Matt McGinn wants to give you a Blackeye

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McGinn’s “White Lightning” and Blackeye’s cold press in bottles// Brian Kaufenberg

When it comes to business, McGinn is a bulldog. He’s constantly looking for an edge over his competitors in the form of new ideas or markets not being tapped. For instance, while Blackeye’s coffee is available in bottles and on tap at a number of coops alongside many other brands of cold press, McGinn’s real focus is to get his coffee on tap at local breweries, beer bars, and gastropubs, where it can be served either on its own as a non-alcoholic option or mixed with beer.

McGinn and Nelson chose Capitol Beverage, which services a wide array of craft beer bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, as its distributor over a distributor specializing in coops. So far, the strategy has paid off. Currently, Insight Brewing, The Freehouse, and Lucid Brewing have Blackeye on tap at their breweries. The Happy Gnome, Red Cow, and Republic are just a few of the pubs pouring Blackeye.

McGinn finds it funny and ironic that he’s pitching his draft cold brew to bars and breweries when he considers the reason he moved to the Twin Cities from the East Coast in the first place. “I’m from Boston and I got sober out in Minnesota, and I’ve been sober for four years,” McGinn says. During that time, he worked at a number of different coffee shops where he learned how to run retail operations and where he had the chance to experiment with the cold brewing process.

Asked whether he was concerned about aligning his business so closely with the craft beer industry, he shakes his head. “No, I’m not worried about that at all. I work a good program and I know that I can’t try it, and I’m not willing to try it because I’ve been through hell and back.” The knowledge of where he’s been and what he stands to lose allows McGinn to keep 100 percent of his focus on selling coffee and building the company. “When other people are having fun drinking, I’m out selling cold brew and thinking of new ideas,” he says. “I have fun doing this.”

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A coffee-themed tattoo on McGinn’s leg shows his commitment to the beverage. It reads, “Coffee! You can sleep when you’re dead.” // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

The early success of Blackeye pushed the small-scale brewing operation in the basement of Quixotic to the limits, but thanks to an investment from Lucid Brewing, the company was able to expand to a large-scale operation at the Minnetonka brewery. “We’ve been brewing on 110 gallon wine vats and we’re switching to 1,500 gallons,” McGinn said back in May, just weeks before moving to the Lucid facility. “They’re getting [the vats] custom fabricated for us right now.”

Where it used to take three weeks at Quixotic to fill a three-pallet order, Blackeye can fill that order in a fraction of the time at Lucid. After the equipment was installed, McGinn worked with Lucid founders Jon Messier and Eric Biermann to teach them the ins and outs of cold brewing coffee. The Lucid partnership made the brewery’s staff available to help with packaging Blackeye’s products and allowed Blackeye to hire a full-time brewmaster, Thane Ewald, who is in charge of brewing operations and product testing.

The additional staff will allow McGinn to concentrate his time on what he does best—driving the Blackeye brand forward in new directions. After revealing his plan to roll out cans of nitro cold brew (debuting in one month) and a boxed cold brew inspired by boxed wine (debuting in around four months), McGinn rolls up his pant leg. On his leg is tattooed a ’50s era woman holding a cup of coffee. But it’s the text surrounding the woman rather than the image that serves as a fitting battle cry for the 27-year-old: “Coffee! You can sleep when you’re dead.”

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Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.

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