Friday, November 6, 2015

Beer Goes Boom! Boom Island Brewery Review

It's been a while since I've reviewed a brewery, but in the past 3 weeks I've made it to nearly 20 breweries and distilleries!  I'm going to chip away at them in the order we visited.  Keep in mind that I'm reviewing based purely on my (and my wife's) experience on a certain day and that your results may vary.  I tend to wait until a brewery has been open for 6-12 months before reviewing, unless my visit is above par and deserves a write up.  I try not to be a jerk, but pride myself in being honest.  I've been a homebrewer for nearly 26 years, a BJCP National ranked judge, and have been to hundreds of breweries over the years.  Here goes!

The first of my reviews is Boom Island Brewing in Minneapolis.  Boom Island was founded by Kevin Welch, who tried his first Belgian Tripel in 2001 and obviously fell in love with Belgian beers.  Before opening the brewery he traveled to several breweries in Belgium and even brought some yeast strains back with him.  Their beers are packaged in pretty caged and corked 750 ML bottles and naturally carbonated.  I'm not sure if they do natural carbonation in the kegged beers.

The taproom opened at 11 and we arrived at 11:30.   I wanted to get an early start so I could visit a couple more breweries in the limited time before our first Twin Cities Horror Festival show of the day.  The brewery is located in a fairly rough area, previously home to a couple of cheep hooch liquor stores.  The area has improved in the past few years, but I still wouldn't park my car there at night.  I'm sure the building was more affordable for all that.  The brewery entrance is actually down an alley and is difficult to spot right away.  They have a small parking lot that is somewhat difficult to navigate.  Getting out next to a big overflowing dumpster under the looming boarded up windows of another building, my wife commented: "You take me to all the sketchiest places in search of beer."

There is a small outdoor seating area in front of the brewery that I'm guessing gets more action in the summer months.  We ran into the tap room manager out there on a bench before we entered.  The building itself is pretty much an open warehouse floor plan with stainless fermenters and brewing equipment packed into the space.  The taproom itself (The Boom Room) is nothing fancy, a brushed metal topped bar located off to the side of the brewery itself.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of seeing the brewery equipment and knowing I'm actually sitting where the beer is brewed!  The place was pretty dark, so all of my photos turned out less stellar than I wanted.  My wife (Sj) and I sat at the sticky and unwashed bar to order the entire sampler and taste our way through these Belgian style ales.  We've been to Belgium twice for about 4 weeks total in the past few years and were very excited to try out the full range of Boom Island beers.

 I'm going to admit something up front here.  I've tried some of the flagship Boom Island beers over the past few years and have not been overly impressed.  Friends of mine are huge fans though and keep talking the brewery up to me.  Now that the brewery has been in their own space and had a few years to grow, I was wanting to give them a good shot.  Here's a quick rundown on our sampler:

Our favorite of the bunch was the Witness Wit--a decent example of the Belgian Wit style that was certainly better than that imitator Blue Moon.  This is the only Belgian style I don't particularly love, but appreciated the balance in this one and gave it a 3.75 out of 5.  All of the other beers had flaws that detracted from my enjoyment of them  The next highest score I gave was 3.5 for the Gravity Number 9 dark strong.  That one had some dark fruit and plum rind flavors that were pleasing but there was a definite Flanders sourness that I don't think was supposed to be there.  I'd like this one either clean or even with increased sourness to make it stand out.  The Limited Action Harvest Ale was interesting--a mix of Belgian ale with apple cider.  The apple came through and lent some sweetness to the beer, a bit phenolic though.

Moving on the the mid-range--Silvius pale ale was a bit too sweet and lacked the hopping for the BJPC style, but did come close to tasting like the mellow DeKoninck from Antwerp.  Saison was OK.  Thoprock Belgian IPA was tolerable but the combination of American hops and Belgian yeast esters clashed and didn't do justice to either ingredient.

Moving on to the ones I actively disliked--The Brimstone Tripel was well named as it had a mix of yeast derived fruity esters with a sulfur note that was distracting.  The Yule holiday beer from 2014 was actively infected with flavors of beet/earth and phenols reminding us of burning plastic and bandaids.  Drain-pour for sure.

During our tasting of this sampler, the manager came around to the bar on either side of us spraying it down with lemon and vinegar scented cleanser which certainly didn't help with my ability to taste or smell these beers.  He was very nice and knowledgeable about the beers though.

I feel a bit bad that I don't have much good to say about Boom Island's beers.  I really do want to like them.  I'm very happy Minnesota has a brewery specializing in Belgian styles.  I just want so much more from them!  These beers are locally made and don't have to get shipped across the ocean to get here.  They should be fresh and wonderful, complex and nuanced.  Instead most of them have common fermentation or sanitation flaws that need to be addressed if this brewery is to survive in the increasingly crowded brewery marketplace.  This is the reason I feel obligated to publish this less than glowing blog post.  I want the folks from Boom Island to take a critical look at their quality control, sanitation, and fermentation practices.  After discussing with some friends, they wondered if maybe the taplines hadn't been cleared or cleaned prior to our visit--this is a possibility but still not a great excuse for poor quality beers.

Tell me what you think of my review and of this brewery!  Have I wronged your favorite beer?  Tell me why I'm incorrect.  Do you agree with my thoughts?  I'm always open to feedback.


Kevin Meintsma said...

I'm afraid I'm with you... not the best experience with the beers. Some are decent but so far, none are exemplary.

I've been in there a couple of times, so it's not a large sampling, and I actively dislike the location. I'm told it's an improvement from their previous space which makes me wonder what that was like.

I do want them to succeed!

Cody Holliday said...

I don't think your review is unfair. I haven't been overly impressed with their beers nor their taproom. Belgian beers are my favorite, so the disappointment was amplified. I do agree that their staff is extremely knowledgeable and gave us unprompted information about all of their beers which was greatly appreciated.

By the end of the month, the Twin Cities will have another brewery focusing on Belgian beers called Lakes & Legends. I'll be beertending there, you should come check it out when we open.

little spoons said...

I've also tried to love their beers and just can't get behind anything. Totally agree on the Belgian beer in MN point - it would be so great to have an awesome local Belgian-style brewery! Hopefully your thoughtful, constructive criticism gets back to them and they can step it up.

Grant Erler said...

yet another jem :) really looking forward to checking out Boom island! Excellent work

Brady said...

think you hit the nail on head with this review.

Tracy LeTourneau said...

We were fortunate enough to be part of an event that Lakes and Legends poured some of their beers! We were quite impressed. Very excited for them!