Conversation with Thijs Maenhout

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.

Maenhout glass
Boom Island Belgium Beer Tour 2017.
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.

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.

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

Playing It Safe No Longer an Option. We are Kicking Ass and Taking Names


This is a series of beer which I have been wanting to do for quite some time. The series itself consists of four Belgian style beers which break free from tradition in one way or another, or maybe in more than one way. We collaborated with local artist / illustrator and creator of our amazing mural of a Belgian cityscape, Shawn McCann, for the label art. I feel that Shawn was very successful in bringing a taste of Belgium back to Minnesota for this series. All of these beers are brewed as a single batch, and for us that means 12 barrels or 372 gallons.

The original idea for the series started out as a metaphorical representation of some of my favorite regions of Northern Belgium through beer. After a visit last fall to the wonderful Mouterij Dingemans, an opportunity came my way to do a collaborative beer featuring their malt for the 2017 Craft Brewer’s Conference. The Dingemans facility produces the definitive Belgian malt, both base malts and specialty malts. It is located just a few miles north of the great port city of Antwerp. My wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Karl Dingeman and get an insider’s glimpse of the malt facility on our last trip to Belgium. Karl is the 5th generation of the family owned operation and what a terrific guy! Antwerp also happens to be where my wife and I were when the idea for Boom Island was first hatched. Hence the “Born in Belgium, Crafted in Minneapolis” line. Antwerp is a beautiful city with a very rich history of not only producing malt, but also brewing beer. Which brings us to Brouwerij De Koninck. In my opinion, the definition of a Belgian Pale is the Antwerp Pale Ale brewed by Brouwerij De Konink. De Koninck started its brewing operations all the way back in 1833. In Antwerp, a glass of De Koninck is referred to as a Bolleke. Bolleke is simply the goblet shaped glass in which this beer is served. To order this beer, one would say “een Bolleke, alstublieft” or “one glass, please”. The waiter will know exactly which beer to put into that one glass. Our Belgian Pale “Silvius” was inspired over a few “Bolleke” of De Koninck. So, creating a special beer for CBC 2017 and highlighting Mouterij Dingemans was an idea that came to me very naturally.

Kevin with Karl Dingemans after tour of the maltery.

Take our Belgian Pale recipe and bump it up to what would basically be an Imperial Belgian Pale (if there was such a thing) and then rewind the clock back to 19th century Antwerp when all the beer was delivered and served from oak. Our “Bolleke Plus” was then oak aged for 10 weeks. Finally, it was bottle conditioned as all Boom Island beers are produced. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until April for that one as it will be released at the Craft Brewer’s Conference in Washington D.C. first and we will release it the following weekend at the brewery here.

A glass of Bolleke with a shot of yeast that fermented the beer. The local favorite.

We wanted to release the series at the beginning of this year so we needed another beer to be first in the series. From there I traveled south of Antwerp just past the city of Boom (Yes, Boom is an actual place in Belgium) and then on west to the town of Melle for two beers that were to be inspiration for the first brew in the Breaking Boundaries series. Of course the two beers, Duvel and Delirium Tremens, reign from these two areas and are today both really define what a “Belgian Golden Strong” is.

Duvel started its journey as a brewery in 1871 and brewed up a batch of what was then called “Victory Ale” to celebrate the end of World War One. It later became Duvel which means “Devil” in the local dialect of Dutch. On our last Belgium trip back in the fall, we had the wonderful fortune of meeting the brainchild behind the “Pink Elephant” on a visit to Brouwerij Huyghe in the town of Melle which is just on the outskirts of Gent. Wonderful conversations and a very generous amount of time was spent with the Master Brewer following a private peek at the entire facility over a faucet of Delirium than will literally, never run dry!

Kevin with the creator of Delirium Tremens 
A nice glass of the famous beer at the brewery

With an intimate knowledge of these two beers, I put some thought into how to warp that classic style without disrespecting tradition. Not exactly possible to make an Imperial version. It is already sitting at 8.5% ABV. Oak it? I was already planning to do that with the other one. Then the thought came to me. These beers are nice and floral on the nose, then deceptively high in ABV. But, that aroma is coming from the yeast and perhaps a bit of spicing (in one example, at least). The hops however, are traditional in both examples. Mostly Saaz and Styrian Goldings. Great hops that really shape Belgian brewing tradition…But, what if I think from the other side of the planet and then to the southern hemisphere, grab some crazy cool floral and tropical fruity New Zealand hops. Dry-hop the heck out of it adding fruity hops to an already floral nose. I must tell you, the result is truly terrific. I can’t wait to share it with you! This one of course, is a nice straw blond with a nice bottle conditioned effervescence at 8.5% ABV.

First two beers of the series. Art by Shawn MaCann.

These are the first two of four. I can share with you that the third installment will be an Imperial Wheat Wine fermented with Black Currant. Basically a Witbier jacked way up, then fermented with a really intense dark fruit. The fourth and final installment will be very strong and hoppy.

I am confident you will enjoy these four beers and thanks for the continued support!


Kevin Welch