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.

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

From-Kevin

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.

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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.

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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!

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Kevin with the creator of Delirium Tremens 
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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.

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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!

Prost,

Kevin Welch