Blackrocks Brewery Claims the Great Lake State

blackrocks brewery

blackrocks brewery

Growing conservatively was the plan for David Manson and friend Andy Landlois. A burgeoning Marquette, Michigan craft beer community had other ideas.

Four years after opening a one-barrel nano brewery in a converted house on one of the main streets in the Upper Peninsula’s largest city, Blackrocks Brewery’s three varieties of canned beer are now available almost throughout Michigan.

“Our goal was never to go widespread in Michigan as we are, but the opportunity came up and we justified it with the demand,” Manson said. “We didn’t foresee canning in year three,” he laughed. “That wasn’t a part of the initial mindset. “I guess we found out we can grow, but on our own terms.”

Canning, Manson said, was the obvious choice. A rugged outdoors landscape right just minutes from the brewery lends to the notion that cans and not bottles are suited for an active lifestyle for some of the clientele.

“Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking … all the things that get you outside and doing stuff,” Manson said. “Me personally, I didn’t want to deal with bottles outside, so I didn’t want our consumers to have to make the decisions of bringing our beer but not wanting to dealing with glass.

“No one wants to hear a glass bottles shimmy around on a canoe. But cans, you know, have a little different ring to it.”

So in late 2013, Blackrocks began canning, taking over a former soda bottling plant a few miles from the brewery to begin on a 20-barrel system. From there, with distribution help, Blackrocks can now be found in many corners of the Great Lakes state.

“There is some people that would like to see us in Southeast Michigan, but we just don’t want to put down another expenditure to meet that demand,” Manson said. “We would rather circle the wagons for a year and make sure the operation is running smoothly and get things in place where we can enter that market — or Northern Wisconsin which is what some people have been asking for, then we can all the little pieces in place to go ahead and make that.”

blackrocks breweryThe brewery still uses the original one-barrel system along with a 3-barrel brewhouse on site at the pub. The nano system is used for one-off brews and the successful ones graduate to the three-barrel. Just one, since figuring out the original lineup of cans — a Cream Ale (Grand Rabbits), a Brown Ale (Coconut Brown) and an IPA (51K) — has advanced to the 20-barrel system: a honey lavender Wheat that Manson said will only be made as a summer beer.

“We wanted normal, average beers … nothing too crazy yet,” he said.
The brewery has tried glass bottles, releasing two bombers (a Belgian Strong and a Wee Heavy) that both did not sell the way that Manson had hoped, which has curbed their thoughts of future bottling ideas.
For this brewery, cans is where it’s at.

“We believe it’s better as the container,” he said. “It’s opaque, it’s light-proof, it looks like a little metal [beer] tank and we think it should be good that way.”

Manson added that Blackrocks may even do some one-off type of cans, but instead of coming up with the money for labeling directly to the can, they instead have the option of using labels to attach to the cans.

“If [a certain beer] comes back, great. If it doesn’t: well, sorry, you didn’t get it,” Manson said of the possibilities. “But it gives us that flexibility to continue to stretch ourselves without being committed.”

Even though the cans are what the general public sees, Manson still believes that the taproom inside the pub is the place to experience Blackrocks. Since opening he conservatively figures that they have brewed 300 different beers.

“We want the foundation to be a diversity of taps,” he said. “They can change in a night, or at least over the weekend. We like that. The brewers like that. We like to offer different things.

“We have quite a quiver of recipes and some of them we are super gung-ho and can’t wait to do them again and we can’t wait to put them in a can and give them a run for the patrons that asked for them.”

blackrocks breweryIn a town of about 21,000, Marquette, located in Marquette County (a population of about 67,000) is quickly becoming a destination stop for thirsty travelers. Since Blackrocks opened in 2010 — the first since two brew pubs opened in the mid 1990s (The Vierling in Marquette and Jasper Ridge in nearby Ishpeming) — Marquette County has added Ore Dock Brewing in Marquette, and will add Cognition Brewing in Negaunee and Chocolay River Brewery in Harvey soon.

“At first you feel a little threatened when you are the first true brewery on the block,” Manson said. “But the more people can feel justified in coming to the Marquette area for a trip because they all of a sudden have a bunch of breweries they can taste from and compare, I think it’s great for the area.

“The local consumers might feel a little fatigued … but if this summer is an indication on how it will go, they we are not hurting each other. If anything it’s boosting each other up.”

Even after a strong summer, Manson is sticking to his conservative guns.
“If your mindset is ‘grow, grow, grow’ you aren’t going to only burnout your employees, but you are going to ruin the charm of what you are now.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *