Blacklist Brewing cuts ribbon on new location
The popular downtown Duluth brewery can now produce, and serve, twice as much beer. Oh, and there's also more room for ax throwing.
DULUTH — Blacklist Brewing Co. celebrated the opening of its new downtown production facility and taproom Wednesday.
Representatives from Downtown Duluth's Greater Downtown Council and the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce were on hand for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting to officially mark the space, at 206 E. Superior St., open for business.
The popular brewery didn't move far: just one block east from its former location at 120 E. Superior St. "We are committed to this HART District," said Blacklist co-owner Mark Cool, referencing the acronym for Duluth's Historic Arts and Theater District. "We really like it, and so we wanted first and foremost to stay down here."
"To keep them downtown even as they expand is significant," said Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Baumgartner. "Coming out of the construction that we had on Superior Street and the pandemic that pulled a lot of people out of the downtown ... it's not lost on me, the financial investment and risk that you have to take on doing something like that."
The ribbon-cutting was a low-key affair, in keeping with the way Blacklist has eased into its new space. After serving its last beer at its former space on May 15, Blacklist opened the doors of the new taproom just a few days later. "We really haven't advertised or done anything special," said Cool. "We haven't had a grand opening yet."
Cool and his business partner, Tyler Kocon, owned the brewery's former space.
"We got to know the (Blacklist) owners ... and one thing led to another, and we got involved," Cool said. "It was just a little bit of dumb luck."
Cool said that he and Kocon have sold part of that building to the bakery Duluth's Best Bread, which is opening a second location in the former Blacklist space.
The move to a larger space was initially prompted by pandemic capacity restrictions, said Cool: "We could only operate on 50% capacity during COVID, so it became very clear that it was hard to do very well with 25 seats."
The airy new location includes patio seating and an event space — plus more room for ax throwing, an activity that quickly became a major draw for the brewery after being introduced in 2019.
Blacklist has Duluth's only ax-throwing lanes, said Ray Mindestrom, who manages that aspect of the brewery's business.
"It definitely brings in a different clientele," he said.
"You're bringing in some of the nontraditional brewery customers as well, and then they're getting a chance to try some of our beers that are more relatable to some of the wider brands," Mindestrom continued. "They're realizing that the craft beer scene isn't so scary."
Brian Schanzenbach, head brewer and a co-owner at Blacklist, said the new facility approximately doubles the brewery's production capacity.
"We're pushing for between three and four (thousand barrels) this first year," he said.
The beer is actually brewed underneath the taproom, on the building's lower level. While that means customers won't see the giant tanks that are visual hallmarks of many craft beer taprooms, the design was created with functionality in mind.
"We've talked about Plexiglas floors so that you can see down into (the production space)," said Schanzenbach, looking upward as he stood beside the towering fermentation tanks. "That could still be a thing in the future."
For now, the proof is in the beer that emerges from the taps. Mindestrom, assistant taproom manager, said the brewery's move expanded the number of available taplines from 10 to 20.
Blacklist also plans to install a stage for live music. "We didn't want to do anything drastically different," Cool said. "We still want to have the same vibe."
Launched in 2012 with a specialty in Belgian-inspired brews, Blacklist has since branched out.
"We still have some stronger beers, our Belgian beers," said Schanzenbach, but "the fun of this market right now is, you're constantly creating different ideas. I look at it like a restaurant industry: You don't want the same menu every day."
Cool added that the brewery has made a "phenomenal" entry into the hard seltzer market. "Seltzer has been great" in terms of sales, he said.
After Schanzenbach and Mindestrom cut the ceremonial ribbon, with the brewer's 9-year-old son, Oliver, looking on, Downtown Duluth's Greater Downtown Council president Kristi Stokes alluded to the space's history: built as a car showroom in 1915, the space was later home to a series of bookstores, with Carlson Book (1987-2003) being the first and longest-lasting.
"I think about this location many years ago," Stokes said to the several Blacklist staffers on hand for the event. "The books were filled almost to the ceiling. So you think about all the chapters that were in those books, and now you are writing a new chapter."