Blackland Distillery has quickly made a name for itself as a leader in craft spirits across Texas, but it has also become equally known for its elevated cocktail lounge in the heart of The Foundry District. In fact, D Magazine recently listed Blackland as a spirit maker turning DFW into a distilling destination!
We caught up with owner & president Markus Kypreos to learn how he made the transition from award-winning attorney to culinary school grad to certified sommelier to distillery founder. Beyond that, he walks through why a high-caliber cocktail program is so important to Blackland, what made Foundry the right home for them, and gives a sneak peek at some of the new products that may be coming around the bend.
“The other great thing about this area; we’re not what I would call a traditional bar or cocktail lounge. It’s a little bit elevated, a little more sophisticated. We are targeting a slightly older crowd looking for something a little bit nicer. This area and the other businesses here are a much better fit for that target audience. So all of that combined made Foundry the right spot for us.”MARKUS KYPREOS, Blackland Distillery
What inspired the founding of Blackland Distillery?
I’d spent 15 years as an attorney but always had a deep interest in food, wine, cocktails, and spirits. I graduated from culinary school while still working full-time as a lawyer, then got my Introductory Sommelier Certification. After learning more about distilling, I had the realization that cooking and distilling have quite a bit in common. With my background and training in food, I thought we could introduce a fresh point of view to craft distilling through Blackland.
I signed the lease for the distillery in 2017 and by the end of that year, I was pursuing Blackland’s launch full-time.
What makes Fort Worth such a great destination for a craft distillery?
Texas, in general, is so far behind in terms of the distilling world. You look at places beyond just Kentucky and Tennessee like Seattle, Denver, or Portland, they’re still so far ahead of us. The oldest craft distillery in Texas was just founded in 2008, so it’s so, so young. That was the first factor, the opportunity.
Second, I grew up here and still live here. And Fort Worth gets this negative reputation for being a bit behind Dallas, which itself has a reputation for being a bit behind New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. So I felt like I was in the right place at the right time.
What sold Blackland on coming to The Foundry District?
Having grown up here, I knew exactly what this location offered. We’re so close to Downtown and The Cultural District, and with the bridge opening up, we’ll have all of the White Settlement traffic coming through. And from here, this area is only going to continue to grow and get better.
The other great thing about this area; we’re not what I would call a traditional bar or cocktail lounge. It’s a little bit elevated, a little more sophisticated. We don’t attract much of the West 7th college crowd, we are targeting a slightly older crowd looking for something a little bit nicer. This area and the other businesses here are a much better fit for that target audience. So all of that combined made Foundry the right spot for us.
Blackland launched with four spirits – which one are you most known for and which one are you the proudest of?
Well being in Texas, bourbon was our best seller since day one. That was until we launched the Texas Pecan Brown Sugar Bourbon, which has been flying off the shelf.
But in terms of personal pride, I’d have to go with our gin. The craft gin market is actually very small, there aren’t many people trying to experiment with it or perfect it, which was a challenge and opportunity I loved. Our gin is extremely flavorful but has more than the one juniper note that people associate with gin, making it a really unique experience for both gin lovers and those who don’t traditionally go for it.
In addition to the spirits themselves, Blackland is known for the in-distillery bar experience and cocktail program, which isn’t true of all distilleries. Why do you take this aspect of the business so seriously?
It’s a huge point of pride for us. We are lucky enough to have Megan McClinton as our General Manager, who spent time leading both The Usual and Thompson’s Bookstore here in Fort Worth, and she’s curated a program here at Blackland that balances classics and modern cocktails while highlighting the unique notes of our spirits.
Being a distillery, we have to create everything ourselves – from spirits to fruit juices to liqueurs and bitters. While that can be a challenge, it also affords us the opportunity to handcraft every aspect of the cocktail experience.
In building out our tasting room, we wanted to create an experience that cocktail lovers would appreciate. A place that we’d want to check out if it wasn’t our own. It gives our spirits a context, which is especially important for a new distillery.
The understated, elevated Blackland bottles have also been a positive point of discussion – how did the Blackland team arrive at this design?
We’re very proud of the bottles and are so glad that people have taken notice! The story there is pretty simple – we just decided we wanted to have the best-looking bottles around. So, we partnered with an artist out of California who specializes in alcohol bottles, but only takes on a handful of projects a year. She showed us her concepts and the rest is history!
What can you tell us about the near-future of Blackland? Will there be more unique, flavored spirits like the Texas Pecan Brown Sugar Bourbon?
We were optimistic about the potential of the Texas Pecan but the feedback has really blown us away, so definitely be on the lookout for something new in the near future.
We spoke earlier about our gin – I’ve been researching Sloe Gin, which traditionally comes in at a pretty low ABV and doesn’t really have a craft brand producing it. It’s such a unique liqueur but it hasn’t caught on in the US the way it has in Europe. I’d love to bring up the alcohol level and introduce it to a new audience.
How did the distillery pivot to overcome COVID challenges?
Like a lot of distilleries, we had the setup to produce sanitizer and got that rolling as fast as we could. We had the honor of receiving public recognition from the State of Texas and TABC for our hand sanitizer production, which meant quite a bit to us.
During COVID, we were lucky enough to get our product on liquor store shelves, which helped us to offset the dropoff in distillery and tasting room attendance. Thankfully, people have started to get more comfortable with the precautions and are visiting Blackland in greater numbers.