And not just any brewery. Boom Island Brewing, which set up shop on North 2nd Street at the end of 2011, has quickly become one of the most talked about breweries in the Twin Cities. Beer lovers, foodies and the community at large have been captivated by owners Qiuxia and Kevin Welch’s charming story and impressive command of the Belgian beer tradition.
Kevin Welch, originally from the American South, and Quixia Welch, hailing from Sichuan Province, China, are both professional French horn players. They are world travelers and have made their home together in Minneapolis for more than a decade in order to be close to the metro area’s classical music scene. Kevin Welch’s interest in beer, and especially Belgian beer, is hardly new.
“Belgian beer is something I fell in love with right when I started brewing beer about 13 years ago,” he explains. Kevin Welch said the couple had planned to make a business of brewing as a retirement project, but the economic downturn beginning in 2008, “made us decide to consider it sooner.”
Today, their 11-month-old business is hopping, and each member of the family plays a part. Kevin Welch shares brewing responsibilities with his father-in-law, Hu Yong Shou, a retired engineer. Quixia Welch manages Boom Island’s correspondence and bookkeeping.
“On bottling day, my wife and her mom do the majority of the bottling, while my father-in-law and I do the corking and put the wire cages on. Then as we have time, we’ll add labels one by one,” said Kevin Welch.
Welch chose his current location after almost two years spent looking at more than 150 spaces. The brewery is in the North Minneapolis Business Center, a small business incubator at 2201 N. 2nd St. owned by Dennis Werneke of American Chemical (Boom Island’s neighbor, Safari Pride Coffee, was the subject of the Nov. 12 business profile in this column). Though the location is convenient for its proximity to Interstate 94 and downtown, it caught Kevin Welch’s attention for being almost exactly the same size as the production area of a friend’s brewery in Belgium.
While the Twin Cities has several new craft breweries, Boom Island is exceptional in that it is the only one of its kind to brew exclusively Belgian-style beers, which it does extremely well. Interestingly, this specialization has less to do with a business design and everything to do with passion.
“It just so happened that the vast majority of beers I wanted to brew were Belgian,” said Kevin Welch. With an earnest smile, he added, “I have a hard time understanding why someone would not be passionate about Belgian beer. It’s pretty easy to be passionate about it, I think.”
Kevin Welch’s enthusiasm is backed up by serious knowledge and experience.
“I spent a couple of summers in Belgium traveling and studying with some of my personal heroes in the brewing world, trying to learn some tricks of the trade and what really makes a Belgian beer Belgian,” said Kevin Welch. According to him, Belgian beer brewing has a lot to do with process technique and an attention to every ingredient, including the yeast, which is often overlooked. Knowing the behavior of a certain yeast strain with a particular malt allows Boom Island to produce flavors as varied as plum, floral, light fruit, fig and raisin.
This leads to another aspect of Boom Island’s winning business recipe. All their beers are distinct. Kevin Welch explains, “In Belgium there’s no law that restricts you from using different ingredients. You can use spice, you can use fruit. Belgian beer is pretty much wide open.” He compares a Belgian brewer’s approach to beer to that of a French chef’s approach to food – both interested in a fine knowledge of how to work with ingredients to create a certain experience.
Being non-filtered is another important part of the Belgian tradition. It gives the beer a little more velvety taste, and also produces a drink rich in B vitamins, which are essential for health and included in many dietary supplements. As Kevin Welch said, “Why would you spend money on a bottle of vitamins when you can spend it on a good beer?” His advice is to always drink the healthy sediment at the bottom of Boom Island’s bottles.
The public has been very happy with the little brewery’s beer right from the start.
“We were at capacity by the third month,” said Kevin Welch. It has since increased its volume potential and now have a client base of 25 restaurants and bars and almost 50 liquor stores in the metro area.
It is part of Boom Island’s philosophy to keep things local.
“Even today, there’s not enough local beer being produced. You still see so many tap lines that host beer from California and Oregon and, in my mind that kind of goes contrary to the whole idea of what a craft microbrewery is supposed to be. You use your local ingredients, your local water, to supply the local need for beer. In my mind, it’s important to consume local products. Eighty percent of what I use to produce the beer – the base malt – is grown regionally.”
Even the byproduct of the brewing process, known as spent brewer’s grain, finds a local use. Northsider Ian Silver-Ramp, owner of Mississippi Mushrooms (featured in the Sept. 10 edition) collects the mushy grain and uses it as a substrate, or food, to produce mushrooms inside, which he sells at the West Broadway Farmers Market and Local D’Lish. What Silver-Ramp doesn’t use is picked up by a cattle farmer and fed as a nutrient-rich treat to his calves.
On the Northside, you can buy Boom Island at both Broadway Liquor Outlet and Merwin Liquors on West Broadway, or order it on tap at Donny Dirk’s at 2027 N. 2nd St. A “beer locator” can also be found on its website, www.boomislandbrewing.com. The brewery itself is open Fridays from 5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. for free tastings and bottle sales. If you’re lucky, there will still be some bottles of Yule, its spiced, malty seasonal beer and the perfect holiday gift for any beer drinker.
Boom Island Brewing Company
2207 North 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55411