Boulevard Brewing has a new side hustle with the launch of Fling Craft Cocktails. Boulevard President Jeff Krum himself called the new ready-to-drink cocktail line a side hustle, only because there are no set business objectives for the cocktails, just a hope they take off.
“This is not anything we bet the farm on,” Krum said. “It’s a fun side hustle, but we think it may take on a life of its own. But we’ve also not sold a single case yet, so we’re not doing X volume by Y date. None of that, we’re just playing and having fun.”
The first four flavors of Fling are Blood Orange Vodka Soda (5 percent alcohol by volume), Cucumber Lime Gin and Tonic (7 percent), Margarita (7.5 percent), and Mai Tai (8 percent). Fling will make a debut at the Kansas City Royals opening day celebration March 28 at Kauffman Field, before hitting national availability in April.
While there’s definitely a fun element for the diversion away from beer for the 30-year-old brewery, Krum also painted a clear strategic business decision with Fling Craft Cocktails. Ready-to-drink cocktails are certainly an up-and-coming segment.
When Boulevard started in 1989, there were approximately 200 breweries in the country and its mere existence made it the second largest brewery in Missouri, behind the world’s largest brewery, St. Louis’ Anheuser-Busch.
Now there are more nearly 8,000 breweries in the U.S. making the beer industry what Krum called an “insane asylum” of sorts. With more brewers and U.S. beer consumption trending flat to down, Krum said the company had to do something.
“While we love beer, like a lot of people we like other beverages as well,” he said. “That’s what led us to where we ended up. Where is the opportunity, but just as important was what we would like ourselves when we’re looking for something other than beer.”
The process to launch Fling Craft Cocktails took well over a year, but much of that was figuring out the permitting and licensing. The brewery also isn’t distilling its own spirits, so Krum said it took time finding the right partner to align with on that end. There were also dozens of initial potential flavors for the line’s launch before it ultimately whittled them down to the first four that fit a Venn diagram of “quality, craft, convenience, special, and approachable.”
“Some were wildly different and esoteric and some were more familiar,” said Natalie Gershon, Boulevard vice president of marketing. “We kind of had to innovate around those … and step back and ask who we want to be? It was a process to get to four.”
There are already several flavors lining up and being perfected for future launches, Gershon said.
The long timeline to launch wasn’t taken lightly by the Boulevard team, because launching a bad product could potentially jeopardize that reputation built over the past 30 years.
“We spent 30 years developing a reputation for only producing superior beer, we were damn sure not going to squander that by simply trying to rush something to the market that in itself was not exceptional,” Krum said. “We were much more concerned in getting it right and having really outstanding cocktails that we’re proud to put our names on than rush it and do it quickly.”
“While we love beer, like a lot of people we like other beverages as well … That’s what led us to where we ended up.”
The new project was initially met with some inquisitive looks when it was first brought up within the company, but now Krum said the team — and they’ve created a new division for the beverage — is invigorated by the diversification.
The potential for growth, looking at Boulevard’s past, could be limitless. Krum reminisced about the brewery being built to brew 10,000 barrels annually eventually pushing out more than 100,000 a year before a gigantic new brewery was constructed about 15 years ago.
“When we started in 1989, Boulevard Pale Ale was pretty radical, by 2006, it wasn’t,” he said. “For many years we had [eight beers], this year we’ll have 55, maybe a little more.”
Half of the 8,000 breweries in the U.S. didn’t exist even five years ago, and that leads to a lot of questions, especially when looking back at the past 30 years. Where Fling Craft Cocktails ends up and what other avenues Boulevard might venture down is to be determined.
“It’s a different and crazy world,” Krum said. “We don’t really know where it’s going.”