Making the Leap

Jutting into Lake Superior from Marquette’s northern tip, Presque Isle paved the path for new craft brewers in town. // Photography by Wendy Hill Manson
Blackrocks sign

On the tiny Presque Isle peninsula at the edge of Marquette is a spot called Blackrocks. One of the oldest rock formations in North America, it’s a magnet for thrill-seekers who love taking 10-plus foot leaps into Lake Superior.

Coworkers in pharmaceutical sales, Andy Langlois, 41, and David Manson, 42, loved spending time at Blackrocks. They also loved experimenting with home brewing and dreamed about starting their own business. Losing their jobs during the recession was the push the partners needed to dive headlong into their first love: making craft beers.

In December 2010, they opened Blackrocks Brewery in a house at the corner of Third and Michigan in Marquette.

Blackrocks porch

“We got into doing it because it’s fun,” Langlois said. “It’s been important to embrace that. When you’re looking forward to doing it, you’re doing your best work.”

Recently the partners bought a former Coca-Cola bottling plant to mass produce a few varieties for statewide distribution. Manson shared some insights.

What did you envision when you opened?

Out of the gate we thought that we would be open noon to midnight to try and move the beer. The first day, the place was packed from noon to 10 p.m. — we had one barrel and four taps and ran out. We kept on running out of beer, so our motto became, “We’re open till we’re empty.” Some days we were closed. But we kept adding fermenters and continued to brew.

Blackrocks tap
Locals and visitors alike savor unique Blackrocks brews, from Chipolte Stout and Amazon Blonde to 80 Shilling and Irate Wood Chute Pale Ale.

What kind of beer are you making?

Since we’ve opened, we have done well over 280 different styles. We modify, and try unique recipes. There’s always this Holy Grail effect — we’re constantly playing that game of experimentation, which is fun for us and really fun for the clientele.

Have you tried any ingredients that didn’t work?

We had an idea for sage that we got from a buddy of ours in Wyoming. That was one of the two barrels we ever had where you know, “This is going to go down the drain.” The other one was cilantro and something else, I don’t even remember what. I kind of block it out because it was so horrific.

Blackrocks locals

What do you like about your location?

The pub is in an old house just three blocks from the water. Our patio seats 125. It’s a great place to enjoy the sun and we use heat lamps when it’s cold. On Thursday nights, we do an open jam and on Sunday nights we have a house band — it’s almost a controlled festival atmosphere out there, people ordering beers, enjoying some local food and music. (Blackrocks doesn’t offer a menu but patrons can order in.)

Who are your customers?

We get more of the savvy college crowd, but being so close to the water, we also see a lot of people coming in through sailing or a Lake Superior tour. That lake is such a draw.

Blackrocks staff
Co-founders Andy Langlois and David Manson agreed upon a nano brewery (less than two brewer’s barrels). They had no idea the amount of interest the local community had for craft beers.

What’s new?

We just bought a tun from Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids). Instead of going out and getting something brand new, we’re recycling a well-made, perfectly functioning piece of equipment that one of our brethren built their whole business on.

What have you learned?

To trust our instincts. We really wanted to have an environment that is open to anybody who wanted to learn about the process, and obviously taste it right afterwards. Our customers push to help us grow…and we are enjoying the journey.

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Freelance writer Kathy Buzzelli is lives in Traverse City.

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