School’s In Session At Block Distilling Co.

Published on: March 22nd, 2018

A good friend of mine likes to say that “every day is a school day.” He’s an English teacher turned middle school counselor, so it makes sense that he’d lean into sayings that highlight the magic of everyday learning. The deeper wisdom here is that admitting you don’t know something is hard. Real hard.

And I do hate to admit this, but I learned something recently that, at the time, I pretended I’d known for a long time. This is always embarrassing, but especially so for someone who writes an alcohol column for a widely read magazine and who is supposed to know about booze. Anyway, the thing I learned, which Kraig Weaver of the Block Distilling Co. taught me during a recent visit to his tap room and distillery, is that gin is really just vodka. Well, vodka distilled a second time after having been infused with various botanicals … I think … but less about me and more about Kraig Weaver …

Kraig Weaver is a trained engineer turned distiller, and Kraig Weaver hates symmetry. This is evident in his design choices; he’s made a lot lately since his other business, AND Collaborative, designed and made all the furnishings for BDC’s new space. He’s created a cozy, industrial vibe that edges on steam punk yet feels authentically Coloradan, so in this respect, Kraig Weaver is also an artist. This is fitting since BDC is one of the newest residents in the still burgeoning RINO Art District, and the building they call home – The Block Building – was once home to a street art collective/gallery whose walls once featured the work of acclaimed street artist Shepard Fairey. Homage is paid to this colorful past by allowing vestiges to peek through the design, and he said they hope to bring artists into the space once again to allow this unique, urban aesthetic to continue to evolve.

As for the booze, co-owners Kraig and Kameron Weaver and Michelle Flake take their process seriously, and conveniently enough, it’s a process that patrons can view from the comfort of the tasting room through the clever “fish bowl” design of the distillation chamber – a room replete with requisite bells and whistles and an impressively shiny copper hybrid stil named Ellie. They also firmly believe that quality ingredients create a quality product, so Kraig made sure to crack open a bag of locally sourced, non-GMO grains that tasted delicious and had me wishing I’d brought a bowl of milk. Kraig and his team also mill in house since, like coffee, “the best time to grind is right before you drink.” The rest of the tour was truly fascinating – especially getting to smell a bourbon barrel containing some still aging Palisade Peach brandy that patrons can look forward to tasting next Summer – but distilling jargon and high tech science always makes me thirsty…

Which brings me to the tasting … I’ve never been encouraged to get my taste buds drunk, but Kraig insisted, so I vigorously swished a mouthful of vodka like mouthwash and did just that. Now I was truly ready for tasting and discovered that their three-grain, unfiltered, 80 proof vodka is righteously robust yet subtly sweet. The summer gin, my favorite, is magnificently floral and comes out at 94 proof. The autumn gin is a bit of an assault on the tastebuds, but tastes amazing in the tea time cocktail – autumn gin with black walnut bitters, chamomile tea, maple syrup and lemon juice. I also sampled their G&T made with the summer gin, and was pleased to experience a solid take on a classic.

Block also has some cool things coming down the pipeline, like a bourbon slated for release in spring ’19 and a collaboration with neighboring watering hole The Infinite Monkey Theorem on a grappa featuring fruit from the western slope. Maybe they’ll even bring out a happy hour so we can more easily throw caution to the wind while enjoying their cocktails… OK, I’ll admit that the last bit is just wishful thinking on my part.

Booze aside, RINO and 5 Points are the epicenter of gentrification in Denver, having already displaced hundreds and quickly approaching nearby Globeville and Swansea-Elyria. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Block Distilling is mere blocks away from another RINO resident whose recent tasteless comments about gentrification drew justified outrage from the community. Kraig recognizes this, and while he chose not to comment about this particular businesses’ bumblings, I sensed a genuine interest in contributing positively to the neighborhood his business now calls home. Only time will tell …

Politics aside, Block Distilling Co. is run by artisans who support art and make tasty liquor in a hip space in a funky part of Denver. I neither knew nor understood much of what Kraig Weaver shared with me that day about distillation, but I think that’s ok. And I think Kraig knew it, too, which is also ok. I think he was still happy to transform an otherwise mundane Monday into a school day full of learning and drinking. If you’re looking for a similar experience, I suggest you play hooky from work and hop on down to Block, where school’s in session seven days a week.

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