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  • Writer's picturePaige Latham Didora

Farewell, Boulevard

I stepped into my cellar today to grab a Friday Beer. I was tired and first considered coffee, but my dwindling bottle collection beckoned me instead. Sitting down to read a cocktail book I'd been meaning to absorb by now, I did a double-take at what was in my hand: the Bourbon Barrel Quad from Boulevard Brewing Co. Instead of relaxing, beer and book at the ready, I teared up and looked out the window at a bleak Midwestern sunset.

There is nothing to say about the facts and context of the Boulevard revelation that happened this week that has not already been said. (Excellent reporting, Kate.) The fallout of statements, resignations, and now employee uprisings, was swift. And there is no insider knowledge I am about to offer here - no hot take or new facts. Sometimes tears are not about facts. Often, actually.

Truth be told, there are scandals that are not shocking and this may not have been shocking to those close to Kansas City, or former employee and Twitter star Jeremy Danner, or, most certainly, women employed by the 31-year-old brewing giant. Just as the Surly Brewing union-busting fallout was not shocking to me, I understand if my initial disbelief doesn't ring true for some.

Many of you know that I visited Boulevard during Fourth of July week 2019. It was a destination brewery for me -- I built an entire road trip around visiting two destination breweries, the other being Schlafly in St. Louis, humidity be damned. It was a small full-circle moment since Boulevard Tank 7 was an early craft experience in my life and opened up a world of funk-adjacent beers. Over the years, my fondness has grown as I've attended tastings and events put on by Boulevard as well as sister brands Duvel and Ommegang (including a memorable Game of Thrones beer dinner in which I sucked bone marrow out of a boar femur -- my date was less than impressed).

That visit, along with a recent, mask-clad visit in September 2020, was magical. The Boulevard complex was everything a destination brewery should be. The impression was one of an absolute overachiever in the regional craft brand market; every single person I encountered from the initial greeter to the experimental beer bartender was overjoyed to welcome me while pushing my dollar bills away, explaining that they were a tip-free zone. I watched groups play shuffleboard and hover for balcony space with an air of Regular status. Customers had multiple floors of enjoyment to choose from. I recall looking around, noting the iconic smokestack through a nearby window at dusk and exhaling deeply while Rick chirped in my ear about his total disbelief. These are the memories that are now clouded by Boulevard's sexist behavior and I am experiencing a sense of grief.

This story is, without a doubt, not in the least about me or other brewery patrons. This is about a large company with local clout not treating its employees fairly and victimizing women within the organization. Please don't misunderstand my current state of reflection as me not taking the allegations seriously; I have experienced sexual violence, I believe survivors, and I am one hundred percent in support of the whistleblower and those whose grievances are now coming to light. The whole truth is that I am grieving the loss of Boulevard today -- with, not in spite of, those who are losing their jobs, leaving their jobs, or risking their jobs to speak out against the company. The realities of Boulevard's reaction and public statements have done further damage, and everything is now simultaneously setting in. What choice do I have but to say goodbye?

I am not a Kansas City native or even an industry employee anymore. I am simply a fan. I'm left with the questions that perhaps many of you are -- Did I miss the cues? What behavior did I unintentionally support by giving Boulevard my money? Should I have known better?

But mostly, I am sitting with the profound disappointment of betrayed trust. We thought you were better. We trusted you. Why is that? When Founders Brewing Co. revealed racist practices many years ago, I immediately stopped buying their beer and never looked back. I had visited the original Founder's taproom, set in a gorgeous old brick building, and tasted 24 tiny beers split among four people. My overarching emotion was anger, not grief, when their anti-Blackness came to light. And while it is fruitless and unethical to compare atrocious behavior, to compare the traumas of other and oursevles, I question what the difference is in my personal experience of this current let-down.

I'm left thinking it was the brand itself. Some beers, brands, and tasting rooms evoke a casual coolness (Sierra Nevada's North Carolina campus). Or profound historical significance (Guiness' Open Gate facility) Others strike a middle-finger-to-the-man chord (TRVE or Three Floyds). But Boulevard was a warm hug.

I am at the bottom of my Bourbon Barrel Quad now and confess I am at a loss as to what to do next. The situation is evolving and my sincere hope is that the employees continue to stand for what they know is right while problematic leadership is sacrificed for the good of the brand. That leads to another conversation that I'm not yet ready to have. For now, it's goodbye. I look forward to the day when I can enjoy Boulevard again -- if that day comes -- while reflecting on good people who rose up in a critical moment.

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