On November 11, LoHi will welcome a new member to the neighborhood — The Family Jones Spirit House. This distillery-meets-tasting-room is the brainchild of many major players in Denver’s hospitality industry — including distiller Rob Masters; Jack Pottle, Denielle Nadeau and Paul Tamburello (of Little Man Ice Cream) and co-collaborator Justin Cucci (of Linger, Ophelia’s, El Five, Vital Root and neighboring Root Down.) Together, this mish-mash of talent has collaborated to form a blended family of sorts — one that they’ve named The Family Jones.
“We didn’t want to make up some bullshit story [about our name choice],” Tamburello explained. “We didn’t want to be an ‘Amber & Oak’ or location-based like ‘Denver Distillery.’ The name is about our experience of getting here. We’re a family of people who’ve chosen to come together.”
There are also nods to the common phrase “keeping up with the Jones’,” Cucci added. “It’s not about being better or less than — we like the commonality of that. And, you hopefully will Jones for this product.”
Two doors down from Cucci’s Root Down, The Family Jones Distillery sits on a piece of land that used to be a playground. It has now become an adult playground, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows on one side, two parallel concrete walls lined with juniper (a key component of gin) and the bar in back with a 17-foot copper CARL still on the balcony upstairs visible from the dining room. It manages to feel utilitarian and ethereal all at once.
Because the entire space is just 2,000 square feet, the dining room is small, with a cozy, table-height bar in the back forming a semi-circle around what the team has named the “bitchen” — a bar-meets-kitchen hybrid. The height of the bar and the open, close quarters (the team says the “bitchen” holds about six people behind it) blends the lines between guest, front-of-house and back-of-house — making for a truly transparent experience.
There’s no doubt that the beating heart of Family Jones can be found in its custom still. Made in southern Germany, Masters explained it’s a one-of-kind product since he worked directly with the company CARL to make it for the tight space. The copper behemoth alongside two fermenters has the ability to make spirits 100 percent on site. The active still and faint aroma of sweet mash affirmed their claim, even though none of their house whiskey will be available for at least two years (due to the need to age it in barrels). This also goes for their others spirits too, some of which are currently bought offsite through large distillers (like their well vodka) and or small producers like their bourbon from Middle West in Ohio. Right now the whiskey is labeled “Stop Gap Jones” to refer to the temporary nature of the booze. However, Masters, the former head distiller from Spring 44, will be able to make his famous gin within the coming weeks. This freedom for flexibility is in part what inspired Masters to partake in Family Jones.
“I decided I didn’t want to be a production distiller that makes the same thing every day. I decided I’m a creator and a teacher and someone who wants to tell you everything about what’s in that glass,” he said.
As a result, Masters greatest expressions will likely come from his lab. Located right behind the still, there are around 200 botanicals. The lab includes everything from dried kelp, Australian summer hops and devil’s claw root among more classic spices like clove and cinnamon. He plans on making a distillate of each of the jars so he can tinker with different flavors to put into his spirits. Masters won’t be the only one utilizing the lab though.
Nick Touch, the bar manager, has a job unlike any other bartender in town. Because Family Jones is technically a distillery, the bar cannot bring in any outside spirits it can’t make on site (or at their Loveland production warehouse, where they share a permit). Because of this Touch as the distinct challenge of building his own bar from scratch. That means things like vermouth, crème de violet or amaretto has to be crafted using what is available at Family Jones. In some sense, this makes Touch’s job difficult but it also opens a door to concocting liqueurs and modifiers that you can’t find anywhere else.
Take Touch’s Vesper variation made with a spirit similar to Vermouth. But since Touch can’t use wine, Touch turned to a neutral grain spirit (like a vodka) to fortify the concoction of unsweetened white grape juice, and traditional vermouth botanicals like cinnamon, dried ginger, orange peel, wormwood , cinchona bark and clove.
“It can talk like a duck, it can walk like a duck but you can’t call it a duck,” said Touch.
Because of this unique process, Family Jones may be one of the most exciting places to get a cocktail in Denver. And the good news is, it should only get better as they release their own spirits and perfect their process. In the meantime, there’s more than just booze to enjoy at Family Jones.
You may come for the spirits at The Family Jones, but you could just as easily stay for the food. The selection is impressive, especially when considering the size of the “bitchen.”
With collaboration between the owners, Cucci and executive chef Tim Dotson — formerly with TAG Restaurant Group and Adrift — the team has created a menu that’s playful, comforting and incredibly delicious. Keeping the cocktails as a focus, the menu is comprised of 12-15 small plates — great for sharing, if you dare.
To start, you can’t miss the three cheese fondue served in a small, hallowed-out pumpkin with skewers of mushrooms, beets, squash, apple, buttered bourbon croutons and pepitas — it’s creamy, decadent and hard to stop dipping into. Other favorites were the butternut tortellini with quinoa, pecan crumble, feta, roasted beets, greens and carrot vin and the Chinese BBQ sliders — a smoked rib and sausage mix with cucumber, mint, pepper aioli, char-siu sauce and housemade multi-colored potato chips. Chef Dotson also noted that the Colorado Lamb Stew is one of his favorites, and we agree. It has an Indian flavor from the sweet potato, pickled raisins, pistachios, curry broth and spiced yogurt that complex while remaining wildly comforting.
Family Jones Spirits will officially open next week on Saturday, November 11. Because of its proximity to Root Down, one of Denver’s favorite restaurants, we’d suggest getting in early to avoid the inevitable crowd that’ll flock to become a part of the family.
The Family Jones is located at 3245 Osage Street, Denver. Beginning Saturday, Nov. 11, it will be open from 4 – 10 p.m. Wednesday—Thursday, 3 p.m. – midnight on Friday, noon-midnight Saturday and noon – 10 p.m. Sunday. Eventually, it will also be open Tuesdays.
All photography by Brittany Werges.