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Interviews

Eliminating Beer Styles and Fighting Duck-Sized Brewers with Boulevard’s Jeremy Danner

It’s not often I start an article with an apology, but this one is merited and then some. In late November, Boulevard Brewing Company’s Ambassador Brewer, Jeremy Danner, came to DC for some of his usual fun and antics. He graciously agreed to an interview that I then took almost four months to publish. It’s a shitty thing to have done and I don’t have a particularly good reason for it, so let me publicly apologize to Jeremy here.

That said, this interview kicks so much ass that it was well worth the wait. Instead of the normal, boring nonsense that brewers normally get asked, I asked Danner if he’d accept an interview format with 20 or so rapid fire questions. He agreed, and to boot he didn’t mind answering these questions at Smoke and Barrel while my toddler was strapped to my front and yelling at him. Courage under fire, I guess. Anyway, the aftermath is below (lightly edited for clarity and length). It really runs the gamut from beer to pop culture to all kinds of other weirdness. It was a delight to conduct, and I suspect it’ll be a delight for you to read.

Without further ado, here’s Boulevard Brewing Company’s Jeremy Danner.

DCBeer: Alright, so we’re here with Jeremy Danner from Boulevard Brewing Company. You ready to go?

Danner: Yep.

Alright let’s do this. Here are four beer styles, eliminate two, permanently: American Pale Ale, IPA, Double IPA, Triple IPA.

Well, Triple IPA is out immediately because it’s not a real beer style. I enjoy beers like that, that are excessive, but it’s not my favorite style.

So you’ve got one easy out.

And then probably double IPA, really. I don’t really drink a lot of big beer anymore. I drink a lot of our pale ale, I could never get rid of that. I’m more in the 5-5.5% range or lower. I enjoy that. As far as IBUs go, I get bummed out above 50. It’s not my thing. It was for a long time, but now I don’t enjoy bitterness that much. I don’t know if that’s shameful or not…

How many Slush Puppee machines will Boulevard be ordering for fiscal 2019, and which of your beers are most likely to go in them?

Well, we have 24 taps, so we might as well have 24 slushees right? Because efficiency. I’d probably be most excited for Saison-Brett.

Slushie-Brett?

It’s already pillowy and has this meringue crazy foam on it anyway, so it would be perfect.

If you all like rye so much, were you aware that distilleries exist, and had you considered Boulevard becoming one?

You know, we haven’t. We sent one of our brewers to distilling school a while back because we thought that might be something we do, but we decided it was better to be good at one thing, and we have a lot of great distilleries in town anyway so we were like, eh, we’re not going to do that.

What can the average beer fan learn from stand-up comedy? The average brewery?

It’s very hard. Was it Groucho Marx who said, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard”? [Ed. Note: The Internet tells me these were British Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean’s alleged last words] Stand-up comedy is really hard because you’re up there by yourself. I think people think improv is hard, but what we’re doing right now is improv, and every conversation you ever have is improv. People think, “I have to be funny,” but no, you don’t. You have to be real, and then people receive that as funny. So trying to be real by yourself, talking to a crowd, is tough. I talk to distributors a lot, and I do a lot of staff training, and I love that, and that’s all kind of stand-up because I think I’m funny. But really, doing stand-up is so much pressure.

So is that what the average beer fan should take away? Is that doing what you guys do as breweries is harder than they think it is?

I think so, yeah. I drank a lot of beer before I worked at a brewery. And honestly I though there was a lot of popular beer that was kind of boring, and when I started working for a brewery I realized the level of achievement they reach every day. The beer was consistent, and it’s what they wanted it to be. I was blown away by that. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

Which flagship beer from a non-Duvel Moortgat brewery would you most like to slip into Boulevard’s portfolio?

Oh, man. Um, Allagash White? Because that beer kills it, and it’s delicious. My wife and I went there with our son a couple of years ago on our vacation, and while we were there a couple of marketing guys showed us around, and we had an amazing time. At one point, my son said he wanted to go outside and play. One of the marketing guys said he had twin boys at home so he took my son outside and played, and they threw rocks in a lake while we drank fancy barrel-aged beers. It was incredible, so I have a real soft spot for them.

Why don’t more breweries have ambassador brewers?

I don’t know. For me, I think I got lucky in that I went to a lot of events and became the guy who would go to a lot of stuff around town. Then I started going through the Midwest. Then the national sales team was like, “Hey, if you want to have a guy, ask Danner.” I started going out a lot, then we had to figure out: am I a brewer? am I a guy who travels? am I half and half? I got lucky with that. I think doing what we do as people who publicly represent breweries is a challenge, but having that technical knowledge came from my experience on the brewhouse. At Boulevard, I feel like I made up my own job up. “What do you want to do?” “Well, I want to do this.” I don’t know why more people don’t have it, but if you have a person who’s a really good brewer, you should want that person to make your beer. I know it’s unique for sure. It’s tough to figure out how to do the two things.

You’ve made “Dannering” on airplanes famous. Do you wish you hadn’t? How many sets of airplane legs do you need to see in a given week?

I see a lot. Because I’m a weirdo, what bums me out is I look at people’s shoes, and I think, “Those shoes don’t look comfortable at all. I would not wear those.” Somebody once tweeted at me and was like, “Oh that’s ‘Dannering.’” And someone else was like, “No, it’s not.” And I was like, ”Well, click that hash tag, and you’ll see it is.” That’s the one time I’ve been like, “Do you know who I am?”

“I’m the airplane leg guy, man.”

“I’m the stretching out guy.” I didn’t know it was going to be a thing. I thought it was funny, but…

It’s kind of got a life of its own now.

It’s gotten annoying too, I know.

How much non-Twitter beer media do you personally consume, any recommendations?

A lot, actually. I read everything or try to read everything written about our beer. BeerAdvocate has been around a long time. I’ll hit 13 years on there in December. I like that a lot. I read a lot of local stuff, too, really. I think they’re the most honest about what’s happening locally. Sometimes you’ll read about beer and it’s some blogger or someone has a bottle that you can’t get, and they love it. And that’s cool, but I can’t get that beer, but the people who have the opportunity to buy our beer every day are really honest about it, and I really appreciate that. I really appreciate reading honest feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. It’s a real honor to have that feedback come in.

More likely in 2019: Whit Merrifield wins the AL MVP or the Washington Nationals win the World Series?

Uh, Whit, for sure.

Whoa, whoa.

Whit is the man. I know he won’t read this, but I love Whit Merrifield.

How salty do you think Southern Tier should be for never getting credit for pioneering pastry stouts?

[laughs] A lot. That beer, is it Crème Brulee?

Crème Brulee…Choklat…Mokah…

Those beers were insane. I remember drinking Crème Brulee and thinking, “I can never drink anything else out of this glass.” It was that strong.

I think about it a lot because obviously you see all these pastry stouts now. And nobody ever mentions Southern Tier about it.

Really?

No, I’ve never seen it.

It’s all a cycle. No, but that beer would make an awesome candle.

You travel all over drinking beer; what are some of the most underrated beer cities you’ve been to?

I really liked Tulsa. I was there a while back, it was great. Prairie and American Solera are both there. I was in Louisville. I had an amazing time there. They had really good regular beer, but crazy stuff too, but I lean more toward regular beer personally.

Better hangover cure: hair of the dog or greasy food?

…yes? If I had to pick one, I’m going to eat. You have to eat. There’s this bar I go to..

Yeah but not eating is what put you in this predicament.

There’s a café in St. Louis called Courtesy Diner. I went there for the first time a long time ago, and I sat down, and the waitress said, “Hey, honey, you look like shit.” I said, “Oh…okay.” And she said, “You should eat that” and pointed to something called a “Slinger.” It’s hash browns and eggs and onions and chili and cheese. It fixes you up.

When I came out to the first Boulevardia, I ate something like that in the Kansas City airport, and it saved my life. Just mix it around.

Anyway: which beer style do you think could potentially most benefit from adding Brettanomyces that you haven’t seen tried or widely tried yet?

Oh man, probably like the brewpub golden ale. I worked at a brewpub before Boulevard, and we made a beer called “Yardbird” after Charlie Parker. It was this really normal but delicious golden ale, but if that beer had Brett, it would be so beautiful. It was really crisp, had like a spicy hop character, super dry. A little funk would be amazing in that beer.

It sounds a little bit like the Tank 7 versus Saison-Brett paradigm.

I know. I’m like, “which beer would be good,” and then I’m like…saison?

What percent of beer nerds do you think can take the Pepsi challenge and correctly identify any given three hazy IPAs?

Oh man. Very little. When you say beer nerds, do you mean the one percent of beer nerds or…

Let’s put it at the top five percent of craft beer fans by number of beers consumed per year.

And identify the brewery? There’s no way. That beer is good. I like that style. I was an early crap-talker. “I don’t like this, I don’t get it,” but then I’m like, “Oh, it’s hop flavor and aroma without bitterness? That’s what I like.” But the best beers are all pretty similar. And they’re great, but I don’t feel like there’s a house signature to any of those beers at all. Not in a bad or a good way. You just couldn’t tell. I feel like when you have a Boulevard beer you can be like, “Oh, that’s a Boulevard beer,” but I feel like a lot of those beers are so hop-driven that there’s not nuance or house character.

What’s the Boulevard beer you wish got more love from beer consumers?

Probably Wheat Beer. I remember back when I was on the brewhouse, it was probably six years ago. John McDonald, our founder who was the owner back then, walked in and asked, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Just making Wheat Beer.” And he said, “What do you mean, ‘Just making Wheat Beer’?”

He’s like, “All of this is built on Wheat Beer.”

Exactly. He said everything that’s here around you is here because of Wheat Beer, so never say that again. Then he goes, “Are you eating chili at 5am?” And I said, “I am.” And he said, “That’s messed up, dude.”

But it’s a great beer. There’s a reason it’s our number one seller. People want to discount beers that are popular because they’re popular. It’s like the beer Yogi Berra thing: no one drinks that beer anymore, it’s too popular. Well somebody drinks it. There’s a reason Wheat Beer is a big deal. That and KC Pils. I love our pilsner, but I also love pilsner. I love regular beer.

More feasible beer trend one year from now: tiki-inspired beers or beers named after 1990s Nicktoons references?

Probably tiki beer. We’re already doing that. We have one in test phase right now, but…

I guess Stone already had Scorpion Bowl. So I guess they’re here now.

But I’d love a Rocko’s Modern Life. Is that 90s? Or Rugrats would be good. Or it’s not a cartoon but Hey, Dude and it’s “Hey, Brewed.”

Assuming you had access to a professionally trained example and not a wild one, which animal would you most like to work alongside as a brewer for the day?

That’s a great question. I’ve never been asked that.

And you probably never will be again.

Maybe a sloth? They’re so cute.

Doesn’t seem like a good coworker.

Well, no. We could get help. But also maybe like a wolf, too. Because they’re scary.

Bear?

Oh, dude. Like a grizzly bear.

Bears on grain out, with the big paws? Don’t need a shovel.

Oh, man. But also maybe like a jellyfish too.

[stares]

They’re awesome. They’re beautiful.

Yeah, but you’d have to fill the brewery with water. That’s a problem. You clearly haven’t thought much about brewing alongside wild animals.

I’ve not, no, I’m so sorry.

If overnight a change to fermentation occurred wherein every beer permanently retained 100% of its flavor profile but was completely non-alcoholic, give me five words about what the next staff meeting looks like at Boulevard.

Wow.

I guess the follow-up here is how long does the beer industry survive on flavor alone?

“Guys, things are gonna change” would be the five words. I feel like every beer professional says that if beer didn’t have alcohol I’d still drink it, but I think we lie. The flavor is amazing. That’s important. Things should taste good. But to say that alcohol isn’t a pleasant side effect would be inaccurate. Would you still drink beer? You drink other stuff like whiskey or wine.

I would probably still drink beer. Would I still want the flavor of Two Hearted even if it didn’t get me drunk? The answer is yes. It would taste like carbonated grapefruit Gatorade. Yes, I would still like that and I could drink a lot of that.

You’d drink other stuff too though?

Oh, yes. Alright. Next: shouldn’t you really “stick to beer” on Twitter?

Probably. I have room for murder dogs and small roommate, but as a rule I don’t talk specifics of politics, but I think some of the things I talk about lately are not political. I feel like treating people like they’re equal is bigger than that and shouldn’t be something that is controversial. But you’d be surprised by the replies I see.

And it should be something that’s part of beer.

Yeah, yeah. It’s huge. I tweet crazy things every day, and it’s always the things I feel are the most rational or logical or widely agreed with that people are like, “Whoa, what do you mean?” And I’m like, “What do you mean what do I mean? It’s right there.” I feel like my hot takes are not hot because they’re reasonable.

But you get more replies than you should?

Oh yeah, my ratio is garbage. But I don’t respond to that either. I don’t embrace hate. I try to be positive all the time. I feel like advocating for people to treat people like they’re people is positive. But it’s really surprising when people don’t think that’s positive. I don’t know what to do, so I don’t respond. I can’t regulate morality, or translate what I feel is right and wrong to people that don’t have it or aren’t interested, but I probably should stick to beer.

Fight one brewer-sized duck who has been drinking Boubon Barrel Quad or 25 duck-sized brewers who have been drinking 80 Acre.

I’m going to take the brewer-sized duck…oh my god, no. That’s a messed up…I’m afraid of birds, did you know that?

I did not know that. That puts a whole new angle on it though.

Yeah, I’m terrified of birds.

So a giant brewer-sized duck is not going to work.

No. So the other options is duck-sized brewers? How many?

25.

I’m taking that on,  yeah, because no birds. I thought about it, I’m like, “Nope.” I can’t fight a bird.

Especially not a big bird.

No, no.

Give an Untappd rating to the practice of rating beers.

Um, a 3, maybe? In the middle.

“It was just okay.”

“Meh.” I know it’s popular to crap on rating sites, but I find them very fascinating and interesting and valuable. Especially Untappd. What’s cool about Untappd is it’s not all regular people, but it’s far more regular people than Ratebeer or BeerAdvocate, that’s very specialized. You get the opinions of people who know everything and then the opinions of people who just try beer. I think you can use it a few ways. You can keep figuring out what you like or don’t like. You can brag. Or you can give honest reviews. Any rating site, you need to be able to sort and sift through to find what’s valuable.

And it gives you a lot of volume to do that. Especially you guys.

Yeah, and I read a lot. I’ll send notes to our brewers about what people are saying about new beers. I try to send a lot of positive stuff because I think we make good beer, but at the same time I try to send criticism because I think it’s important to be able to accept that people don’t like everything you do. And they shouldn’t. If everyone liked everything we did, we’d be boring. I share that stuff, too. I think Untappd is great.

Okay, last question. Pick one to blow-up nationally: pepper beers, beers with spices, smoked beers, or beer/wine hybrids.

Oh, man. Beer/wine hybrids by far for me.

Wow.

I mean, I don’t like those other beers!

It’s okay to be wrong.

It’s fine,  yeah. The beer/wine hybrids I’ve had I’ve found to be really dry and crisp and refreshing. Those are things I like. But not smoked beer. I hate smoked beer. You knew that right?

Did not.

Oh, I hate it. I’ve had good examples where I’m like oh it’s good, but for me it’s like if you sleep in a tent by a fire and wake up, lick your thumb, but it in your belly button, and lick your thumb again, that’s what it’s like. I don’t like smoky things at all.

But you like barbecue?

Yeah, I do like barbecue. But not smoky beverages. I get freaked out by that.

And that’s it. Thanks, Danner! Great interview.

We did it!

This was a heck of a lot of fun for me, and I’m grateful that Jeremy entertained this format. You can, of course, find more of him on Twitter and at Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, MO. (Take the tour, it’s wonderful.)

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