MARQUETTE — Blackrocks Brewery’s production site is fully equipped with a 20 bbl brew house, five 40 bbl fermenters, canning equipment and a ping pong table for downtime.

But when co-owners David Manson and Andy Langlois started the operation, they never anticipated their brewery to receive such a positive response. Now, with the new production site having opened in September, the brewery is growing at a steady pace, keeping up with the demand of its distributors, retailers and customers.

As is the case with many brewers, Manson and Langlois started brewing beer in a basement. Both working for the same pharmaceutical company at the time, the two only dreamed of opening their own place in conversations had over the mashing process. When they heard the company they worked for was going to start laying off employees, they decided it would be the perfect time to take the plunge.

The pair entered the craft brew game when local breweries Jasper Ridge and The Vierling had been well-established, but they wondered about the local interest in craft brewing.

“Jasper Ridge and The Vierling were holding down the fort,” said Langlois, “but we didn’t really know if craft beer would catch on in Marquette.”

“I think we underestimated it though,” says Manson. “We really thought there’d be a lot more Miller/Bud type of people. But in fact [craft beer] is huge; it’s a bigger market than we could have realized.”

Still, rather than catering the styles of their beer to the tastes of those they expected to be their customer base, Langlois and Manson decided to make the recipes that piqued their interests.

They didn’t expect the response they received.

“[The customers] who heard about it came in and got caught up in it. They came in asking for what was closest to Bud Light and now they’re our biggest hop heads,” said Manson.

The brewery’s taproom is located in a small house on Third Street. The ceiling is covered with handmade mugs, the bottoms of which feature a variety of clever mug-club-member nicknames. The tap handles are a miscellany of found objects, including a hockey stick handle, part of a baseball bat and a microphone. Their eight taps feature the three mainstays — 51K IPA, Coconut Brown and Grand Rabbits Cream Ale — as well as five frequently-changed experimental brews. 

The interest in Blackrocks brews isn’t slowing down, and has spread throughout Michigan. With the new production site, the brewery has increased capacity for brewing and distributing as well as room to grow. The cozy taproom in the ground floor of the Third Street house is becoming too cramped. With the additional space their new production site provides, the brewery is adding seating in the upstairs portion of the house, which previously had been used for office space and storage. 

Rather than having a long-term plan for where their expansion will take them eventually, Manson and Langlois prefer their growth to be steady and organic.

“We have a vision, but it’s not anything we’ve spelt out into a full-on corporate vision document,” says Manson. “We’ve always kind of grown where it organically feels right.”

The brewery may not necessarily have a plan for where their growth will take them in the long run, but Langlois and Manson make their decisions based on a few key priorities.

“We base a lot of things on what’s fun. As long as it’s fun, then we’re usually doing the right thing,” says Langlois. “Not that we don’t work hard, we work our butts off,” he adds, “but if the labor of love is lost and it’s no longer fun, then we’ve gone down the wrong road.”

Ultimately, Langlois and Manson want to do their best to represent Michigan beer.

“There’s a responsibility to represent not only U.S. craft beer, but specifically Michigan is really getting on the map,” said Manson. “I mean, sure we could have used half the amount of hops or gotten a cheaper version of some of the grain, but we want to make sure we’re representing. We’re not just some hicks in the U.P. who are jumping on the trend. We’re very passionate about the beer and the industry.”

MARQUETTE —There was no shortage of ugly sweaters at Blackrocks Brewery’s third anniversary celebration at its production site on Washington Street this weekend. The party gave guests the opportunity to celebrate another year of the brewery’s success, the grand opening of their production site and the winter solstice while sipping on Blackrocks brews.

Tickets for the event went on sale December 11 and were sold out by the 13th. Those who got a ticket enjoyed three beers, a burrito provided by Blue Bike Burrito of Marinette, Wis. and a 22-ounce bottle of specialty beer.

Seven varieties of beer were available to attendees, including the staple 51K IPA, Coconut Brown and Grand Rabbits Cream Ale. Other varieties included a hoppy, drinkable session IPA called Tree Flogger, a holiday spiced ale called Rad’s Red Krampus, an English Ale called Snow Job and a Kolsch.

Local band Frank an Da Beanz provided live music. The band, decked out in Stormy Kromers, cowboy hats, giant belt buckles and flamboyant button-ups, played covers of rock songs. Those listening, including a rather flirtatious Santa, danced while the band played.

Co-owners David Manson and Andy Langlois said the celebration was less about the brewery’s continued success and more to do with the collaboration between all of the people who contribute to the brewery.

“A brewery, unlike a lot of other industries, is a collective,” said Manson. “It’s a collective of our customers, our employees and our suppliers. [Tonight] we’ll have people who helped us to do the electrical work and the plumbing. Another fellow brewer from The Vierling is hoping to show up.

“It’s with all of us that we’re able to make it through the year, whether it’s being able to borrow chemical, or the patrons who are buying the products off of the shelves or in the taproom,” he said. “Really this isn’t so much about our anniversary as it is about the collective.”

The party was an opportunity for the entire collective involved to celebrate each other’s success, as well as for the brewery to thank those who have supported them.

“It’s also to show gratitude that we made it through another year,” added Langlois. “There are so many things that could go wrong throughout the year and knock any business off course, but we made it another year — why not party?”

For the year to come, the Blackrocks crew intends to keep doing what it’s doing and take one step at a time.

“Running a business is so complex that sometimes it’s really good to just focus on the core things, and that’s the quality product, the fun you have with the people you work with, working hard and appreciating the results you end up with,” said Langlois. “If we can find a rhythm and keep that going throughout the next year, I think we’re doing pretty good.”

MARQUETTE — Beer news has been abuzzing throughout the Upper Peninsula lately; from the Upper Hand Brewing announcement to Blackrocks’ notable expansion and canning project.

Everything came together Saturday, for the fifth annual Michigan Brewers Guild U.P. Fall Beer Festival, held at Riverside Park.

And despite some colder-than-expected temperatures and a slight mist in the air, 3,500 festival-goers were treated to beers from across the state.

Several breweries brought everything from staple, well-recognized beers to the exploratory kiwi, ice cream, pumpkin and coconut brews.

One of the brews I had been wanting to try for a while was out of Petoskey Brewing. While its Brain Freeze (6.9% ABV) was available at the Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti, it sold out within a matter of minutes, and I wasn’t able to try any. Petoskey was one of my first stops during the enthusiast hour on Saturday, and sure enough, the brew was sold out when I went back a few hours later. The brew was sweet and tart raspberry, with somewhat of a cream aspect. Believe it or not, this hit the mark and reminded me just of a waffle cone and raspberry ice cream.

Switching it up, Dark Horse brought a stout that was right out of the candy aisle. I’ll Have More Stout (8.6% ABV)— themed after a 100 Grand candy bar — was sweet, bold and rich. Lots of chocolate, vanilla and some toffee flavors help to offset the alcohol feel of this brew. This is certainly a worthy option for adults looking for a bit of a twist on the famous candy dessert.

For those looking for somewhat of a less intense stout offering, Hereford & Hops out of Escanaba brought its Schwartzbier (4.9% ABV) — a stout brewed as a lager. The light body made this enjoyable, yet still contained the flavor profile that many come to expect with a stout — chocolate, malt and caramel with a hint of bitterness.

Southern Michigan heavyweight Greenbush Brewery made the long trek north, bringing some of its best and brightest, including Memento Mori (6.3% ABV). This Oktoberfest ale contains some citrus, spice, roasted malt and a slight bitterness — making for a very easy-drinking fall brew.

But one of my favorites of the day was an old favorite, given a rebirthing process at Griffin Claw Brewing Company out of Birmingham. Screamin’ Pumpkin (5% ABV), the popular pumpkin-flavored beer originally brewed at the now-defunct Michigan Brewing Company, was given a second life when the original brewer, Dan Rogers, decided to revitalize it at Griffin Claw. The result? A brew that couldn’t have represented the original any better — and on tap, the flavors were even more present. While this won’t be available in your local grocery or beer stores (yet), it’s definitely one to make the trip for this fall.

Other beers that impressed included White Flame’s Cookie Monster, Short’s Kiwi Destroy Mission, Soo Brewing’s Barbaric Saftig Reserve and Blackrocks’ Coconut Brown.

The next Michigan Brewers Guild festival takes place Oct. 25 and 26, at Eastern Market in Detroit. Saturday is sold out, but tickets are still available for Friday at mibeer.com.

MARQUETTE — For the fourth straight year, the U.P. Fall Beer Festival thrilled craft beer enthusiasts with unique, one-of-a-kind beer from breweries all around Michigan.

Some of the best brews came from not only the staples of Michigan — like Short’s and Kuhnhenn — but also from newcomers to the festival.

Short’s’ newest bottle release, Peaches & Crème (9.5% ABV), was one of the brewery’s highlights at the festival. Its bright orange appearance led way to a peach-dominant aroma. The taste was sweet and overpowered with peaches and a minor bit of creme; needless to say the taste matched the beer’s name perfectly. It was definitely one of the standouts I had, and one I’m definitely going to hunt down in bottles.

Kuhnhenn’s Imperial Creme Brûlée Java Stout (8% ABV) was a great start to the festival, containing caramel, maple and (of course) creme brûlée. It wasn’t as sweet as I had expected, as coffee was more dominant than the sweet dessert.

Ore Dock Brewing Company, located just minutes away from the festival, brought a Zinfandel Barrel Aged Cocoa Blackberry Stout (7+% ABV) that also intrigued me. The cocoa was the story of this brew, with the blackberry shining through at the finish. For it being the brewery’s first time at a festival, it certainly impressed with this brew.

But my favorite brew of the day came from a brewery that was completely new to me — Blackrocks Brewery out of Marquette. Its Coconut Brown beer was a unique take on a brown, containing vanilla, coconut and a hint of coffee. The 7% brew wasn’t overpowered by coconut — rather it was more of a subtle, easy going addition to a solid brown ale. Needless to say it was quite impressive, and had me craving more.

While the U.P. Beer Festival isn’t as large as other Michigan Brewers Guild festivals, it certainly holds its own in a relaxing environment. With short lines, you could easily get your hands on some specialty brews that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Sitting on the edge of the Marquette harbor, the fourth annual U.P. Fall Beer Festival couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful setting.

With the water glistening in the warm fall-like sun, the laid back festival was underway.

With 210 beers from 37 breweries, great people and the ever-present Upper Penisula culture, Scott Newman-Bale, Short’s Brewing Company CFO and vice president, said on the way in, “This festival is enjoyable, it’s much more laid back than the other festivals.”

It’s hard to imagine a beer festival having a huge variety of laid-backness, but this one was sedated. The brewers and volunteers were eager to hold conversations and keep the beer flowing. The lines weren’t long, and everyone in them was friendly and not upset if they were accidentally pushed a spot further back.

It was the first festival for Ore Dock Brewing Company, which opened in the spring, and excited for the easy commute to the festival. The brewery is located just a short walk from Mattson Lower Harbor Park, where the festival was held.

Ore Dock head brewer Nick VanCourt handed me a special Serano Saison and talked at length about the company’s journey and decision to open in the Upper Penisula.

“It’s awesome, we need it,” VanCourt said. “For us, we’re just two blocks away, (it) took 10 minutes to load, get here and unload.”

After the nice conversation with VanCourt, the party headed to another tent, this time for Copper Canyon Brewery. There, Todd Parker quickly poured a few samples, from the Miri Maibock to Buffalo Jump Stout to their best-seller the Devil’s Peak IPA.

While sipping the brews, Parker explained the long drive from Southfield, Mich., is worth the trip for the festive and different atmosphere at the U.P. festival.

Walking away, Parker started a nice back and forth with the Dragonmead Brewery next door.

Later in the afternoon, Keweenaw Brewing Co., helped make light of what’s so special about the Upper Peninsula and its brewing culture.

“The brewing culture is already laid back, but life up here is a tad slower and it translates, and you’re working with beer,” KBC employee Matt Williams said. “The water up here is Superior, too.”

The Upper Peninsula’s first-ever Craft Beer Week will be held September 3-8, culminating in the Michigan Brewers Guild’s U.P. Fall Beer Festival in Marquette’s Lower Harbor.

U.P. Craft Beer Week is organized by A Pint Above, LLC.  A Pint Above was founded by Jamie Strand of White’s Party Store in Marquette and Josh Marenger of Bay de Noc Brewers, the Upper Peninsula’s largest homebrew club.  “We looked at some of the great craft beer weeks happening downstate and around the country, and thought that we could easily do something like that in the U.P.  There is a lot of great craft beer to be had up here, including four new breweries that have opened within the last two years,” said Marenger.

Since the event venues are not being charged to host events or for promotion, donations are being accepted via its website to help cover costs.  “While researching some other craft beer weeks around the country, we found some of them were charging up to a couple hundred dollars for each venue to participate in the event.  Because this is a new event for all of us, and we didn’t want to exclude venues that fit the bill, we decided not to go that route,” said Strand.

Events are being held in almost every area of the Upper Peninsula, from Sault Ste Marie all the way up to Copper Harbor.  A calendar of events and other details are available at www.upcraftbeerweek.com