Steven Pauwels grew up in Belgium, in a cradle of craft beer, and his father even worked at Brouwerij Krüger. He followed a similar path and was working in Bruges when Boulevard Brewing Company founder John McDonald hired him to brew Belgian-style beers in Kansas City. Clearly Pauwels fit the description. We recently traded e-mails, and Pauwels helped illuminate how he’s found hop-fueled success.
Josh Lurie: Was it a given that you’d work with beer for a living, or did you consider other careers?
Steven Pauwels: I started working in a brewery when I was still in High School and continued to do so while in college. It has always been my first choice and it has worked out so far. I hope I will be able to stick with it…
JL: Is there anybody who mentored you along the way? If so, what did they teach you that was so valuable?
SP: Jan Van Gysegem who was the technical counterpart for Pierre Celis. He always told me to never cut back on quality and invest in bigger equipment than you need. He was a great story teller and a great guy to have a beer with. Unfortunately he passed away almost 10 years ago.
JL: Do you have a first beer memory, good or bad?
SP: I don’t think I ever had a bad beer memory. I used to drink table beer at home for lunch when I was growing up. I remember looking forward to it every day. We never had any soda when I was growing up and the table beer tasted a better than plain water.
JL: What was the first beer you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?
SP: It was a beer I brewed for a marketing project in school. My grade for the marketing part was really bad but the beer sold out in minutes.
JL: What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at Boulevard?
SP: It has to have balance and it should ask you to have another one.
JL: What was the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your inspiration?
SP: We are just finishing up a couple collaborations: one with Sierra Nevada for Savor and one with Dann [Paquette] and Martha from Pretty Things. The inspiration with Sierra Nevada was to make a beer that reflects the California Trail. We used ingredients from the Sierra Nevada estate, the hop character that they are known for with a lot of wheat and missouri oak. It turned out a very complicated beer. With Dann and Martha their Yorkshire background was the inspiration to brew a Stingo. Brewing with Dann and Martha was a great experience.
JL: What’s your top selling beer at Boulevard, and why do you think that’s the case?
SP: Unfiltered Wheat Beer. It is a very approachable beer that is an easy entry to Craft beer.
JL: Does it make your job easier or harder to have so many other American craft breweries opening?
SP: I think it is great that so many breweries are opening and that everyone is making really great beers. There is a lot of passion and creativity in Craft breweries. I can’t imagine that there still are people out there who never had a Craft Beer.
JL: How do you go about naming your beers?
SP: Having a marketing department is a beautiful thing.
JL: How do you feel about collaborating with other breweries?
SP: At the brewery we bounce off ideas for new beers with all our brewers. It makes it more creative and makes sure that everybody feels comfortable with the beer we put out. Collaborating with other brewers opens the doors for other ideas outside of our brewery and you always learn new things
JL: Who’s a brewer you’ve never brewed with before that you’d most like to brew with?
SP: That’s a very long list. There are so many brewers that I have a lot of respect for.
JL: What do you like to drink when you’re not working?
SP: I like juice, tea, water, beer and wine. I am not a big fan of distilled drinks.
JL: If you could travel to any city in the world right now, primarily to drink beer, what city would it be and why?
SP: I would like to visit Northern Italy to experience the craft beer scene. I hear a lot of great things about it. I like the Italian approach. Enjoying food and beer is a big part of their culture and I think it is something we can learn from in the U.S.
JL: If you could only drink one more beer, and you couldn’t brew it, what would it be and why?
SP: I hope this never happens to me…I’ll have an Orval. It’s just an unbelievable beer; very simple yet so unique.