The Family Jones Spirit House
The Family Jones Spirit House in Denver’s Lower Highland neighborhood is the brainchild of pioneering distiller Rob Masters and entrepreneurs Jack Pottle, Denielle Nadeau and Paul Tamburello, the developer behind the Olinger complex and Little Man Ice Cream. Combining their talents and experience with co-collaborator Justin Cucci – chef and owner of Root Down, Linger, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Vital Root and El Five – this group has created what could be the ultimate blended family: The Family Jones.
“One of the perks of being an adult is choosing your family, ultimately mixing and matching acquaintances past and present into an ideal blend,” said Pottle. “Another perk of being an adult is choosing your home away from home, and now we have that place: The Family Jones Spirit House.”
The Family Jones Spirit House is a distillery and tasting room featuring crafted spirits and food, while emphasizing the relationship between distiller, chef, bartender and guest, with a focus on hospitality that makes it a gathering place where all feel at home.
The 2,000 square foot space pairs industrial elements with rich wood details. The roof was lifted to add a second floor mezzanine where distillery operations are now perched above a sunken, curvilinear, concrete bar. Guests enter the space through a large, square, wooden door made from reclaimed, on-site materials. Inside, they are met with juniper-lined concrete walls (a nod to the key flavor component in gin), low-slung seating, deep blue booths and soft lighting. Two-story wooden louvers flank the Osage Street glass facade, offering passive temperature and lighting control, while drawing attention inside to the well-lit copper still.
“This project has been a dream for several years,” said Tamburello. “The sharing of spirits and the idea of libation are part of many celebrations in life – whether it be celebrating the life of a loved one, toasting to new parents or even part of a liturgical service. It’s with this respect and knowledge that we enter this venture, crafting with care a family of spirits that will help people mark life’s special moments together.”
The 17-ft. copper CARL still is where the blending begins. The Family Jones creates everything from vodka to gin and rum, as well as Stop Gap Whiskey, a house-blend of whiskeys collected from Masters’ friends that will only be available at The Family Jones Spirit House during the distillery’s first years, while The Family Jones’ house-distilled whiskey comes of age.
“We are making things that push the boundaries of a traditional cocktail bar; we are putting our own spin on it,” explains Masters. “This is a distiller’s dream – to create all sorts of crazy things in small batches. It’s a test kitchen: If it doesn’t work, we can try something new.”
Below the still is a true test kitchen: The Family Jones Spirit House’s bar and kitchen hybrid, coined the “Bitchen,” where team members work alongside one another, breaking down the barriers between front-of-house and back-of-house as diverse personalities mix and meld in close quarters. Food and drinks are prepared side-by-side in an open setting; the people preparing the dishes and drinks also deliver them to guests at the bar and throughout the dining room. A tableside bar-cart tasting service rounds out the experience.
The playful experimentation extends to both the food and cocktail offerings. The menu is comprised of 12-15 small plates, as well as a variety of cocktails made exclusively with The Family Jones spirits. Both menus are designed to be clean, vibrant, accessible and flexible – perfect for a casual beginning or end to a night on the town, and equally conducive to a guest-driven experience that could occupy an entire night.
Bar Manager Nick Touch operates a truly scratch bar. His custom crème de violet and crème de cacao add a unique twist to a classic martini. The Rock-n-Rye blends Stop Gap Rye whiskey with a selection from the more than 100 botanicals and spices used by Touch and Masters in the distillation lab. An Amaretto sour variation is spiced up with the addition of a house-made Colorado pine Amaretto.
“It’s a unique challenge leading a bar program that requires making everything from raw ingredients,” said Touch. “We don’t have the luxury of buying standard modifiers found on most bar-backs, so we have to make our own. I had the challenge of taking something like vermouth, an ingredient a lot of bartenders take for granted, and breaking it down to rebuild it back up in-house.”
Highlights from Executive Chef Tim Dotson’s menu include three-cheese fondue, served in an heirloom pumpkin with vegetable skewers; a pepita crumble with hot-buttered bourbon croutons; and a spin on pork and beans with house-made sausage, heirloom beans, sour cherries, pistachio, collard greens and a chorizo vinaigrette.
Cucci says his collaboration on The Family Jones was a no-brainer, “I am very excited to collaborate with the different people on this project,” said Cucci. “Getting to work with Chef Tim Dotson and Bartender Nick Touch, as well as entrepreneurs like Paul and Jack has been incredible; we are all committed to excellence. What we have come up with is a surprise, and we are excited to share it with Denver.”