Over the last five years, the craft brewery movement has grown exponentially in Minnesota. The Associated Press says licensing records show two-thirds of Minnesota breweries have opened just since 2010. So, we decided to help you – and your livers – keep up with the taproom trend by stopping by some of these Twin Cities brewhouses. This time, we visit a Belgian-inspired but Minnesota-made brewery, Boom Island Brewing Company.
When describing their craft, many brewers compare making beer to creating music.
Like music, brewing is composing.
Just as a composer can hear their song before it’s played, a brewer can taste their beer before its created.
Each ingredient – hop, yeast, malt – is carefully chosen and measured out. The weight, color and smell predetermined. The taste is known before the kettles even begin brewing.
So, it makes sense then that classically trained musicians Kevin and Quixia Welch fell in love with the art of brewing.
Their passion for beer began backstage.
Both freelance horn players, the husband and wife spent time playing with the Minnesota Orchestra. After dress rehearsals, some members of the company would share a beer or two from someone’s home collection before continuing the evening.
“After a while, I decided I didn’t want to keep enjoying what other people made. So, I needed to return to favor at some point,” Kevin said.
Kevin began homebrewing, and shortly after several other things began brewing as well.
The recession hit and the couple began to question if they wanted to continue their musical careers as they had been. The discussion ultimately led them on the path to opening a brewery.
As they had a particularly strong affinity for Belgian beers, they traveled back to the country where they had spent many summers and studied their breweries. In fact, the very first sketches of the brewery were made in the suburb of Antwerp, Belgium – Boom.
“That tradition has a lot [of] expression artistically,” Kevin said. “The freedom of expression is completely there.”
After two years of research, planning and preparing, Boom Island opened in the fall of 2011.
Since then is has already moved locations once, expanded its brewery to include a taproom and added countless new recipes.
“It’s really [about] a passion for great beer and a passion for brewing,” Qiuxia said. “Everybody deserves to have great beer be a part of life.”
Thankfully, many in Minneapolis agree.
Follow them: on Twitter at @BoomIslandBeer, on Facebook at Boom Island Brewing Company,or visit their website online.
Owners: Kevin and Qiuxia Welch
Brewer: Kevin Welch
Location: 2014 Washington Avenue N.
Hours: Wednesday – Friday: 4 – 9 p.m. Saturday: 1 – 9 p.m. and Sunday 1 – 6 p.m.
So, it was sort of hinted at based on where the first plans for the brewery were made, but how did you both land on the name “Boom Island?”
Quixia: Well, there are two stories about that. There’s the romantic story and then there’s the scientific story.
Kevin: And then there’s one other one. [smiles]
Quixia: So three stories! Boom Island wasn’t the first name. We had a name and we registered for it, but we should have talked to our lawyer first because there was someone just across the river in Wisconsin that had the same name.
Kevin: Not another brewery, but there is a beer that was contract brewed that had the name.
Quixia: So, we needed to have a name to move on with our business. We thought and thought, and all the names we thought were cool were taken. So we decided to throw a party for all the people we know. We said come in, we’ll have lots of home brews from Kevin and you’re only requirement is to bring a name for the brewery. We threw the party, everyone came and we had sticky notes [for them to write their names on.] We chose the top three from the suggestions. Then Kevin took the top three, made his own ballots and drove all around the city. He went to MOA , U of M and stopped people to ask for their opinions. And Boom Island won! It is also a local name, its right here. That’s the scientific one. Then, more of the romantic name is Kevin is from Memphis and that’s the river continued.
Kevin: And then the other one is Boom is a suburb of Antwerp.
That is so cool that the name has such a versatile meaning! So, obviously Belgian culture played a strong role in the creation of this brewery, and you mention from the time you started drinking beer you had a strong affinity for Belgian beer. What drew you to that style?
Kevin: Coming from a classical music background, [I think of it like music.] I wouldn’t say it’s the classical music of the beer world; it’s more like the jazz scene. It’s not quite as stiff as you might think. The freedom of expression is completely there and through the tradition and the history it’s an elevated art. You’ve got flavors that really span the entire spectrum. It’s not just bitter; it’s not just malt and sweet. There are so many other flavors to consider. To [Belgian brewers brewing] is genuine life and the art and essence of what it means to live. And that’s why. It completely just grounded the whole concept I have of it being the elevated art form of the beer world.
So, does that mean all of the beers you brew are Belgian? Or have you experimented with other styles?
Kevin: Absolutely everything that is produced here is made from a Belgian perspective and justifiably a Belgian style. The year round beers that I brew tend to be more of the classics; the Belgian repertoire. [In Belgium] there are monks that have been making beer in monasteries for years. Those styles are the Dubbel (Hoodoo) and Tripel (Brimstone). We’ve got a Wit beer, and that’s the most popular Belgian style period. We just retired our Pale Ale, which was the Antwerp, copper colored style. Then, we just introduced a blonde Belgian hop beer, which is a relatively younger style in Belgium but it’s a very popular style as well. So that represents our year round. Many of our very limited stuff is ultra-Belgian and very classic too, but just not as easy to pull off in a short period of time. They’re aged in wine barrels, or sour, or fruited beers that need to be aged for a long time. Then, we do some experimental beers that are kind of on the fringe of what would be considered a Belgian beer, but all have Belgian ingredients. In fact, even the bottles are the same bottles they use in Belgium. We have them shipped here so it’s really authentic packaging.
Simply because it’s such a popular style right now, and you mentioned it, I have to ask: do you have a sour program here?
Kevin: It’s growing, but I would say we have a very, very authentic sour program. In Belgium, you cannot make a sour and call it an old sour unless it’s been in the barrel for three years. We released our very first sour just as the brewery turned 4-years-old. You can’t do it year one, two OR three because it’s got to be three years old. So, it’s a small program and it’ll be at least doubled if not tripled by the end of the year.
Wow, I had no idea the process for making a sour beer in Belgium was so complex! You also mentioned some experimental beers, what are you excited to be experimenting with next?
Kevin: The next one I’m most excited about is back to the barrel aged beers. We have a really, really cool one that’s aged. It’s fermented with three different wild yeast strains which you typically do not want anywhere near your beer.
Quixia: It’s called Tripel Brett.
Kevin: So, it’s three different strains of brettanomyces, which is a wild brewer’s yeast. In the short term it doesn’t produce any weird flavors, but in six to eight months, and this will be close to that upon release, then it develops characteristics that a non-craft beer geek would be completely turned off by. Adjectives like sweaty gym socks, horse blanket, barnyard, even fecal are sometimes an aromas that is associated with it. So all these things sound awful, but you just get a whiff of it and it’s so subtle that these are little impressions that get played upon. And when they’re done right…
Quixia: When they’re done right they’re amazing. The tricky part is getting them done right.
Kevin: It’s total crushed powder Sweet Tarts right now, that’s what the aroma is. So, it can really morph from fruity to other flavors.
That sounds really intriguing! I’m interested to know with those aromas mentioned just what it would taste like. So, tell me about some of the other flavors you feature more regularly in the taproom:
Kevin: We keep all of our year-round beers on tap here in the taproom. [So that] is theWwit beer, the Django, which is our hop beer and our newest year-round beer. [It’s a] nice, light blond [at] six percent with a hop forward aroma. We keep our Dubbel and our Tripel on at all times. We also still have our special beer that we only release for the holidays, our Yule beer. This one is above 10 perent by a good bit and it’s aged with tart cherries. It’s a big, tart, strong beer. We have seaonsals. We have our Saison, that was just released. That will be on all the way through the summer. We also have variations on our standard beers. So we have our Dubbel, which is the rich, dark abbey-style beer, that’s been aging on cocoa nibs, so it’s a chocolate version of that. We have out Wit beer that has a good amount of raspberries in it, too.
Sounds like a lot of really great variety! So, of the beers in the taproom, what is your best selling beer?
Kevin: If you look at year-round sales, it’s our Wit beer (Witness). [But] in the winter we tend to sell more of the strong, dark beers.
Quixia When we have seasonals, people always buy the seasonals. Of course, right now we have the Saison. People love that.
I love Saisons! I’m definitely excited for that one. It doesn’t really surprise me that the Wit beer is the best seller, but you mentioned there is a specific reason behind that.
Kevin: Wit beer is the strongest craft beer nation-wide. Period. If you’re looking at the non-macros. But, consider that this include the Blue Moons, which hands down puts it above IPAS. So, they forged the way for many people learning about craft beer. Many people tried that. Maybe there is an argument for IPA because it’s an acronym and people can say that regardless of if they know what it means or not. But other than that, Belgian Wit beer is the strongest selling category in craft beer and that’s got to be why our Wit beer is a strong seller.
Wow. I had no idea! I always assumed the biggest category was IPA. Tell me, what would you serve someone who is a craft beer novice?
Kevin: It depends on what they tend to drink otherwise. If they are just a straight light beer drinker then we’ve got two options, it’s either going to be our five percent Wit beer or our 9.5 percent Tripel. And between those two, one or the other is going to win them over. If they are a red wine drinker, and only a red wine drinker not a white wine drinker, then we’re going to give them our 8.5 percent Dubbel. All it takes is just to look them in the eye and say “I know you’re type, try this.” And then their mind opens up and they are so happy they tried something.
It seems like really being tapped into what they would drink otherwise helps people find a beer that they can enjoy. Tell me, what would you server someone who considers themselves a beer snob?
Kevin: We have a secret stash that we pull out. A hidden stash just for those moments because they don’t have very often. [laughs].
What are each of your favorite beers?
Quixia: For me, Brimstone (Tripel). But I also love the Saison. I wait all year for that to be released. But for a year round, I think of Brimstone. I think it goes really well with food.
Marta [Social Media and Communications Manager]: The Yule.
Kevin: Our newest year round beer, the Django. This is a beer that is really cool and it’s headed to good places. And it’s not just me dreaming that up. It tests great.
Since you have been around longer than many breweries in Minneapolis, what changes have you noticed in your customers?
Kevin: People are more aware of, especially locally, what they are drinking. They might only drink it every so often, but at least they can remember they had something beyond the macro beer that might have been in their cooler.
Quixia: I think people’s knowledge and taste buds are getting better. There’s so many homebrewers; that for sure helps this industry. Secondly, I think the young generations, the first beer they have is very likely to be a craft beer and locally made. So it’s very different from our generation. Now everybody’s first beer is a great beer.
Kevin: Also, you had a handful who were your beer knowledgeable, and they were so critical and judgmental. These days you’ve got a lot of people who know a good bit about beer, and down the line that sort of being extremely judgmental it’s tempered. It’s just so positive these days, where it wasn’t really that way five years ago.
It’s fascinating to hear how much the scene has changed in just five years. That being said, where do you think Boom Island will be in the next five years?
Quixia: Boom Island, from day one, we wanted to be a local and regional representative of Belgian inspired beer. I think that is our aspiration, not just Minnesota. And that might be a more than five years out but that’s the vision. The next five years we really want to build a brewery and a taproom and a place that will provide different flavors to the community.
That sounds like a great vision, and one I’m sure Minnesotans will support. How about the brewing industry as a whole, where do you see it being in five years?
Kevin: I’m pretty confident the growth will not continue at the pace its going. It’s just not possible. Opportunities are very limited. The opportunity for more small taproom-only or very small production, tiny footprint breweries is there, it all depends on how you do it.
That makes perfect sense. There’s only so much space left in the Twin Cities. Tell me, what do you hope for Minnesota’s brewing industry?
Quixia: My hope is the new businesses be inspirational instead of follow the trend. I’d love to see some great creations of beer with true passion for the craft of making things.
Kevin: For breweries that start out with a very specific point of difference and game plan, to stick with it and follow through with it because that would create diversity.
I think that is something to be careful in Minneapolis, having too much of the same type of beer. I think brewers and consumers alike would agree diversity is key to the craft beer industry. To wrap things up, if you had to choose one word that represents your brewery, what would you choose?
Quixia: Authentic. What we do in every form, down to the ingredients, the visions, the business plan, the equipment and marketing, is authentic.
Marta: Accessible. There’s a lot of diversity in the flavors of the beer and we have a really friendly atmosphere around here for people coming into the taproom.
Kevin: Exciting. It’s been exciting for me since we’ve been welding the tanks in the backyard.