Bike magazine spent two weeks in Marquette, Michigan, this month for the 2018 Bible of Bike Tests. During those two weeks of testing bikes, we also explored the community, learning about the local characters and businesses that make up the mountain bike scene. Here we feature Blackrocks Brewery, whose warehouse we relied on to stage and store test bikes, and whose employees kept us steadily stocked with beer and were a reliable source for friendly faces and good jokes.
During the economic downturn of 2010, David Manson and Andy Langlois were both pharmaceutical representatives and spent most of their time on the road. With all that time to talk and with both being ready for a change of pace, ideas started to get thrown around. “He’s a great musician and I’m not,” says Manson of Langlois. “So we weren’t going to create a mega rock band, so I mentioned the brewing thing and he said, ‘I like beer!'”
From humble beginnings, the two owners—Manson as the Ambassador of Fermentology and Langlois as the Brewsician—took their home brewing seriously. They bought a house in downtown Marquette and installed a one-barrel brewing operation, turning it into a pub. Almost immediately their beer took off, garnering respect among locals and throughout Michigan's Upper Peninsula. With demand forcing a growth in supply, the brewery continued to upscale, hiring staff and adding production. Seven years later, Blackrocks Brewery still owns the house on the corner, only now it has a four-barrel system, and it also runs a 20-barrel production system on the other side of town from where they distribute to all of Michigan and a good chunk of Wisconsin.
Owning their own business has also allowed Langlois and Manson to invest in the local community. For them, that means the local trails. They are the lead sponsor for the Noquemanon singletrack and a portion of the proceeds from the 51K IPA also goes back to the trails. Throughout the year, the brewery donates in the neighborhood of $8,000 to help build, maintain and advocate for singletrack trails in Marquette. On top of that, they host the Forestville Beer and Music Festival, featuring multiple breweries and bands, with all proceeds going toward the trails, typically adding another $2,000. The Forestville is the biggest party Blackrocks throws for the trails, but they also host parties at their cannery all year to raise money for summer trail maintenance and trail grooming in the winter.
The brewery's relationship with mountain biking works both ways, with the growing mountain bike scene bringing in more business to the pub. "It was five or six years ago you'd see a couple vans show up and a bunch of unfamiliar faces pile out of them with bikes," says Langlois. "And then it just grew every year."
"It's not uncommon that you'll see four or five vehicles in the parking lot with three to four bikes," Manson adds. Four to five vehicles is an average estimate for mid-day on a weekday, but on the weekend that number is regularly doubled or tripled, and once those cars leave the trailhead parking lot, a lot of them end up in the Blackrocks Brewery parking lot. They come for the beer and they come for the local knowledge, but Blackrocks offers more than that.
The brewery is clearly a tight-knit community, evident from their playful letterheads and the employees who stop in to say hi and crack jokes. There is no need to be an insider to feel like an insider either. “I heard that one of the ideas for [the brewery] was to have a cool, fun, chill vibe at this pub where people could go after long rides, hang out and grab a beer,” says Steve Farr, the brewery’s Pirate of Propaganda. “So I started hanging around and eventually David said, ‘You want to work here since you're here all the time?’" Adding mountain bikers to the staff has since become a regular occurrence, with the brewery earning a reputation for hiring bike mechanics from the local shops.
“If you are coming off the trail or coming into town I can’t think of a better place to stop and start asking questions because everybody knows the trails,” says Manson.
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