The owner of Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Company has sold a majority stake in the business to a Belgian brewery. Still John McDonald, Boulevard’s founder, says the deal with Duvel Moortgat will only allow the brewery to accelerate its Kansas City expansion.
Charting a new path
John McDonald just turned 60, and that got him thinking about stepping back from the beer business. He began looking for partners.
"And about three or four months ago, I thought of this iconic brewery in Belgium, who I have the upmost respect for; they’ve been around forever," says McDonald. "And I started talking to them, and the more we talked the more I liked them."
It was Duvel (pronounced doo-vel), a 142-year-old brewer that makes some very nice, high-end beer, and sells most of it in Europe. But the company has good distribution on the East and West coasts of the United States. Boulevard is concentrated in the Midwest, so the deal may help with distribution for both brewers.
"There’s a lot of respect for both breweries," says McDonald. "We have a lot of respect for them, they have a lot of respect for us, and I think we’re both anxious to roll up our sleeves and see what we can do together."
Response to the deal
Quite a number of Boulevard customers were anxious after hearing of the deal too, but not in a good way. It reminded some of Anheuser-Busch getting picked up by the Belgium-based, Brazilian-owned brewing conglomerate InBev five years ago.
No comparison, according to McDonald.
"I can tell you one thing, this is not what happened in St. Louis, that was about cutting and consolidation, and this is about growing," says McDonald. "We’re going to add jobs, there will be more people working here than less, that’s for sure."
McDonald says they’ll likely move ahead with a production capacity expansion sooner than scheduled.
But, even for people, like John Couture, in the wholesale end of the industry, there’s a lot still to be determined about this Boulevard/DuVel get together.
"Well, that’s like asking me to pick between my two daughters," said Couture when asked which of the two companies makes better beer. "They’re both great beers, honestly. They both do fantastic stuff. I love DuVel."
Couture runs a craft bar and store called the Bier Station, a business that would have fewer customers if not for Boulevard.
"Boulevard is what transformed so many Kansas Citians into craft beer fans," says Couture.
Hometown brewery plans to say local
Boulevard started 25 years ago, and built its own market in Kansas City. It expanded distribution very judiciously, instead of fanning out as some other brewers did. Now, though it’s available across much of the country, Boulevard still sells most of its beer within an hour’s drive of the brewery on Southwest Boulevard.
"Boulevard is like woven into the fabric of the city," says Couture. "I know that’s probably the hardest thing for people to fathom when they thinking about an overseas company taking us over. But if anyone has tasted Duvel they know they make quality brew, and if someone’s going to take over Boulevard, I’d much rather it be a company like that."
Because huge beer brewing corporations are on the hunt, buying up craft breweries. Duvel, by contrast, is small, and John McDonald says it’s run like a small, independent craft brewery.
"That’s very, very good thing," promises McDonald. "I’ve got a huge amount of money tied up in this brewery going forward, and frankly, if I have to sit on every bar stool in Kansas City and have this conversation, I will."
McDonald will certainly have some takers on that conversation, as local beer drinkers mull over an iconic Kansas City business, now controlled by people whose first language is Flemish.
You can read a letter from John McDonald here.