In March 2020, The Block Distilling Co. released its second iteration of the Four Grain whiskey. In the piece of 2020 that followed, the relatively young distillery — opened in December of 2017 — has continued to flourish, owing to its trend of conspicuous individualism and flexibility. Owned and operated by brothers Kraig and Kameron Weaver and Kraig’s wife Michelle Weaver, the distillery has epitomized a dynamic approach since day one. Limited and seasonal releases of carefully crafted spirits have always defined the aesthetic. In a turbulent four months, it has kept on course, succeeding through versatility, imagination and a deep commitment to the neighborhood that inspires it.
In a previous lifetime, the building where The Block resides was home to the Andenken Gallery — a street art hub that hosted a range of local, national and international talent. The walls still show evidence of its former occupant, with pieces including a heavily-armed Abe Lincoln and a Buffmonster mural imparting each nook its own inherent charisma. The integration between the preserved remnants of the space’s art-filled history and the elegant mechanisms that produce the spirits nicely illustrate the whole operation’s unique devotion to both style and process. It was Andenken owner Hyland Mather who originally dubbed the building “The Block.”
Both Kraig and Kameron attended the Colorado School of Mines, with backgrounds in mechanical and petroleum and software engineering respectively. While still in school, the brothers’ experimentations with homebrewing laid the foundation for the home distilling to follow.
“It was originally just about supplying our own wet bars at home and that’s it,” said Kameron. Over one of the brothers’ early batches of homemade gin, the initial plan was set in motion, what seemed like a casual remark quickly transformed into the 10-year lease that bore The Block.
The commitment to creating everything in-house borders on obsession and has certainly given the business an unrepeatable edge. All spirits are hand-distilled and aged, with syrups, juices and cocktail-exclusive liqueurs all being pressed, mixed and prepared on-site. Even the furniture was hand-constructed with experience from Kraig’s former furniture business AND Collaborative.
“We vowed to make every drop of spirit in-house,” said Kraig. “When we developed The Block it was really to truly create something that was ours,” continued the cofounder. “It might really come from a control standpoint,” said Kameron. “If it breaks we know how to fix it,” added Michelle.
Between 30 – 40% of the grain used comes from local farms. Since the third quarter of 2018, the remaining stock has been sourced from the team’s own farm in Missouri. The three designated stills — Eleanor, Lucinda and Walter — and the ever-present distillery dog Loretta further the place’s verve. “It’s pretty nice not to just call them still one, still two,” said Kraig of the desire to lend the equipment a bit of life. Eleanor — named after Michelle’s grandmother — was the original workhorse, with Lucinda — a Tom Waits reference — and Walter — the first old man name they could think of — joining the roster after the team expanded next door in October 2019.
The Weavers say much of the inspiration comes from different distilleries, artists in the neighborhood, music and movies — with Kraig recalling being touched by a poignant scene in Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson come together over a beverage, soothing the mutually-held feeling of both being strangers in a strange land. “All of a sudden it’s just easier to chat. Creating spirits that foster that interaction is really exciting and rewarding,” said Kraig. “Most of actual distilling is really just cleaning stuff,” laughed Michelle, noting that the ends certainly justify the means.
For serious enthusiasts, The Block has instituted its annual 225 Club. Inspired by the bottle release clubs that have been popping up at breweries — and named after the safe number of 750 ml bottles that can be produced in a 53-gallon whiskey barrel — the club provides subscribers with exclusive hooch each quarter. “It helps us fund experimentation,” said Kraig. This year’s releases include a pink London-style dry gin with hibiscus and rose petals released in February, a deep, complex amaro — initially planned for April and released last week, a cask-strength single-barrel bourbon slated for late September and a peach brandy arriving close to Thanksgiving. Members receive two 375 ml bottles of each, prompting one for sipping and one for the shelf. While The Block commits to not selling club releases to a general audience, members can purchase additional bottles of their favorite selection, with late joiners receiving the backstock upon entry.
Each release coincides with a party, where customers can retrieve bottles and enjoy cocktails based on the debuted spirit. While prior celebrations have been raucous affairs, the amaro release followed proper distancing measures, with two segments and well-spaced tables giving ample room for all in attendance to comfortably enjoy. Cards with information and cocktail recipes are distributed during pickup.
Since reopening for onsite imbibing on June 11, The Block has returned with changes that include strict sanitation regulations, seated table service and a small menu of food items from nearby Work & Class. The seasonal menu, with its full quarterly overhaul, is still at play — highlighting concoctions developed by staff. In early July the premises was joined by 40 additional covered seats blanketing the distillery’s section of the closed street. Outdoor closures are planned through Labor Day’s Crush Walls festivities. To-go cocktails and bottles are still available, with an ongoing “recipes with spirits” series supplementing the at-home entertainment.
Currently, 80% of The Block’s stock is sold directly from the tasting room. “That’s one of the goals of Lucinda and Walter, is expanding distribution,” said Kraig. Showing no signs of slowing down, the team plans to release the first batch of straight bourbon next month, with a lottery system in place allowing customers to reserve up to four 375 ml bottles of the 400-unit allotment. Another 600 will be sold on-site. While the spirits certainly speak for themselves, it’s The Block’s manifold approach that has been setting it apart as a true Denver institution.
The Block Distilling Co. is located at 2990 Larimer St., Denver. It is open for safe dine-in and takeout Monday – Thursday from 3 p.m. – 10 p.m., and Friday – Sunday from 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.