That next step involved Brian and Jon moving to Stillwater, Minnesota, to consult with Joseph Wolf Brewing Company as they sought to get started. It was a busy time for Brian: not only did he move, but in 2012 he married his girlfriend, Shauna, and the couple had a baby, Oliver. Then, in 2013, the new family, plus Jon and his wife, returned to Duluth, to start Blacklist.
In order to get the space and equipment they needed to fully launch Blacklist, Brian and Jon did as many start-ups do and launched a Kickstarter campaign. They also began contract brewing with Dubrue Brewing Company, the owners of which Brian knew from his Fitger’s days.
Shortly after establishing their new venture, something happened that forced Blacklist to go big, fast. In February 2014, a fire that began at the auto mechanic shop next door overtook Dubrue and Blacklist’s property. The fire trashed everything; only the stainless steel equipment could be salvaged. “It was nasty, oily smoke,” Brian recalls. “It coated everything from the ceiling to the floor.”
Fortunately, Blacklist had good insurance, so Brian and Jon were able to bounce back. Dubrue wasn’t as fortunate, and ultimately decided to shut down. “Our hand was forced to take over the whole building even though we weren’t quite prepared,” Brian says. But they powered on. They borrowed money from family and friends to make necessary repairs, and, finally, had a space to call their own.
Two years later, Blacklist is expanding yet again. TJ Estabrook joined the team as a third member in 2015. And earlier this year, the trio announced they were moving into the former Last Place on Earth space, on Superior Street in downtown Duluth. Not only will the move expand their brewing capacity—from a two-and-a-half barrel system to a 20-barrel system—but it will also allow Brian to concentrate more on the nuances of his beers, and branch out from the high-alcohol beers for which Blacklist is currently known.
“We like to say we’re special occasion beer—something you get excited for, want to cellar, or bring to a party,” Brian says. “We like that and are going to keep that. But at the same time, I love finding a good pilsner or traditional hefeweizen to drink. I get just as excited about a pure witbier as I do about a strong beer.
“When I was in Germany, I put a lot of energy into hefe,” he continues. “I feel that it’s still underrepresented in the market—good, fresh hefe. I’m excited to have that challenge: to make strong, crazy beers, as well as really clean, traditional beers. Tapping will allow us to do that, as will our cans.”
Further in the future, Brian plans to bring to life his true love: sour beers. “In a picture perfect world, I’d love to have a warehouse wrapped in barrels,” he says, excitedly. “That’s what I love to do: blending, sour reds, lambics. It’s my biggest passion.”
It takes years to make the types of sours Brian is passionate about, but that’s okay, he says. It’s a challenge, and he loves challenges. But for now, Brian is concentrating on transforming Blacklist’s new space and getting to know his new equipment. There are hurdles to overcome, and unexpected delays to navigate, but that’s nothing new. He’s been there before, and, along with Jon and TJ, is ready to tackle them, together.
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