Distillery reworks beloved neighborhood market into artisanal Colorado-centric gathering place
By Dionne Roberts
Photos: Adam Larkey
The Family Jones, one of Colorado’s newest craft distilleries, occupies a historic building nestled into a quaint section of LoHi. The owners are on a mission to bring back a somewhat familiar gathering place for the local community.
Just 10 months after opening the company’s main facility in Loveland, head distiller and partner Rob Masters set up a secondary location and tasting room in the historic Denver neighborhood in November 2017 for research and development.
“This is for making one-off barrels of lots of fun stuff, whether it’s whiskey or brandy or grappa or aged rum,” Masters says.
The testing ground occupies the former home of Mancinelli’s Italian Market, 3245 Osage St., and hosts a modern but comfortable dining section. The repurposed building has a small “(bar) + (kitchen) = bitchen,” which creates a synergistic atmosphere for specialty cocktails and contemporary cuisine to coexist within three of the original cinder-block walls.
“It was really a hub for the neighborhood where all the locals came to get their meat, cheese, pasta, bread and milk,” Masters says. “We just want to continue that and turn it into somewhere where people can come, hang out and enjoy themselves.”
True to the roots of the area, The Family Jones focuses on creations by hand. The notion even adorns their bottles — images of unique sets of hands are matched to each spirit. The current lineup consists of two vodkas, two gins, a rum and two whiskeys, made with wild yeast strains and open, extended fermentation.
“That’s where we like to get creative,” says Masters, who compares his methods to the process of brewing sour beers. “Things are just growing in the cracks and crevices of the wood that contribute to the flavors of our product that you won’t be able to get anywhere else.”
Masters has been honing his distilling chops for 10 years, operating as a consultant “to really play around and learn how to make different things.” He says in Colorado he’s “best known for making gin,” and is responsible for the three variations available from Spring44 Distillery.
“Gin has always been my thing,” says Masters, who enjoys altering consumers’ preconceived notions. He likes to change minds “when people say, ‘oh, I hate gin’ or ‘my grandpa drank gin.’”
Inside The Family Jones, the mezzanine is the undisputed focal point of the room, housing a bright, shiny, copper still that commands attention. Behind it lives Masters’ impressive library of more than 100 different botanicals, a variety of spices from Savory Spice Co., and a full inventory of distillates.
“If somebody has an idea for something, whether it be a bartender, distiller or a chef, they can come up here and grab the tools they need to create that new thing,” Masters says. “This is really about creating flavored vodkas, gins, amaris, digestifs, aperitifs, all that fun stuff.”
Although Masters’ passion thrives in his preferred clear spirit, he admits that in addition to gin, “I also love to make whiskey.”
“In the production of whiskey, no two batches are the same,” explains Masters. “There’s always so many factors, things are always changing. You can make a small tweak in one part of the process and make a totally different product than you had before.”
The Family Jones currently sells Stopgap Jones bourbon and rye sourced from distilleries in Ohio and Tennessee, until their whiskeys are ready to bottle in 2019.
“We call it Stopgap because it’s the stopgap measure until our stuff is ready,” says Masters, whose personal philosophy mandates that all of their whiskeys age in standard-sized barrels for at least two to three years.
Their imaginative and resourceful nature is equally visible inside the kitchen, with former TAG Restaurant Group chef Tim Dodson, who hesitates to categorize his food.
“It’s funky,” says Dodson. “We try to be creative and do whatever we can to maximize what we put out. We try to pull some stuff from the spirits world and determine things that go together well.”
Masters also prefers not to pigeonhole the food. He brushes aside terms like tapas or small plates before settling on the idea of “before and after food” with “a down-home influence.” He invites guests to visit before a meal for shareable appetizers and cocktails, or follow up after dinner for dessert and a nightcap.
“People ask me all the time what style of food we have and I just say, ‘it’s good,’” says Masters.
The Family Jones brings forth a commitment to Colorado in many ways: adding Colorado spring water to Jones House Vodka, sourcing grains and malts from single-family farms on Colorado’s eastern plains, and elevating a “Western New World style” with Masters’ adventurous Juniper Gin. They also nurture partnerships with their neighbors at Little Man Ice Cream, utilize edible flowers, greens and herbs from The Growhaus and Living Local in Denver, and use steeped products from Tekoe Tea.
Through their Colorado-centric distilling methods and relationships, an inventive take on communal dining and their intentionally metrical aesthetics, The Family Jones captures a harmonious essence. No spirit runs too hot, their portion sizes are Goldilocks approved, and the elegant and sleek furniture and design accents are only humbled by the modest, industrial origins they opt to keep.
Masters aptly summarizes the entire Family Jones’ handprint in what he hopes to taste in his gin: “To me, it’s about balance.”
Dionne Roberts is the editor of the Rocky Mountain Food Report, rockymountainfoodreport.com