Two years marks a significant milestone for a distillery, because 24 months is the minimum legal age at which a spirit can be labeled a straight bourbon. There are other requirements, of course, but you can't call it straight bourbon if it doesn't rest in new charred oak barrels for at least two trips around the sun.
The Family Jones Spirit House opened in November 2017, so along with its sister distillery in Loveland, has been making booze for more than two years (the Loveland facility began production earlier that year). Since the first day in business, head distiller Rob Masters has kept that two-year minimum in mind for his bourbon, Ella Jones Colorado Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which the Family Jones will release this weekend with a barbecue pop-up celebration.
"This is our first bourbon made in-house," Masters says of Ella Jones. "We released our first rye whiskey, Atticus Jones, in the fall — and it sold out fast."
Up to that point, the distillery had been selling Stop Gap whiskey, a product made by another distillery that was always intended as a short-term solution. And with the release of Atticus and Ella, Stop Gap has been retired.
Ella, like Atticus, is a Colorado product. "I've only ever bought grains from four Colorado farms," the distiller notes.
Another requirement for bourbon is that it must be made from a grain bill of at least 51 percent corn; Ella's mash includes 75 percent corn, which Masters purchased from Whiskey Sisters Supply (which specializes in grains for distilleries) and Colorado Stock and Grain. Rye and barley malt make up the remainder of the grain bill, with the malt procured from Root Shoot Malting (a favorite of Colorado craft breweries) and the rye grown by Jones Family Farms in Salida (the name is purely coincidental).
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Once distilled, the bourbon sat in charred Missouri oak barrels for an average of 2.8 years; Masters created the final blend from nineteen different barrels. Over that time, Ella lost 20 percent of its volume to "the angel's share," the portion of barrel-aged spirits lost to evaporation during aging.
Masters says the new bourbon is best enjoyed neat, but that it also works well in a very simple cocktail, such as an Old Fashioned (try it with two ounces of Ella Jones, two or three dashes of Angostura bitters, a teaspoon of water and a half-teaspoon of sugar, along with a big curl of orange peel and a large ice cube or two). The distiller describes the bourbon as "round and oily" in its mouthfeel, owing to its age and 100-percent pot distillation.
This Saturday, May 30, the Family Jones will be selling bourbon cocktail and barbecue kits from the Denver tasting room at 3245 Osage Street. The cocktails kits run from $65 to $85 and include enough Ella Jones and other ingredients for eight to ten Amaretto Sour, highball or Old Fashioned cocktails (single bottles without the mixers will also be available). Tack on a barbecue box to go for $45, which will get you pulled pork, mac and cheese, coleslaw, baked beans, a loaf of housemade pullman bread and an apple crisp for dessert. Order on the Family Jones online store before 5 p.m. on Friday, May 29, for pick-up between noon and 4 p.m. on May 30.
A limited number of bottles of Ella Jones have also been released for distribution and should hit liquor-store shelves as early as this Friday.