Roots Abroad, But America Calls
Cross-cultural beer pioneers
Pauwels had a similar awakening the first time he visited Kansas City, in 1999. Boulevard founder John McDonald, who was looking for a brewer with packaging and bottle-conditioning experience, picked him up from the airport in his pickup truck and Pauwels met all of the brewers for the first time in a room, where they peppered him with questions.
“They were eager for knowledge,” Pauwels says. “And I remember sitting in that room thinking, like, in Belgium, I was supervisor of the bottling line and if I tell somebody hey, you should do it this way because it makes better sense for the beer, I would turn around and they would still not be doing what I asked them to do. … And here are these guys, all extremely interested in beer, and really wanting to do the best thing that they can, and they just don’t have access to somebody with knowledge. … I was blown away by their enthusiasm.”
After that, Pauwels says, his decision was made.
“It was a really easy choice for me. It was, like, well, here I can make a difference.”
It was a far departure from his original plan, which was to become brewmaster at Brouwerij Krüger in his hometown of Eeklo, East Flanders. He had his first job there at 16, picking broken bottles off the line, and later worked in production and spent summers in the lab while he earned his degree in biochemical engineering from KaHo Sint-Lieven in Ghent. Interbrew closed the brewery, though, so he worked at a brewpub for several years and on the packaging side for a group of production breweries.
Pauwels says he was always interested in the American brewing scene and knew that he wanted to work outside Belgium, and so when he heard that John McDonald was looking for a head brewer, he sent him his résumé—and after that weekend visit—joined the brewery in 1999.
Kernels of Change
At Boulevard, Pauwels started with basic changes—setting up a lab quality-control program, refining the beers and focusing on keeping up with ever-increasing demands of production. It was several years before he brewed the first truly Belgian-influenced beer, the summer seasonal ZŌN, a Belgian witbier, in 2002.
Now, Boulevard’s beer lineup is a fine balance of accessible and adventurous beers, with fridge favorites like 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat, Single-Wide IPA and Unfiltered Wheat Beer alongside the Smokestack Series, which includes Belgian-style beers like the Tank 7 Saison, Saison-Brett, and the barrel-aged wild beer series, Love Child.
Bouckaert, who spent almost 10 years at Rodenbach, brewers of barrel-aged sour beers, was able to bring that aspect of Belgian brewing with him to New Belgium.
Early in 1997, Bouckaert said, the brewers wanted to brew a non-wood sour seasonal, using a technique called in-kettle souring to achieve tart and sour flavors. The seasonal didn’t end up working out, but they did start wood souring, the practice of aging fully fermented beer in used wine casks, where wild yeasts and bacteria thrive on the oxygen and release sour acids.
Heather Vandenengel is a nomadic beer writer and the News Editor for All About Beer Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @heathervandy.