05.24.2018 | The Block Distilling Co

Distilleries

Spring Gin

If you’ve ever been to the RiNo Art District of Denver then what you probably saw are the bones and structures of Denver past, but within those bones you will find the passion and visions of Denver future. Restaurants, art galleries, stores, bars, breweries, cideries, wineries, and most importantly…. a distillery. The RiNo Art District is art itself with passionate individuals showcasing their trades in all mediums. What was it always missing though? A distillery, of course!

The void was filled over two years ago when Michelle Flake, Kraig Weaver, and Kameron Weaver took over the old Block building to chase their dream of distilling. The Weaver brothers are both graduates from the Colorado School of Mines where they both received engineering degrees. During my visit to the Block, Kraig explained how home brewing was a popular past-time among their peers during their college years, but their vision was always in the cocktail and distilling scene. After graduating they both went off into their respective careers until the distiller’s life came hollering at the two of them and they decided to take the plunge. The Block Distilling Co released their first distillates for sale, vodka and gin, this past November of 2017 and opened their tasting room to the public in December of 2017 and they show no sign of slowing down!

Recently Kraig invited me to come check out the distillery and talk distillate to learn more about how the Block is combining science and creativity to produce some seriously incredible products.

Being in downtown Denver space is of course limited, so when you first enter the tasting room you will witness their first feat of engineering aptitude and ask yourself, “how the hell is there a distillery in this building?” The tasting room is a high ceiling large industrial room with a black accented bar in the corner against the white walls of the building. The room is filled with communal bars and beautiful furniture. Fun fact, the furniture is all made by Kraig who is an extremely talented fabricator. With outdoor seating and an inside-outside open concept this is a bar that I highly recommend hitting up for some gin and tonics this summer, a place I could easily kill an entire afternoon hanging out at.

“Eleanor”

Behind a large glass wall the entire distillery is in plane sight for all to see, we wasted no time and went straight into the action. Once in the distillery portion of the Block Kraig introduced us to their gleaming copper hybrid still, “Eleanor.” Kraig explained to us the different processes used to make their different distillates from vodka, to gin, to good ol american whiskey! One interesting note from his rundown was how they make their vodka so damn tasty. The traditional process of making vodka is that once the neutral grain spirit is made it is then filtered through charcoal, which is going to strain out all the goods that provide flavor and leave you with the creamy flavorless distillate we all associate vodka with. However, at the Block they are doing no such filtration, because they want you to taste the high-quality grains they are putting into every vodka they make, so what you’re left with is a full-bodied grain forward vodka that is damn good, and that is coming from me, who does not really like vodka. Kraig then took us through their fermentation process showing us both the open and closed fermentation tanks that each serve different purposes for different distillates. The quick and dirty, is that your open fermentation tanks are going to be used for your whiskies, because you want all the stuff floating around in the air to interact with your yeast and impart various flavors into your whiskey! One thing you wont notice is a grain mill inside the distillery, but its there, the Block just craft-fully and thoughtfully hid the beast from view, at the Block all their grain is milled in house and comes from small local farms and malters. The use of space really is incredible and clearly thought up by two engineers.

As is the best part of any tour we then checked out the barrel room. It may be a small room for now (they have plans for expansion), but what is inside is what matters! The Block team isn’t following the status quo with their barrel program either. Rather than using the standard new american oak casks that the majority of the industry is using they instead are barreling with American white oak casks from Canton Cooperage from Kentucky. There are two primary differences in the barrels being used. Firstly, the barrels have been air seasoned for 36 months rather than the typical 12 months, which imparts a higher amount of complexity due to the increase of natural tannins in the wood. Secondly, the heads on the casks are toasted rather than charred, which allows for much more of the natural wood flavors to come through in the whiskey.

I’m sure y’all are wondering what all they have aging in the small back room of the distillery, so here we go:

  • 4-grain whiskey made using wheat, oat, rye, and barley that will be aged a minimum of two years
  • Bourbon whiskey made using yellow corn, blue corn, red corn, millet, and barley that will be aged a minimum of two years
  • Winter gin which is their barrel aged Autumn gin that will have been in barrel for about a year

You’re going to have to wait some time for the whiskies and Winter gin to be ready, but what I can tell you is that the wait is absolutely going to be worth it. During a subsequent visit with Jabin, founder of Licensed to Distill, Kraig uncorked a cask of the 4-grain whiskey and Winter gin for us to sample. The 4-grain has only been on wood for a handful of months, but already the flavor development and complexity of the whiskey is astounding. I would gladly take a bottle of how it is now, but I know its going to be something truly special after the full maturation period. You’ll read about my love of the Autumn gin shortly, but just know that the barrel effect it takes on to make the Winter gin takes it to an entirely new realm. You’ll have to battle me to be first in line for all these eventual releases!

Keeper of the Barrels

Beyond all the aforementioned spirits that the Block is distilling up they also are making brandy from pears, peaches, and grapes from Palisade, Colorado. For those of you not from Colorado, Palisade produces some of the highest quality and succulent fruits that you will ever try! Again, no quality is being left out of their distillates.

After our tour was done Kraig took us to the bar to sample the vodka and their Autumn gin. A brief rundown on the gin is that they produce four varietals of gins: Summer, Spring, Autumn, and Winter. The Summer, Spring, and Autumn gins are all made with different botanic mixtures that use various varietals that impart flavors of their namesake season, while the Winter gin is their Autumn gin that is barrel-aged. The Autumn gin may just be the best gin I’ve ever had… with over a dozen different botanic components it has warm spices of cinnamon, cardamom, and anise. The gin was a full body and smooth expression that changes flavor profiles the entire time from the first nosing to the finish. It was simply incredible. And as mentioned earlier the vodka is a grain forward profile with lots of freshly cut greens and dried grains. No mixing required for this vodka to be enjoyed!

If you know me, you know we had to crush some cocktails… pictured are the “G&T” made with Autumn Gin, tonic syrup, and soda water and the “Tea Time” made with Autumn Gin, black walnut bitters, chamomile tea, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Both filed under things I love. The Block team are no one-trick ponies that just know how to distill, they also have one of the better distillery bar programs that I have been to. Just keeps getting better, right?

“Tea Time”

“G&T”

Gin and Gin

At the Block no shortcuts are being taken, no quality is being given up for the sake of product, no distillate is being shipped in as a “stop-gap” as all product is produced in house for your enjoyment (patience is a virtue when it comes to whiskey), from the grain they begin with all they way down to their super slick bottles the Block is doing it the right way. How do I know? Taste any of their product and you’ll find out these facts for yourself.

If you ever find yourself in RiNo be sure to pay a visit to the Block Distilling Co and see for yourself how this amazing group of people are combining a love of science with the art of distilling to create truly exceptional spirits!

Cheers

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A recipe for you to try at home using their Autumn Gin:

“Autumn in Portugal”

  • 2 ounces Autumn Gin
  • 1 ounce East India Solera Sherry
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon simple syrup
  • 3 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters
  • 1 egg white

Wet shake all ingredients over ice for 30 seconds. Strain out ice and dry shake vigorously for 60 seconds. Double strain into a coupe glass and garnish with whole start anise. Enjoy!

“Autumn in Portugal”

Autumn Gin

05.02.18 | Highland Park Single Cask reviews: Nor’Easter, Helluland, and Gotham City

Scotch Whisky

Before kicking off this review, for full clarity, these samples were graciously provided by Forte Mare (@thefortemare) and Highland Park (@HighlandParkWhiskey). The whisky isn’t mine, but as always, the words and opinions are all me! Also, I always want to stress that I am not here to influence you one way or the other. Look at me as some sort of spiritual guide that can provide a semi-professional opinion!

With that out of the way, let’s do it to it! 


Today we are talking the exclusive Highland Park Single Cask bottles. For a quick lesson on single casks, for those of you that may not know, a single cask whisky is whisky that has been taken from one individual cask and bottled. There is no blending of casks here, so what you see is what you get. There is no guessing game to the cask proportions, age, true color, and so on and so forth. Single cask whisky, to me, is the absolute cream of the crop. When bottled at cask strength and non-chill filtered you are getting whisky in its absolute purist form, the way it should be presented and drank. Now I know it isn’t economically feasible for all whisky to be presented as such, so when you do find a single cask whisky, well, it is truly something special.

The Highland Park single cask program is going through a bit of a resurgence right now and is truly a labor of love for the Highland Park crew. Each of the casks is hand-selected by Gordon Motion, Highland Park’s Master Whisky Maker, and is quite exclusive. From what I have heard there are only ~15 casks for the entire United States and a handful of others for the International market. Assuming that the International market gets an equal amount of casks at around 525 bottles per cask then we are talking maybe 16,000 bottles total… for the entire PLANET EARTH.

Side note: Don’t quote me on that number as honestly, it was an uneducated guess.

The point is, these are fairly exclusive bottles that are equally in high demand! Does the whisky match-up to its exclusiveness? We will find out in a moment…

A quick background on our favorite Viking distillery, Highland Park was founded in 1798 and holds the title of the furthest North distillery in Scotland. Highland Park is also one of the few distilleries that malt some of its own barley themselves and is known for their lovely, light, and aromatic smoke profile with their whiskies. However, Highland Park peat is much different than the Islay peat as their’s has a lot of Scottish heather in it, which gives it that more subtle floral smoke. I always recommend them as a gateway drug for those that are interested in diving into the world of peat before jumping right into the Lagavulins, Ardbegs, etc. etc. For myself, some Highland Park whiskies can come off as almost too light for my big bold masochist self, but when they turn up the abv even slightly, man their whiskies f****** rule. With that said, let’s get to the reviews!

All three of these whiskies are cask strength, no color added, and non-chill filtered


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Cask #3246: Nor’Easter

Northeast Exclusive

Age: 15 year

ABV: 56.9%

Cask: Refill Sherry Butt

Bottles: 546 bottles @ $225

Color: Golden Amber

Nose: A light smoke of burning heather. Honey and damp hay –  a little sweet, a little funky, a little smokey. On the back end is a medicinal saline sprayed oak.

Palate: Sweet custard tarts, dried florals and a spoonful of raw honey, and earthy grains

Finish: The finish is incredibly creamy, a sweet cream like flavor. Tart and bitter with some nice exotic spices and more florals.

Grade: 6/10

Overall: If I didn’t know any better I would think that this had spent its time in an ex-bourbon cask, and admittedly, I kind of wish that was the case. The sherry cask just feels a bit spent, which made the whisky come off in a weird middle ground. Kind of sherry, kind of oaky, and kind of not my cup of tea.


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Cask #6313: Helluland

Total Wine Exclusive

Age: 13 year

ABV: 61.3%

Cask: Refill Sherry Puncheon

Bottles: 510 bottles @ $200

Color: Burnished orange.

Nose: The nose begins with sweet red cinnamon candies. Once you get through a brief burst of alcohol there is a fairly predominant smoke on the nose. Dried strawberries with some fresh coastal greenery. The whisky was a bit intense on the nose at first but opens up exclusively, total Highland Park on the nose.

Palate: Tart cherry jam and shortbread cookies dusted with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. A very lovely perfumey smoke from burning driftwood, with a nice coastal feel. Not overly oily, and just a very lively palate.

Finish: The finish is f****** splendid. Big juicy red fruits mulling w/ balanced baking spices. Incredibly smooth given its abv, and leaves you with a long lingering pour of sherry.

Grade: 9/10

Overall: I love this Helluland. This is “shut up and take my money” whisky right here. This is a whisky in the sweet spot! It has a lot of lively flavors going on but on the backbone a balanced sherry. Just layers on layers of beautiful Orkney flavors!


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Cask #63297: Gotham City

New York Exclusive

Age: 15 year

ABV: 59.6%

Cask: Refill Sherry Butt

Bottles: 588 bottles @ $225

Color: Cognac Amber

Nose: Charred wood smoldering, smoked meats. One of the more smoke forward Highland Parks that I have had, but its a really nice dark charred smoke. Sherry steeped plums and cherries.

Palate: A burnt sugar topping, almond brittle, and sherry soaked oak. On the back end were spiced plums and fruit cake with a touch of marzipan.

Finish: Long and distinguished, and sherry dominant. A decadent dessert like finish. Black forest cake topped with whisky soaked cherries with a side of rich dark chocolate.

Grade: 8/10

Overall: The Gotham City was the most eloquent of the three. The dram is a distinguished sherry cask that carries a rich dark smoke through the finish while having a very dessert-like profile. This is a late night with a cigar in hand whisky right here!


All in all, I was very impressed by the single casks that I was able to try from Highland Park. In a world of increasing NAS 40% abv whisky, these are the ones that I get real excited over! The folks over at Highland Park just know how to make terrific whisky and when you have the opportunity to have it straight from the cask such as this you are able to taste truly how good they are at what they do. The layers of rich and complex flavors that they each possess is really quite impressive. The heather smoke is more pronounced, the cask derived flavors are more juicy and distinct, and the experience from start to finish is memorable. I for one am all on board for this single cask program and am very interested to see what other casks they decide to roll out!

Plus, as with any single cask, once these are gone they are gone forever. The whisky from these casks will never be reproduced. To me, that is pretty damn special and is what gives these exceptional single casks that certain bit of added allure!