Denver is about to get its first distillery-restaurant; the Family Jones Spirit House will open on Saturday, November 11, brought to us by a group of entrepreneurs who have already helped shape the modern landscape of Lower Highland.
Paul Tamburello, owner of Little Man Ice Cream and Generator Development, is collaborating with Justin Cucci, the chef/restaurateur behind the neighborhood's Linger and Root Down, to deliver the Family Jones Spirit House, a restaurant and craft distillery at 3245 Osage Street, in a space that was once Mancinelli's Market.
Tamburello, along with partners Jack Pottle, Denielle Nadeau and pioneering distiller Rob Masters, have already launched the Family Jones as a distillery in Loveland, in the former home of Dancing Pines. The Loveland location is the main production distillery, but Masters also oversees production on a smaller system perched on a mezzanine level above the restaurant's bar and dining room. He'll produce rum, bourbon, gin and vodka as the company's main products, along with smaller runs of specialty spirits like crème de violet and amaretto, which the bar will use to create both classic and original cocktails.
The food and beverage program will be handled by Cucci's team, including bar manager Nick Touch (whose drinks you may have sampled at Williams & Graham or the Squeaky Bean) and chef Tim Dodson. A small menu coming from a compact, open kitchen (which Cucci calls a "bitchen'") will encompass seasonal shareables like three-cheese fondue served in a miniature pumpkin, Colorado lamb stew and Dodson's version of pork and beans. Lighter options such as sea bream crudo, smoked-trout tea sandwiches and black bass drenched in "chowder broth" will also be available.
Tamburello and Cucci have worked together several times since Root Down opened in 2008. Tamburello redeveloped the former Olinger Mortuary space where Linger is located and is also responsible for refurbishing the Airedale building, where one of Cucci's other projects, Ophelia's Electric Soap Box, operates.
Tamburello explains that his inspiration to open a distillery came while he was enjoying Sipsmith gin at a small bar in Japan, when he was traveling with Cucci. "There was something there that was the impetus for uniting us all into opening a distillery," he explains.
The Family Jones name, he adds, came from the idea of the ultimate "blended family," along with wanting to avoid a trendy moniker (read: anything with an ampersand) or using the partners' own last names.
Masters has been a full-time professional distiller for ten years; he created Rob's Mountain Gin and also worked for Spring 44, but says he was interested in getting back to a small operation with more room for experimentation. "I'm a creator and a teacher and someone who loves to tell you all about what's in the glass," he says.
As an operation, the Family Jones Spirit House does have some limitations. "We can only serve what we make here," Masters notes. That "here" includes the Loveland facility, and right now the product lineup also includes Stop Gap Whiskey, which is purchased from outside makers and blended at the distillery as a temporary fill-in for housemade bourbon, which must age two years in oak barrels before it can be served. But those limitations result in more innovation from Masters and Touch, who must come up with alternatives to such standard cocktail additives as vermouth and amaro, which can't be brought in from outside producers. As a result, botanical concoctions, bitters and syrups line the bar, ready to be mixed into a drink.
Masters says his distilling system is capable of making batches of just five or six bottles at a time, allowing the bar and distillery to work together to come up with ideas for new drinks quickly (though any new spirits must go through a federal approval process, which Masters says takes about a week).
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The space itself, designed by Tres Birds Workshop, brings to mind a small chapel, with a cupola above the gleaming, elevated distillery (shipped from Germany) and a glass facade facing Osage Street. Booths clad in electric-blue velvet form rows along walls built from exposed cinderblock, an austere choice enhanced by patterns of jutting blocks decorated with boughs of juniper (the main ingredient in gin). A sunken bar brings bartenders to eye level with guests seated on plush, plum-colored stools.
The Family Jones Spirit House will be open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m., Friday from 3 p.m. to midnight, Saturday from noon to midnight, and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. For more information, call 303-481-8185 or see the Family Jones website. For more photos, see our complete Family Jones Spirit House slideshow.