the big bottles pack one hell of a punch. – Eric Barton