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Blackeye’s Canning Facility Sure to Create a Buzz

Blackeye Founder Matt McGinn has opened cafes to serve as billboards for his caffeinated business.

Locavores with a serious caffeine habit now have more options from Blackeye Roasting Co. 

The cold brewer is expanding into new retail locations with new flavors, supported by a new and massive, 28,000-square-foot canning facility in St. Paul.

Founder Matt McGinn said he’s watching closely what mega brands like Starbucks do to educate around cold brew, but he’s taking a slightly different approach. Instead of the Saturday afternoon sippers, he’s going after the energy drink crowd. He said when he goes into one of his retail outlets such as Holiday, Hy-Vee or Lunds & Byerlys, he wants to be next to Monster and Red Bull.

“We want to get placed as close to energy drinks as we can,” said McGinn. 

At twice the caffeine of a Red Bull, he said energy drink consumers can get the surge of sweet, sweet caffeine, but with a lot less sugar—half what is found in a typical energy drink. 

Beyond gas stations, grocery stores and a little Amazon business, his Nitro Cold Brew, White Chocolate Cold Brew and Nitro Cocoa are on tap in two Blackeye coffee shops. 

“We opened the cafes as a billboard,” said McGinn of the two retail outlets—one in the Minneapolis skyway and the other in South Minneapolis. 

He said the shops are a great place for people to try the beverages, take them to go and keep the brand top of mind via social media. He said it’s just easier to maintain social media interest in a coffee shop compared to a big production facility. 

But that’s not saying the facility isn’t a little slice of cold brew nirvana. In one corner sits massive containers of roasted coffee beans. In another sits a tower of naked cans and the other half is a complex array of tanks, conveyor belts, boilers and piping. The smell alone is enough to get a buzz going. 

McGinn said he borrowed parts of the production line from the beer industry, part from the wine industry and parts from the cider industry. He said doing large-scale cold brew is not widely understood, so getting everything right took a lot of trial and error to get things running smoothly and the product tasting good. He said they had to dump out a heartbreaking 30,000 gallons of cold brew before it met his standards. 

Now that it’s all up and running, McGinn said they hope to be the source of coffee flavoring, shelf-stable cold brew and production for food and beverage makers. He’s already selling coffee to Bad Larry’s, a local brand making boozy cold-press coffee and where McGinn is also a flavor consultant. 

And for startups, he said his beverage, “Willy Wonka factory,” can help in the days before a company can afford production. All it takes is swapping out a tank of cold brew for whatever startup beverage comes in. 

“If you want to pitch a bunch of investors, we can produce the actual product,” said McGinn. 

He sees a big opportunity selling coffee flavoring and white-label cold brew. He’s already helped local beverage startup RSV Tea with canning and packaging. 

The key to all that is a pricey piece of equipment called a retort, or tunnel pasteurizer, that super heats the canned beverage to sterilize it without affecting the flavor. That’s the most important thing to producing shelf-stable cold brew and why investors (many from the distribution side of the beverage world) were keen on investing. And it’s a core differentiator for the business that will keep it competitive in the long run. 

“For you to stand out in the cold-brew business, you need money,” said McGinn. 

He said the facility would be able to produce seven pallets of cold brew or 3,000 gallons of the black gold every day when it’s at full capacity. 

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