How many cities have a hometown brewery for every 7,000 inhabitants? Not many, that’s for sure. Marquette is one of the lucky ones: With three microbreweries and just over 20,000 souls, the city doesn’t have to worry about going thirsty. And thanks to superior brewing techniques and enthusiastic local demand, it’s now possible to find beer from Blackrocks Brewery and Ore Dock Brewing Company well beyond Marquette’s borders.
The Ore Dock, as it’s known, is the largest of Marquette’s three breweries. It occupies a prime location on Spring Street in downtown Marquette, just steps from the older (but still wildly popular) Vierling Restaurant & Marquette Harbor Brewery and the namesake structure for which it’s named. (If you don’t know what an ore dock looks like, refer to ODBC’s logo below.)
The Ore Dock has only been around for a few years, but it has already left a mark on Marquette’s entertainment scene. Here’s why.
The Ore Dock occupies an entire building in the middle of downtown Marquette. Prior to the brewery’s opening, the space was an auto repair shop and loft complex. It retains an airy, open feel and an industrial aesthetic that’s hard to match elsewhere in town. On the bottom floor, a high-ceilinged taproom offers views across one of downtown Marquette’s signature squares as well as an up-close-and-personal look at the Ore Dock’s brewing operation. There’s nothing like knocking back a drink or two within spitting distance of the vats that hold the next batches of beer.
Also of note downstairs: an industrial-sized popcorn machine that pumps out a steady stream of (free) kernels. Several benches, a couple of high-tops, a luxurious couch area and a vintage bar provide ample seating for 30 or 40 people. A half-dozen TVs broadcast local and national sporting events, and a handful of board and card games round out the vibe.
Upstairs, the Ore Dock boasts several more couches, a wraparound (twice!) bar, a wall of nothing but booths and an extensive game/concert area. Vintage furniture and blown-up wall photos give the second floor a timeless feel that harkens back to its auto-shop days. This space isn’t open every night, but it has plenty to offer when it is.
Whereas the brewers at Blackrocks are constantly experimenting with new varieties of malts, hops and flavors, the Ore Dock crew has a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Its “house yeast” is a distinctive Belgian-style base that imparts a floral, savory, slightly sour (in a good way) note to most Ore Dock beers. It’s fair to say that Belgian ales are a mainstay here, but IPAs, wheats, porters and seasonal creations are almost always available. In fact, the Ore Dock Porter–its official name–just took home a silver medal at the World Beer Championships. If you prefer lighter brews, try the Beach Bum Wheat or Ski Bum Wheat, its winter counterpart. If you’re a fan of heavier things, try the Porter, Saison or Reclamation IPA.
On weekend nights–which, in Marquette, means Thursday, Friday and Saturday–the Ore Dock kicks it up a notch, throwing open the upstairs doors and welcoming local and regional musicians, comedians and artists for exhibitions and performances. Things can get pretty lively here, so be sure to bring your dancing shoes. If you’d prefer to bask in other patrons’ enthusiasm without partaking in the festivities, the spacious couch seating area lies more than 100 feet from the stage, out of direct sight. You can lounge there for as long as you like, and you’ll always be within shouting distance of the bar.
Oh, and we can’t talk about weekends at the Ore Dock without mentioning Dia de los Tacos, Marquette’s only hometown taco truck. The truck’s owners appear at local businesses for lunch on weekdays and then post up at the Ore Dock after 9 P.M. on Friday and Saturday nights, regardless of scheduled entertainment. On warm nights, you can find the truck parked outside the brewery’s Spring Street entrance; in the dead of winter, they tend to bring their equipment inside and hang out in a nook on the second floor.
Like Blackrocks, the Ore Dock has quickly made a name for itself in Marquette County and beyond. Popular Marquette watering holes like Stucko’s and Portside Inn now carry its beers on tap, and it’s possible to find select brews at establishments in Gwinn, Ishpeming and Skandia. No word yet on whether the brewery will follow in Blackrocks’ footsteps and start canning or bottling, but early signs are encouraging. For now, you’ll have to visit its Spring Street taproom for the full “Ore Dock experience.”
Brian Martucci is a Marquette-based writer with a passion for food, beer, and the great outdoors. Maybe not in that order.