Boulevard Brewing Company started as a traditional Bavarian brewhouse on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City. The first beer made, in 1989, was Boulevard Pale Ale, and John McDonald, the founder, delivered the first keg of it to a local restaurant. Fast forward to 2006, when the brewery made major expansions, increasing from a modest 6,000 barrels to the aforementioned 600,000 barrels. Quite a jump!
Recently, Boulevard was purchased by Duvel Moortgat, a family-controlled Belgian brewery who also own Brewery Ommegang, another Belgian-inspired American beer maker.
In addition to a full regular line-up of beers, Boulevard makes a “Smokestack Series,” which are all big beers in big bottles. Consider it the experimental side of Boulevard — Chocolate Ale is a collaboration with chocolatier Christopher Elbow, who also conducts business in Kansas City. Elbow earned his reputation by teaming unusual and surprising flavors with chocolate; with Boulevard, Elbow recommended that the beer be dosed with a rare variety of cocoa nibs from the Dominican Republic. For the 2014 version, over 3,000 pounds of Valrhona nibs were added; the outcome was a 9.1% ABV (alcohol by volume) beer that hits just 24 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Chocolate Ale is typically released just before Valentines Day — Boulevard skipped the beer in 2013 due to quality control issues, but it returned this year. It typically disappears off shelves quickly.
The pour produced a large, frothy head composed of large bubbles. It lasted atop a orangeish-amber colored beer. If you were expecting a Brown Ale or Stout, guess again; this is much lighter than anticipated. The body is a touch hazy, but there are no particles or sediment. Lacing never really existed, and you can’t regenerate the head; once this is poured, it’s pretty much flat.
Expectations denied, once again: if you’re expecting a rush of chocolate on the nose, no can do. Be prepared for a ton of Belgian yeast; slight notes of bread, dough, with plenty of orange peel and a bit of banana. There is some milk chocolate here, but it’s very powdery and dry, and most certainly buried beneath everything else going on. As it warms, the chocolate comes out more, but it’s quite mild, and teams with some citrus and herbal hops. There’s no alcohol present despite the big ABV number, but overall, this aroma doesn’t match the hype on this bottle.
On the palate, the initial notes are of banana, Belgian yeast, and orange peel. The chocolate finally joins in after a few warm-up notes, but it’s milk chocolate, and there isn’t much depth to it. You know those oranges that are actually chocolate and when you smack them on the table turn into about 50 piece of chocolate? This beer tastes like that — and a bit of Tootsie Roll. There’s some pleasant vanilla, which actually overshadows the chocolate, and the finish has some salted caramel notes. But the chocolate is a timid flavor that you have to hunt for, and I’m not very enthused by that considering the name of this beer is ‘Chocolate Ale.’ The beer has a little alcohol heat at the very end; it’s medium-bodied with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.
I was very excited about Chocolate Ale, especially after Boulevard started distributing to North Carolina just last year and decided not to release it due to quality issues. To say this beer didn’t live up to the hype is totally correct. To say it’s a bad beer would also be false. This is a pretty tasty drink, interesting for sure, but it’s no Chocolate Ale. It’s like a cross between a Dubbel and Quadrupel. Oh, well.
Boulevard Chocolate Ale, 81 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.