It’s Only Wit But We Love It! Brouwerij Maenhout Collaboration

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From Qiuxia

What does “collaboration” mean in the fast-paced, and ever changing craft brewing world? There are plenty of one-and-done collaborative beers out there. They appear fast and disappear even faster.

Boom Island Brewing is no stranger to the collaboration beer scene. Last fall, we released our first collaborative beer, Kollusion, a Russian Imperial Stout,  with a small family brewery in Pittem, Belgium, Brouwerij Maenhout.

 

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Our first collaborative beer finally met! The best part was the side-by-side tasting.The beer was an instant success on both sides of the pond. Thijs sold his batches within days, and we had to carefully guard our bottles and kegs so it lasted a little longer.

 

I always thought real collaboration should have a lasting impact, and it should come from something deeper than a quick flash-in-the-pan event. This is why I am moved by the friendship and creativity of Kevin and Thijs.

The inspiration of Lemon Drop Wit comes from a memorable trip and an evening of fun in the small town of Pittem, Belgium. Last April, we traveled with a group of beer lovers for our Belgian beer tour. Before the trip, Kevin and Thijs was already talking about another collaboration. They both felt that even though the first collaborative beer was great, they would have benefited more from brewing together. Since we were going to Belgium, Kevin decided to skip a day of the tour (he actually skipped Zythos Beer Festival!)  and go brew with Thijs. But what beer should they make together? How about Witbier? A beer style almost expired and later resurrected by Pierre Celis who created Hoegaarden.

The interesting story is, Witbier was the first beer we released in Minneapolis and Thijs in Belgium has never made a Witbier! To make it more “American”, Kevin decided to dry hop it with a hop variety that is not available in Belgium, Lemon Drop. Here is where the story gets juicy. Since we ran out of time to ship the hops to Thijs for the brew, the only choice we had was to bring the 11 pounds of hops in our suitcases. Luckily, we had a group of adventurous and willing tour folks, all the hops arrived safely (hopefully, no border control people are reading this).

Skip ahead to their production day, we go to the party later that night.  Kevin was invited to a special fundraising rock concert “Pure Rock” in the township, benefiting a local non-profit group for people with disabilities. Interestly enough it was organized by Thijs’ brother, Ward. The entire town was there and Kevin was welcomed by everyone (who said Belgians are boring and shy). We get so much done when we are having fun! By the end of the night, the name of beer, the label concept and taglines were all in place. We have a new collaborative beer!

Next day, when the tour group arrive at Brouwerij Maenhout, we were greeted by two good friends who have shared some amazing experiences together and the result is our second collaborative beer, Lemon Drop Wit – It’s only wit, but we love it!

Come celebrate the release Lemon Drop Wit, Friday, October 26 at 4pm.

The Beer:

 

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Lemon Drop Wit, It’s Only Wit But We Love It!

 

The Lemon Drop Wit has a slightly peppery taste from the spelt, along with a velvety and hazy mouthfeel from the yeast.  It’s pale and cloudy and enriched with coriander and lemon zest. Lemon Drop Wit weighs in at 5.5% ABV, a modest 16 IBU, and is amazingly delicious.

 

Belgian Pale Ale, what might be one of the most under-recognized of the Belgian styles.

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From Qiuxia

Silvius Brabo was a mythical Roman soldier who killed a giant in Antwerp, Belgium.  The story goes like this: once upon a time there was a giant named Droun Antigoon, who asked for money from people to cross the only bridge over the river Scheldt. If they couldn’t pay, he would cut off their hand and throw it in the river. Silvius bravely fought the monster, cut off the giant’s hand and threw in the river.  Everyone lived happily ever after. Today, you can see his statue in front of the Antwerp City Hall in the main square.

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The statue of Silvius Brabo in Antwerp

But what does that have to do with our Belgian Pale Ale? Before I answer that question, let’s first talk about Belgian Pale Ale, what might be one of the most under-recognized of the Belgian styles.

Pale Ales were brewed as early as the mid-1700s. But it took the popularity of German “light beers” to put Belgian Pale Ale on the map. In the 1800s light, clear and low alcohol German Lagers were extremely popular. Many European brewers rushed to try to imitate the new light beer style. The Belgian brewers had to come up with their own version of the new trend.  They drew inspirations from British ales, used pale malts and Noble hops, but the yeast stayed truly Belgian. The “everyday” beer became more popular after World War II as a refreshing, malty and lightly hopped session beer.

Belgian Pale Ale (BPA) is a significant departure from its abbey beer cousins and is much less driven by esters, phenols, and alcohols. Instead, BPA relies more on the malt to carry the flavor. What really makes this beer is not just malt, but also the fruit esters.  When properly balanced, this beer should be a showcase of bread, toast, biscuit, and caramel. It is (ironically) not pale, but rather, a nice, rich amber, with some examples settling solidly into the red range. It can also be more bitter than most other Belgian styles, though even a “bitter” Belgian beer isn’t going to come across that way.

A true example of Belgian Pale Ale is the city beer of Antwerp, De Koninck APA (Antwerp Pale Ale), that is also the inspiration of Silvius, our version of Belgian Pale Ale.  Years ago, when having a brewery was just a wild dream of ours, Kevin and I took a trip to Belgium. On a very sunny afternoon, we stumbled upon the city festival in the center of the town in Antwerp. There was music, food, happy crowds and plenty of De Koninck, the refreshing, malty, lightly bitter Belgian Pale Ale. It seemed like the best beer in the world at that moment. Kevin declared that when he opens his brewery, the first beer shall be a Belgian Pale Ale!  But we needed a name for the beer, and as we were trying to come up with some smart, sexy names for this beer, we took a selfie in front of the iconic statue of Silvius Brabo, the local legend hero. Then Silvius Belgian Pale Ale was born.

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The City beer of Antwerp

A note on the malt itself:  without the malt of the Dingemans Family Maltery in Stabroek, Belgium, Silvius would not exist.  The Dingemans family, now in its 5th generation, started malting grain in 1875. Since then, Dingemans has shaped the flavor of beer in Antwerp, as well as all of Belgium.  We are proud to know them personally and even more to proud to use Karl’s malts exclusively for all of our beer, including our beloved Silvius.

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Owner of Dingemans and Kevin Welch

We are so happy to bring it back to the taproom. Enjoy while you can, this original Boom Island inspiration.

Cheers!

This Is More Than Beer To Me

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From Qiuxia

I always wanted a beer that represents where I am from. A beer that reminds me of home and great times with friends. I want to make that connection and I want to share my story with you. I had the opportunity to sit down with a good friend Frank from the Minnesota Skinny who is always interested in finding stories like this. Instead of writing another blog post, I think I will just share with you what he has written. As always, he does a great job capturing every little detail.  Cheers!

Making 明: The Story of Boom Island’s New Asian-Inspired Ale

Ask Boom Island Brewing Company co-owner Qiuxia Welch about beer back home and she’ll take you to the streets of Chengdu, a city of 14 million in the Sichuan Province of China. She’ll verbally serve you up some of that notorious Sichuan cuisine, known for deep flavors but also for the lip-numbing peppers. She’ll offer your imagination a fresh, light beer; a simple beer, but a rescue craft from the blazing delirium you’ve eaten yourself into.

Now, as the Minneapolis-based brewery cruises toward seven years in business, she and her husband – fellow co-owner and head brewer Kevin Welch – launched a beer that brings Qiuxia back to those Chengdu streets.

(Ming). It means “Clarity,” but it’s also how you say “Minnesota” in Chinese. The characters on the bottle’s label were drawn for them by a friend back in Chengdu – the original drafts were drawn up on rice paper with a horsehair feather pen and black ink.

“We talk about the connection with Belgian beer [here], but we also talk a lot about the culture here, being bilingual, multicultural, how we spoke Chinese here when we first came,” says Qiuxia. “To have a beer with a Chinese name, that means almost more than beer to me.”

Qiuxia lived in Chendgu from birth until she moved to the Twin Cities area in 1996 to pursue music studies at Augsburg College. She’s lived in the Cities more or less ever since; but, interestingly, she first met Kevin at a French horn symposium in Beijing (they’re both longtime horn players and have been involved in local orchestras, if you’ve ever wondered about the French horns in Boom Island’s branding).

“A bunch of weird geeky French horn players from all over the world get together for a week,” says Qiuxia. “All they think, drink, eat, whatever, is French horn. Lectures, conferences, exhibits. I thought, ‘Oh, I would never go to one of those things.’ I was never geeky like that … and Kevin had gone to every single one.”

That was the year 2000. By the end of 2001, Kevin and Qiuxia were married.

The Welches lived in China from 2005-2006, and it was during this time Kevin says an Asian-inspired beer was first imagined. His home-brewing adventure had begun long before that stay overseas, but his fascination with fermentation and yeast strains connected him with distillers in the rural countryside.

“None of [the operations were] commercial,” says Kevin. “It was all just, Grandma in the back room cooking it up on New Year’s Eve.”

He explained his home-brewing interests to locals and exchanged stories. He heard about yeast strains that have been passed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years, and the making of Baijiu. He made beer during his stay, too, something Qiuxia said made them popular in town.

“There are no home-brew shops in China, and you couldn’t just buy all those fancy things online, so it took a whole month to put together a home-brew thing that worked,” she recalls. “We didn’t have bottles and we couldn’t buy commercial, so we had a whole neighborhood saving bottles and cleaning for us. And we didn’t have caps – you buy them either 100,000 at once or nothing – so we taught everybody, whenever they drink beer, they had to open very carefully because we were re-using the caps.”

Twelve years on, things have gotten a bit more sophisticated.

The making of Ming involves the use of sticky rice, in addition to long-grain rice; Pilsner malt; bittering hops, and bitter orange peel; and Tahoma hops, added toward the end of the boiling process. An ale yeast is used, as neutral a yeast as Kevin could find.

At 4.2 percent alcohol, Ming is inviting indeed – should you, perhaps, lose count of drinks while you desperately fight the scorch of hot noodles. It’s light and clean, with just enough citrus and bitterness in the finish to let you write “citrus and bitterness in the finish” but not enough to overpower a steamed pork bun or a Shanghai pancake.

Qiuxia says half the brewery is represented in this beer’s making and branding, but she doesn’t mean only herself: her parents, “Hu Baba” and “Hu Mama”, traveled from Chengdu to help build the brewhouse while Boom Island was getting started.

“[Hu Baba] was my plasma-cutting extraordinaire,” says Kevin. “There was nothing more this guy loved than to get out there in his flip-flops, plasma-cutting eighth-inch stainless [steel]. This big jagged edge would come down; he’d shimmy out of the way, and light a smoke off the ember that was still red-hot on the edge of the sheet metal.”

“There were some wonderful tears and sweat, everything,” says Qiuxia. “It was really the best time we had, even though it was the most difficult.”

Hu Baba and Hu Mama never saw the finished brewery, and won’t likely – Qiuxia says they avoid flying now – but the Welches visit at least twice a year and of course they bring samples. Kevin says Hu Baba will hold up bottles and say, “This is my company!”

To which he’ll respond: “You’re right. You built that thing. That is your company.”

Ming was welcome in the taproom last Friday with a weekend party that featured Mahjong lessons, a table tennis tournament, and a lion dance. It debuted off-site Tuesday at Tea House in Minneapolis. More information can be found on Boom Island Brewing Company’s website or their Facebook page.

Conversation with Thijs Maenhout

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Qiuxia Welch, Co-founder Boom Island Brewing

On February 23, we released our first collaboration beer created in partnership with a small Belgian brewery, Brouwerij Maenhout. The beer, Kollusion, is a Russian Imperial Stout. It’s not a style commonly associated with Belgium, and neither Brouwerij Maenhout or Boom Island has released one before. I checked in with Thijs Maenhout to get his thoughts on the experience.

What inspired this collaboration?

It was a fun experiment! Kollusion has been very well received in Belgium, in fact it sold out in three days! I have never made a stout before, and I was excited to try something new. Here in Belgium traditions are strong. People like to drink what they are familiar with over and over. But as a brewer, I like to try new things and experiment with new styles. It can be boring if you just make same beer every day. I’d like to brew more collaborations with Boom Island. I think we could learn more if we were to brew side by side.

What is your favorite Russian Imperial Stout?

Mmm…honestly, I have never had one before! This beer was a pure experiment and I had a lot fun making it.

What are your thoughts about the craft beer industry in America today?

I am very interested in learning more about the U.S. craft beer industry. I’m a member of the Brewers Association and I’m active on many online craft beer forums. Belgium and the U.S. are very different. Here in Belgium, people stick to traditions. It takes a long time for brewers to come out with new beers, because our consumers like to drink the same beer that they have been drinking for years. It is changing, but slowly. There are more hoppy beers now in Belgium, and brewers are experimenting more with other styles. I like what is happening in the U.S. The market is very diverse. Brewers and consumers aren’t afraid to try new things, and they’re not afraid to think outside the box. Sometimes these new beers work, sometimes they don’t. People just move on and keep trying new things. I like that. I like that spirit. That is why I want to collaborate with Kevin and learn from him.

This collaboration is a story of what’s possible when two breweries from different countries learn from each other. What would you like people in the U.S. to know about Belgian beers?

Two things. Tradition and balance. We have a long history of making beer, so there is a lot of knowledge that comes from brewing Trappist beers to lambic and gueuze beers. These traditions have been passed down for hundreds of years. Belgians are good at brewing! Another thing is balance. We always try to make balanced beer. It is never too bitter, or too sweet. We believe that is essential for making good beer.

What do you say to people who say “I don’t like Belgian beer.”

Try another. There are over 1,600 different beers in Belgium. Trust me, you’ll find one you like.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk about this collaboration. Do you have plans for another one?

Yes! I am looking forward to brewing another beer with Boom Island when you Kevin come to Belgium in April with your tour group.

 

More readings on Belgian beer history and Belgian beers:

The Great Beers of Belgium – Michael Jackson

CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium – Tim Webb, Joe Stange

The Belgian Beer Book – Erick Verdonck

 

 

The Kollusion Kollaboration

From-Kevin“Why would two different brewers stick their mash paddles into the same pot?”

This was a question posed to me by a Dutch brewer in a small enclave of Belgian territory about 5 years ago. That has been my thinking ever since regarding collaborations. They almost always come across as a marketing gimmick, despite the positive reaction from the public.

My mind was changed however, on our last trip to Belgium as I had the opportunity to visit one of my closest brewing buddies in Belgium, Thijs Maenhout of Brouwerij Maenhout. Thijs’ brewery is similarly sized to that of Boom Island. 12-15 BBL batches, unfiltered and bottle conditioned as is consistent with Belgian tradition. Thijs’ brewery is unique in that it qualifies as a genuine “Huisbrouwerij” under Belgian law meaning that his family’s place of residence is under the same roof as the brewery itself. The thing I most respect about Thijs though, is a quality I strive to execute here at Boom Island. That is nailing down the classics of the Belgian tradition of brewing first, then stepping beyond that realm to show one’s true understanding of the broader brewing culture.

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Boom Island Belgium Beer Tour 2017.
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Thijs Maenhout, Brouwerij Maenhout

On that last trip to Belgium, I was lucky enough to meet up with Thijs over a few brews as he casually tossed out, “Why don’t we do a collaborative brew of some sort?” Having never approached the topic before and without hesitation, I responded, “Absolutely!”. So what follows is how it all went down.

He chose the style, Russian Imperial Stout. I added the idea of using a bit of Chocolate to represent Belgium and a bit of Coffee (supplied by North Loop Dunn Bros.) to represent Minneapolis’ vibrant coffee scene. Both ingredients to be kept subtle and balanced as should be in true Belgian fashion. From there, Thijs developed a recipe and sent us the samples via a friend who happens to work here in Minneapolis a couple of weeks each year and also happens to be his logo designer. The entire Boom Island team agreed that test batch was outstanding! No changes necessary.

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Kevin and Thijs in Brouwerij Maenhout, Pittem Belgium

Then came the biggest challenge, naming the beer. Let’s see:  Russian Imperial Stout, behind closed doors, Belgian brewer meets with American brewer. No paper trail, no missing emails, no dossier, and until now no one has had to recuse themselves.   The name “Kollusion” surfaced, seemed perfect and was agreed upon

 

Kollusion –  Russian Imperial Stout, 11% ABV

Appearance –Thick and inky as a blackout velvet curtain, with a deep espresso head

Aroma –  Roasted malt, with hints of chocolate and coffee lurking in the shadows

Flavor –  Bold but light on the palate, with notes of dark malt, coffee and chocolate in equal measure.  Flavors emerge as the beer warms in the glass.

Kollusion is bold, beautiful and a little mysterious.  It is a delicious departure for us, and we are excited about it. See for yourself on Friday, February 23 at 4pm.  Another collaboration beer with Thijs is a distinct possibility that will be discussed in late April when we visit the Brouwerij Maenhout with our Boom Island tour group. On the 23rd we will have bottles for sale and will be pouring it as fast as we can get it into a glass.

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Kollusion, Russian Imperial Stout
Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up. —Oliver Wendell Holmes

Mixed Fermentation

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From-Kevin
Framboise is our newest member to join the Spontaneous Series. These Lambic type beers sit in the oaken barrels for well beyond 12 months before they are opened up for a sample to evaluate their maturity. It is at that point that several decisions are made. First, has the beer developed not only acidity, but also has it developed the layers of depth that can only be achieved through a very, very long “mixed fermentation”.  A mixed fermentation is one in which a cocktail of different microbes are going to work and simultaneously breaking down the various food sources present in the liquid. Choices made here by the taster and blender will result in the destiny of the beer.
In Belgium, fruit (and I’m not talking about a slice of orange) has been used in beer production for hundreds of years. Especially with regard to the production of Lambic beers. Additionally, the fruit I find most frequently associated with Lambics is the Raspberry. “Framboise” in French for southern Belgium or “Frambozen” in the Dutch speaking north, raspberries have been found to be the perfect accompaniment to the acidic depth of a spontaneously fermented Belgian Lambic.
In our case, I felt that the blend lent itself very nicely to partnering up with a healthy dose of raspberries. It was at about the 14th month of fermentation when the raspberries were added. Of course, all those wacky non-traditional brewing microbes went nuts consuming the additional sugars present. The beer actually foamed out of the barrels at that point. I gave it a couple more months to ferment out all the remaining sugars. Next, we hand bottled the beer one by one with a little additional fermentable sugar and finished it with a cork and cage. The bottles then underwent an additional fermentation inside the bottle to develop its natural carbonation, which is exactly the same as the Champagne bottling process referred to as Champagne Méthode Classique.
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I can’t conclude the blog without referencing the overly sweetened yet most famous example of Framboise, that of Brouwerij Lindeman’s. A truly wonderful and historically important brewery itself, the Lindeman’s Framboise is not the example I was taking inspiration from. Perhaps more applicable examples in our case would be those made by Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Oud Beersel or Timmerman’s.
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This Framboise is going to be dry but with very complex layers of depth from both the wild fermentation in the barrel as well as all the fruit. Its appearance is totally influenced by the raspberries. It pours a deep ruby red with a quickly dissipating head due to all the head retention elements being consumed along the way. You will get the fruit on the nose, but don’t over chill the bottle. The fruit comes out when the beer is a few notches above fridge temperature. We only bottled two barrels worth this year so grab it quickly. I can’t wait to share some fruity sour complexity with all of you!
Lambics are great with food as well, there are some ideas for you:
Fennel, Sun choke and Apple Salad. Tart, clean, and goes well with fruit lambics.
Mussels with beer sauce and of course fries. Anything goes with fries!
Eggs Benedict. Yes, this classic breakfast fix is surprisingly sour beer friendly.
Belgian Waffles. Why not! Top your waffles with some delicious fresh raspberries!
Santé!!!

Kevin

The Art of Aging Bottles of Boom: Resist Temptation

From-Jim

Over the last several months I’ve heard a number of people admit that they don’t possess the will power to age their bottles of Boom Island beer for any length of time.  They just can’t resist the lure, and allure, of those beautiful 750ml bottles of ambrosia.  To make the task even more difficult, the taproom has bottles available of Yule 2014, Yule 2015, Triple Brett and Cuvée de Boom in corked and caged 750’s.  All of these beers are special, limited and not readily available anywhere else in town.

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© Heather Hanson Photography LLC

My sales pitch, which many of you have heard, goes something like: “Buy a couple bottles (of the Yule for example). Drink one when you get home and put the other in your cellar or basement and bust it out on Christmas Eve.  It continues to ferment in the bottle and gets more complex and delicious with each passing month.  Don’t feel compelled to share it with your family and friends when they show interest.”

Most chuckle and think it’s a good idea but some still can’t resist the temptation.  The bottles never make it to that special occasion.  Here is the idea of the day:  Buy a couple bottles.  When you get home force yourself to wrap them in any form of giftwrap you have on hand.  Next dig out your holiday decorations and bury the wrapped bottles in the bottom of a box and cover it with other boxes.  Out of sight, out of mind.

When the holiday boxes come out down the line, the bottles will emerge.  Drink them then stop by the taproom or your favorite store and buy some bottles of the Yule 2016.  After the holiday, put the bottles in the boxes and put them away for the year.  Put it out of your mind.  Next Christmas you have one-year-old bottles waiting for you, much to your surprise and delight.  Drink them up or use as a prepaid gift option.

Way to go.  You are now a pillar of self-control.

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© Heather Hanson Photography LLC