Duluth’s reputation as a superior beer destination was further solidified this November with the opening of Blacklist Artisan Ales’ new 20-barrel brewery and taproom on East Superior Street.
Since its founding in 2012, Blacklist has operated out of a small warehouse without a taproom on Second Street. In January of 2016, the brewery announced it had found a new location in the heart of Duluth’s up-and-coming arts and dining scene on Superior Street.
The three-story, 108-year-old brownstone building located at 120 East Superior Street (formerly the home of notorious head shop Last Place on Earth) was the perfect fit for Blacklist, which was searching for a space that would allow them to expand brewing operations and open a taproom. The company’s Black Friday taproom opening, aptly named “Blacklist Friday,” attracted well-over 400 people and will become an annual event.
“It was almost too much to appreciate, because we’ve been working days and nights seemingly forever,” co-founder and head brewer Brian Schanzenbach said. Despite a successful opening, he and fellow co-owners Jon Loss and TJ Estabrook can’t relax just yet. “I’m not to the point where I can step back and enjoy it,” Schanzenbach says, “because for me, I feel like it’s just starting to get busy here.”
Blacklist Friday was the culmination of a six-month renovation on the space, which was left in great disrepair from the previous tenant. The building used to live up to the “Last Place on Earth” name, bearing closer resemblance to a post-apocalyptic general store than a main street storefront.
“It literally had a waterfall running from the middle of the roof through all four floors due to drainage problems,” noted Loss.
The entire space was gutted and redone from floor-to-ceiling, while the basement was cleaned out and outfitted for the brewery. In the 5,700-square-foot taproom, hanging ceilings were removed to add space, while a garage door was installed along the sidewalk to be opened when the weather allows for it.
As an added bonus, the bottom floor opens up to Michigan Street, which allows for easy access to the brewing—and soon to also be canning—operation. With the new building, Blacklist was able to expand their operation from a two-and-a-half-barrel system to a 20-barrel system.
“My funny little statistic is that I brewed eight days in a row downstairs, and that was the roughly the same amount of beer that I made the entire year on the old system in 2015,” Schanzenbach said.
Blacklist recently signed a distribution agreement with Clear River Beverage Company, to help bring their beer to 17 different counties in the state. As a result, the brewery is set to begin canning its own beer in the coming weeks.
There will be inevitable growing pains as Blacklist, which grew from a team of four to 14 people upon opening, acclimates to the new equipment and operating a taproom. But while their business has changed dramatically with the move to Superior Street, their beer has not. Blacklist brews various styles of Belgians, but instead of following a strict dogma, creativity reigns. Of the five different beers currently on tap, the best-seller so far has been the BIPA, a Belgian-IPA that merges the best of both styles without sacrifice.
“Our goal is to make well-rounded, experienced beers,” Estabrook said.
The taproom doesn’t have a kitchen, but the building is surrounded by restaurants. Guests are invited to bring their own food or order some from nearby. Eventually, they hope to partner with local restaurants to help feed taproom patrons.
Now with their doors open to the public, the owners hope that they can harness their increased visibility to help their new neighborhood emerge from the shadow of Canal Park.
It’s a lofty goal, but with the under-restoration Norshore Theatre set to add to this revitalized portion of downtown Duluth in late 2017, an area of Superior Street that already features the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe and several restaurants, the brewery seems to have moved in at just the right time.
“Overall, the goal is to get this strip of downtown as busy, if not busier than Canal Park,” Loss said. “We want to get that amount of traffic and energy and notoriety.”