"You can never go home again," John Cusack said as Martin Blank in 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank. “But I guess you can shop there.” Tell that to Todd Hanson and he might amend it: “But I guess you can name a beer after it.”
Before moving to Colorado as Boulevard Brewing Company's regional sales manager, Hanson spent his time in South Dakota - Mission Hill, specifically, a town so small I’d never heard of it before today. He lived on a family farm and helped harvest hay on an 80-acre plot just across the road. He still remembers what the tractor looked like. He still remembers what that farm felt like.
So when Boulevard solicited ideas for their new brew - a mixed style they refer to as a “Hoppy Wheat” - Hanson’s mind wandered back to South Dakota as he dropped the perfect name into the hat: 80-Acre.
"They couldn’t find a name that clicked," Hanson says. "But everybody liked the idea of 80-Acre."
It wasn’t that they had a short timeframe to work with - 80-Acre, which is set to become Boulevard’s newest year-round offering - has been in the works for over two years, its taste being perfected and its style finely honed. We’re not talking about another wheat beer, or another IPA. This is something completely different. Something that borders on identity crisis, unable to decide which side it should sit on.
I was lucky enough to sit with Todd Hanson for a few minutes. He’s proud of this beer. He’s proud of Boulevard. This is the life of a craft brew sales manager: utter devotion for the product and a spirit that helps sell it. Naturally, I was cautious. Was I getting a sales pitch? Was I getting a PR feed?
Let’s lay this all out on the table right now: my love for Boulevard has fallen. Boulevard was my first beer tour, my first craft love, my first break from the status quo. But now, where I once gravitated toward Boulevard’s most popular beers - Unfiltered Wheat, which according to Boulevard is the top selling craft brew in five states including South Dakota, and their flagship Pale Ale - I now run toward Odell or Deschutes.
This is hard. We learn to drink beer in different ways, and while our tastes change our nostalgia fights to keep us returning to old standbys. The two often don’t line up. Memories accentuate the positives, but personal taste adapts to what we currently love. The mind promises; the beer disappoints.
This beer? This beer does not disappoint.
First off, it’s got flavor. Tons of it. Clean, crisp flavor - hops that benefit from their recent bottling, fresh as you can get without taking a pull straight from the fermenter. A sweetness that’s familiar - very familiar, almost frighteningly familar oh wait I know what this is…
It’s Boulevard Wheat. It’s that old standby, given new life, reborn into something different, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Not quite as beautiful - it’s just a beer, after all - but certainly something that deserves a nod to it’s original state.
80 Acre attempts to toe the line between a hoppy wheat and a wheaty IPA. If you’re thinking of this beer as a wheat, the hops are surprisingly welcome, adding enough of a touch of grapefruit to remind me of a balanced breakfast - fruit, grains; pour some milk over it and you’re ready for the day. It’s amazingly drinkable. That’s no feat - IPAs, especially with hops as notable as this - are rarely “down one and look for another” drinkable.
What’s funny is that 80-Acre missed its season by a few months. This is summer beer, folks. But don’t let that stop you from rushing out to grab some. And if you think they’re not serious about the South Dakota connection, consider this: only one state in the Union will be offering 80-Acre on draft: South Dakota. It lands on shelves today, and they’re kicking off the launch with a tapping at 6 p.m. tonight at the Top Hat. Can’t make it out tonight? They’ll be hitting a few bars around town over the next couple of weeks. You’ll get your chance.
Officially, this beer might be all over the place. It’s an act of hop-infused multiple personalities, shifting from one to the other from sip to sip. It’s not a South Dakota beer, despite the story behind its name. Hanson himself said it’s not something that will take over the familiarity of Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat.
Hanson, however, always sees a bit of South Dakota in 80-Acre. It’s right on the label. “The tractor on this bottle is the one I used to rake hay and to drive to the 80-acre plot.”
You can’t go home again, sure. But you can bring a little bit of it back if you find the right designer.