Did you hear the one about two French horn players who walked into a bar?
Well, you will have, because that’s more or less the story behind Minneapolis’ newest microbrewery, tiny Belgian-focused Boom Island Brewing.
The two French horn players in question are Kevin Welch and his wife, Qiuxia Welch. I sat down with them to talk about their new venture, and immediately addressed the elephant in the room: Married French horn players? Yes! They met and fell in love while both were graduate students studying music, and relocated to the Twin Cities because there’s more French horn work here, than elsewhere. More elephants: No really! At the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and at the travelling Broadway shows, for instance, there’s a French horn player currently working Lion King, and there were two working Cinderella at the Ordway. Do all the French horn players know each other? Of course! And most of the brass players know each other. “That’s a good support group for getting a brewery going,” Kevin Welch told me. I refrained from asking them how they passed up the chance for a slogan like: ‘The preferred whistle-wetter of tuba-tootlers.’
Their story is this: Kevin Welch started brewing 11 years ago in his south Minneapolis home, and fell in love with the complex flavors of Belgian beer, in all its winey, biscuity, bready complexity. He and his wife decided to pursue a second career as brewers, and spent two summers touring and working in Belgium at breweries. They got a warehouse space in Minneapolis, not too far from Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den (the old Stand Up Frank’s) and spent the past couple weeks officially launching their beers. The tap beer was first tasted December 29 at Pig & Fiddle, and last week their bottled beer debuted at the specialty beer shops Ale Jail and the Four Firkins.
How are they? Idiosyncratic, original, and sort of wonderful. The Thoprock IPA is tart and bready, has a nose that’s a bit toasty, a bit appleish, and a finish that’s long, pert and lively with citrus notes. A wonderful food beer, with good acidity, it cries out for a big winter dish like a cassoulet. The Hoodoo Dubbel (released next week) is as dark as root beer and offers a nose that’s more than a little root-beer like, suggesting scents of anise, sassafras, and clove along with dark toast, it’s very pretty and wintery. The Silvius Pale Ale is more Belgian than pale, with a little molasses in the nose and a beautiful lush creamy body. I can imagine this as a dream come true with spicy food, even something as fierce as Sichuan food.
Speaking of Sichuan food: Guess who’s from Chengdu, capital of Chinese spice? Qiuxia Welch! Her parents came to Minnesota from China to help the Welches with the launch of their brewery, and Qiuxia and her mother will be leading a Sichuan cooking class and Boom Island beer tasting on February 20th at Kitchen Window.
Till then, the beers are available at Ale Jail or the Four Firkins ($8-$10 for a 750 milliliter bottle) or on tap at the Pig & Fiddle or at the new Eli’s East, in Northeast. Try them! And when you do, keep this in mind: I asked the Welches if there was any commonality between beer brewing and French Horn playing, and they said: Yes, absolutely, of course! “Beer brewing is an art, and a science,” explained Kevin Welch. “You have to be passionate, poetic, and process-oriented, but somewhere in there it transforms, and you have to trust in the beyond.”
“To play the French horn,” elaborated Qiuxia, “you prepare and prepare and prepare, but when you take a breath and blow, only God knows what will happen.” Hopefully people clap. And drink.
The Four Firkins: 5630 36th St., St. Louis Park, thefourfirkins.com
The Ale Jail: 1787 Saint Clair Ave.. St. Paul, winethief.net
Eli’s East: 815 E. Hennepin Ave., elisfoodandcocktails.com
Pig & Fiddle: 3812 W. 50th St., Mpls., pignfiddle.com