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When Craft Beer Goes Global: A Kansas City Brewery's Tale

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When Craft Beer Goes Global: A Kansas City Brewery's Tale


When Craft Beer Goes Global: A Kansas City Brewery's Tale

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Within days, a Belgian beer maker, Duvel, will likely finalize its purchase of a brewery in Kansas City. This deal is seen as a sign of respect for the fast-growing American craft beer industry.

Frank Morris from member station KCUR reports.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Kansas Citians are proud of their barbeque, their Chiefs football, their national champion soccer team.


MORRIS: And, Boulevard Beer. Bob Ellis is waiting at the bar for a glass of it.

BOB ELLIS: I think Boulevard is, is one with Kansas City.

CHAR O'HARA: It's our thing, you know. Like la cosa nostra, you know, it's our thing.

MORRIS: Like thousands of 20-somethings here, Char O'Hara grew up with Boulevard, and she's a little leery about this Belgian company taking over her brand.

O'HARA: These people came from the outside and took something that's native to us, and it's kind of a bummer. It makes the future uncertain.

JOHN MCDONALD, FOUNDER, BOULEVARD BREWING: You know, I think a lot of people were kind of shocked over the news, and I knew that would kind of happen.

MORRIS: After all, John McDonald has been building brand loyalty since he founded Boulevard Brewing in the late 1980s, and helped make the American craft beer industry from scratch.

BREWING: We didn't have a lot of rules about the types of beers we made. So, we made, we stole ideas and invented things from every brewing culture in the world, we mish-mashed them all together. And it's really, we're all kind of pushing ourselves to keep on the cutting edge of that.

MORRIS: The reputation of American brewers is that they'll try anything: spices, nuts, coffee, bacon, aggressive combinations of hops and malt, elaborate brewing techniques. They have to. American beer lovers have come to expect and demand top quality and creativity.

BREWING: You know, 20 years ago, I would tell you that Belgium was the greatest brewing country in the world. And today I would say it's the United States.

DONNA HOOD CRECCA: American brewing has just exploded has just exploded over the past few years. So, it kind of is the Wild West right now.

MORRIS: Donna Hood Crecca is a beverage industry analyst and says that there are now at least 2500 American craft breweries, and some are challenging the European masters. U.S. craft beer exports jumped more than 70 percent last year.

It tells you how much it's changing, that you've got a Belgian brewer coming in and snatching up an American craft beer with an intention of taking it global.


MORRIS: Most of these bottles of Irish Ale, jostling down the Boulevard line today, will stay in here the Midwest. But Simon Thorpe, who runs Duvel Moortgat USA, the American arm of the Belgian company buying Boulevard, says Kansas City's identity will help sell this beer worldwide.

SIMON THORP: People really want to know where things come from. They want to have an emotional connection to a brewery, it's theirs.

MORRIS: But what happens at home, when the local legend goes global? Loyal customer Sam Anderson is pondering that over a glass of ale in Boulevard's tap room.

SAM ANDERSON: You know, after I heard more about the details and the company that bought them, and everything like that it seemed like, well, OK. You know, I still hated to lose just a pure Kansas City product, but it's OK.

MORRIS: Duvel promises to help Boulevard make and sell more beer, but otherwise pledges to pretty much leave it alone, as it tries to strike a delicate balance between marketing Boulevard beer to the world and keeping it real at home.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

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