A change of scenery can often work wonders to rekindle the embers of personal creativity. Visual artists change studios, musicians and writers hole up in cabins or other remote spaces, but for brewers, whose tools are industrial in size, it’s not so easy. If the size of the smile on Boom Island head brewer and founder Kevin Welch’s face is any indication, the effort of moving an entire brewery was entirely worth it.
“It’s so nice to be able to look around and have a place for everything to go,” Welch beams. “That hasn’t even been an option for the last eight years—since day one, everything had been shoved in shoulder to shoulder, and it’s so nice to have a working environment that’s actually suitable to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Seated next to his business partners Scott Becker and Dan Syverson at one of the many sturdy wooden tables dotting Boom Island’s new taproom in Minnetonka, Welch really does seem at home. Over his shoulder, reclaimed wood beams from a 125-year-old barn reach out from a white tile backsplash over a dark and handsome wooden bar.
The motif carries through a surprisingly sunny 3,800-square-foot taproom, separated from the brewing facility by a half-wall made from oak barrels full of Boom Island’s Kreik and lambic-style sours. All this newfound space has effectively quadrupled Welch’s sour-aging capacity, which dovetails with another new toy he’s eager to show off.
“We’ve got a whole room that’s going to be built out as a yeast lab, which is going to be an absolute dream of mine,” Welch says. “I’ve always wished for that, because I’ve been juggling 13 to 15 strains of yeast from day one, and now when you take a tour you can actually look in and see all of that with your own eyes.”
Nearly all of the equipment situated in Boom Island’s new brewing facility made the trip over from North Minneapolis. Rather than use contractors, Dan Syverson project-managed a move staffed by friends and family of the brewery. To round out his new facility, Welch has added a pair of glycol-jacketed, 30-barrel fermentors that he plans to use for lagers, starting with a Belgian-style Pilsner. On top of that, the brewery now has space to use an onsite canning rig. There’s a hope amongst all three partners to use this additional capacity to ramp-up production, which they peg at about 2,800-barrels annually at full capacity.
They’re going to need all of it because if last weekend’s soft opening is a sign for what’s to come, Boom Island’s new neighbors are primed and ready to have a brewery close by. According to Scott Becker, the choice to land in this part of Minnetonka was motivated not only by the relatively affordable real estate, but also a desire to shed the competitive Minneapolis market for an underserved one. Syverson says that thirsty neighbors were peeking in the windows nearly every day during build-out. “Even the cops were dropping by, asking ‘Can we get a beer when we’re off the clock?’” Welch adds. “I walked into Home Depot right down Baker Road there and had three people that I’ve never ever met before that told me, ‘I couldn’t make it last weekend but we’re coming next weekend, and we’re so happy you’re here.’”
While the reception in their new neighborhood has been a warm one, the optics of Boom Island’s exit from North Minneapolis were marred by accusations in the local press that Welch and his wife and Boom Island co-founder Qiuxia had used safety concerns in the wake of a tragic shooting next door to their space as a cover for a more business-motivated decision to relocate. When asked if they had any regrets about the messaging of the move, Welch and his partners are reflective, but firm.
“There was a good bit that was twisted, picked, and chose upon about how that story was spun,” Welch states. “Had you actually spoken with me, it would have been a completely different story. I’ve been looking for a new space for three years.”
Welch says that the shooting and safety concerns rapidly accelerated his plans for relocation and expansion that were already in the works. After hearing that Welch was looking for partners to join the team and assist in a move, Becker says he, Syverson, and third partner Tracy Gast approached Welch in December 2018 with a proposal, and a deal was hammered out quickly. Qiuxia, who had recently found full-time employment outside of the brewery, is still a partner and co-owner, but she scaled back her day-to-day responsibilities.
Armed with the support of his new partners and the Minnetonka community, along with some familiar faces from the North Minneapolis space that have stuck with the brewery, Welch is on cloud nine.
“We’ve worked really hard at the places through the past that my wife and I could afford to rent,” Welch says. “We’ve done the best with what we could do. We’ve got partners now, and the whole growth aspect is so positive, it makes me feel so much more comfortable and positive about waking up every single morning and coming to work. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to wake up and be happy.”