Interview: Charley Wheelock of Woodblock Chocolate

At Hi&Low, we see chocolate and cannabis as kindred spirits, with parallels ranging from the aging of the raw plant, the potential health benefits, and the artisanal treatment of each by modern purveyors.

Increasingly, the two’s paths are crossing — in the form of edibles. Among the best we’ve discovered is the Serra x Woodblock Chocolate collaboration in Oregon.

We had the delicious fortune to sit down with Charley Wheelock, who founded Woodblock along with his wife. He took time away from hammering away (literally) in his new retail space in Portland to talk about his meteoric success in chocolate, his interest in cannabis, and his love of tape.

Charley and Jessica Wheelock, founders of Woodblock
Charley and Jessica Wheelock, founders of Woodblock

Let’s start with a basic question: why do you call yourselves a “chocolate maker” vs. a “chocolatier”?

We’re a chocolate maker vs. chocolatier, because we actually make chocolate from its ingredients instead of using chocolate to make things like truffles. In our case, those ingredients are just cocoa beans and sugar. Some other brands add things like soy lecithin and added cocoa butter, which I don’t think is a crime, but we don’t do it in the name of purity. We’re actually very specific about calling ourselves chocolate makers because, when we started out, there were fewer than 15 of us in the country who made chocolate from scratch.

Cocoa beans in an early stage of processing at the Woodblock manufactory
Cocoa beans in an early stage of processing at the Woodblock manufactory

How did the Serra x Woodblock Chocolate collaboration come about?

A lot of people asked us if we wanted to get into making marijuana edibles, but it was complicated because of the liability, and we wanted to protect our brand. When Serra approached us, I realized they were on the same page on so many levels, not the least of which was wanting to make sure the product would be a great experience for the person eating it.

Every single person we talked to had a bad experience with a brownie or weed edible at some point. And me too. I smoke pot. I love it. But I’m hesitant to eat marijuana edibles because in the past, it was hard to trust them.

So we agreed that we wanted to look at the experience holistically, where the flavor of the delicious chocolate would be balanced with the cannabis high. We created a portion size where somebody would be satisfied with the amount of chocolate and get the right amount of buzz.

Serra x Woodblock Chocolate bar (image courtesy of Serra)

How your product different from other low dose chocolate-cannabis edibles out there?

The quality of our marijuana edibles is quite high. Like us, the guys at Serra have a concern for quality and aesthetic. They do it better than anyone else in cannabis. That’s because they grow the cannabis, they extract it, and they mix it into the chocolate — they control that whole process.

Those guys really know what they’re doing with the extraction and with the growing, and I really know what I’m doing with the chocolate, so it’s a real top-notch collaboration. There’s attention to every detail.

For example, now we’re talking about using specific terpenes to achieve certain flavor combinations. We’re thinking about the taste separately from the high to create a balanced flavor profile, like in a nice cocktail. We even talk about plans to eventually make a product with cacao and weed grown in the same terroir. Fun stuff like that.

What do you envision will be the future of marijuana edibles?

Right now, a lot of people are looking for the massive milligrams [of THC] instead of the quality of the product. But I think that that will change. It’s time to evolve and start appreciating the flavors and textures of cannabis, and how it can be integrated into a bigger experience.

Did a love for chocolate inspire the founding of Woodblock?

No. Actually, my industrial design career was looking kind of rugged, and my wife and I wanted to do something with design, something cool, something we enjoyed. We actually talked about a bunch of random ideas, like aging cheese in a cave, making gourmet gum, or opening a tape store. But I love chocolate — everything from the process and history to the creative problem sourcing opportunities, like sourcing beans.

Tape?

Yeah, oh I love tape. I’m crazy for tape, but my wife was not so keen on that idea. She doesn’t realize how much tape plays a part in her life that’s all.

But Jessie did know the difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier. That’s when Mast Brothers was starting to gain traction, and she realized there were only 15 chocolate makers in the whole country and none in Portland.

We started looking into the process, and it was so unbelievably interesting. I went down to UC Davis and took some chocolate classes there. Then I went with Steve DeVries, an OG chocolate maker from Colorado, and some of the guys from Dandelion in San Francisco to Costa Rica. That was a week of intensive but fun cocoa farm study. The chocolate education section of the Cocoa Research Center in Trinidad was also a big source of chocolate education for me. 

What about your life outside of Woodblock? What’s on your Netflix queue? Spotify?

I’ve been watching Arrested Development. I love that show. I’ve also been watching a little of The Mouth, it’s pretty funny.

On my Spotify, there’s a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan. When I’m doing construction on the new space, he gets me fired up. And this band Zona Ganjah, a Chilean world reggae band. I haven’t been able to say “I love this new reggae band” in 20 years, but I love this reggae band.

Last question: What’s the one item in your fridge you can’t do without?

Vermouth? Yeah, I’ll say that.

Thank you, Charley!

Baby heads, an unexpected theme around Woodblock. Yes, you can even find chocolate molded in the shape of a baby head.
Hi&Low