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.
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!
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?
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!
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!