This Is More Than Beer To Me

qiuxiaHeadshot
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.

The Chinese Heritage of Boom Island

Chinese red lantern

Minneapolis. Belgian-style beer. Chinese New Year.

At first glance, it might be difficult to see how these three things are related. Maybe you can see a link between beer and Minneapolis given the vibrant craft beer scene, but how does that connect to the Chinese New Year? If you shift your gaze over to Boom Island Brewing, you’ll start to see why the Chinese New Year has a unique and special meaning to us. Not only did our current taproom open during the Chinese New Year in 2014, but the foundation of Boom Island Brewing itself is rooted in Chinese culture.

It all starts out like this: “What happens when two professional horn players fall in love with Belgian beer?” The obvious answer is open a brewery, which is why Boom Island exists today, but one of those horn players was Qiuxia from Chengdu in China. Qiuxia (pronounced choo-sha) came to Minnesota at the age of 18 to pursue her horn performance career at Augsburg and the University of Minnesota. Along the way, she met fellow horn player and Belgian beer fanatic Kevin, and together they decided to pursue a life of music and eventually beer.

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Qiuxia and Kevin enjoy a visit to Chengdu, China

But the Chinese influence on Boom Island doesn’t stop there. In fact, our north Minneapolis brewery was literally built with the help of Qiuxia’s own parents. Despite the drastic culture and language barriers, they traveled from China to live with Qiuxia and Kevin, and helped get Boom Island Brewing into operation. Everything from building fermenters to brewing beer, Qiuxia’s parents played an immense role in the making of Boom Island. If you were to step inside the brewery in its earlier days, you wouldn’t have heard English spoken, but Chinese instead. Qiuxia recalls fond memories of her mother and father being in the brewery several years ago. Her family’s connections to Boom Island are close and remain so to this day. If you happen to catch a glimpse in the back of our walk-in fridge, you’ll still see the names of our beer written in English and Chinese as a little reminder of the brewery’s beginnings.

Even though Minneapolis is far from Chengdu (13 hours away, to be exact), Qiuxia finds ways to see reflections of her home here in Minnesota. On the hottest, most humid days of summer, she can be found out in the sunshine, relishing the intense heat and happily proclaiming “It’s just like China!” Or, if you have any frustration, simply mention it to her and she’ll have a Chinese adage for you. “In China, we have a saying for that!” is a phrase often heard around the brewery. And so, our celebrations of the Chinese New Year are just another way in which we’re bringing a bit of China into the heart of Minnesota.

Chinese blue lantern

Hearing Qiuxia describe Chinese New Year celebrations is reason enough to get excited for the holiday. “It’s our Christmas,” Qiuxia elaborated. “And Thanksgiving, too. It’s huge!” As a part of the New Year, people gather with their family and friends to celebrate by doing what most anyone can relate to – eating a large amount of food. “That’s why it’s like Thanksgiving,” Qiuxia said before bounding into the details of the Chinese New Year’s food traditions, only to end with “…now I’m hungry.”  Each region of China has its own particular culinary tradition that is the focus of the New Year, but everyone celebrates by enjoying a large, festive meal together. “As a child, I remember we’d prepare the meals days ahead of time because it’s so big. On the actual day, we’d have the adult table and the kids table. All us kids would wear our new clothes for the New Year, we would get together and play, get our red envelopes, and wait for midnight to have firecrackers.”

The New Year is all about luck, and as a way to ensure luck for the oncoming year, firecrackers are set off at midnight to ward off any bad luck or evil spirits. Red is also associated with luck, and traditional decorations for the New Year are just about anything in red. Red envelope trees are a popular tradition in China. The envelopes typically contain money or a token of good luck, and are gifted from the older generation to children. However, the red envelopes are not simply given out to anyone. To earn the opportunity to be given a red envelope, children must offer a good wish or fortune to the giver. “Everything is about luck,” Qiuxia said in explaining the traditions, and everyone passes along good fortunes and wishes throughout the New Year’s celebrations.

Chinese blue house

So on our corner of Minneapolis where we could walk out our door and launch a firecracker over highway 94, we’ll be paying homage to our Chinese roots by celebrating the Chinese New Year in style. We’ll have a special tarragon Witness witbier in the taproom made especially for the New Lunar Year, along with complimentary fortune cookies and tea. Here at Boom Island, we’ll have a red envelope tree of our own with a token for everyone, just be sure to come prepared with your good tiding so you can earn your envelope. A special Chinese Lion Dance will be featured at 4pm, so be sure to visit to catch a glimpse of the lions! Like any new year, it’s a time to celebrate with family and friends, so here’s to the Chinese New Year and to the traditions and people that brought Boom Island to where it is today!

Event details: Chinese New Year at Boom Island Brewing


 

All photos by © Heather Hanson Photography LLC

 

Exploring Chinese Beer Culture

–with Qiuxia & Heather

What’s the craft beer scene like in China? Qiuxia, Boom Island’s Co-owner, and Social Media Manager Heather are about to find out…

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Qiuxia and Heather are headed to Chengdu, China; Qiuxia’s home town, for a whirlwind week of exploring beer culture in China. We are wondering (and you might be too): How is the beer culture different from the U.S.?
Where do you find beer and what’s available? Can you find Belgian Beer in China? Can you find breweries in China? And above all, what is beer like in China?
We hope to answer all of these questions and more over the next week and report back! Stay tuned for updates from these two adventurers and get to know the Boom Island Brewing team as they explore overseas.