Denver / Loveland, Colorado
Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Master Distiller Rob Masters welcomes guests to his botanical-forward distilleries -- and to the family.
If you visit The Family Jones' tasting room, The Spirit House, in Denver, you may cross paths with Annika Jones, Atticus Jones, or Mo Jones. But Jones isn't the surname of any of the principals behind the distillery's operations. Those Joneses, cited above, are the names of spirits resting in bottles behind the bar -- or already residing within guests' cocktails.
Masters explains the concept: "We chose 'Jones,' because it's an all-American name. Everybody knows somebody named Jones. We're an all-inclusive family, so the minute you walk in that door, you're part of the family."
That translates to about 250 "family members" visiting this 55-seat space in Denver's Highland neighborhood on a busy Saturday night. It's the onetime site of Mancinelli's Italian Market transformed into a modernist structure that looks like it's straight out of the pages of Dwell magazine.
The ground floor provides food and drink for guests. Up above, copper gleams -- a loft distillery with a 150-gallon still, which Masters says is "dedicated to making one-off batches of weird, nerdy things," as well as "the modifiers for [our cocktails] downstairs: crème de cacao, crème de violette, triple sec, coffee liqueur, a blanc liqueur like a blanc vermouth, lemongrass liqueur, aquavit." Masters' R&D area houses more than 100 different botanicals, ready for use while distilling spirits -- or by a chef for use within one of his own creations.
The Family Jones also has a production distillery in Loveland. Masters says that "all grain-processing, milling, mashing, [the housing of] all our barrels, and 95 percent of our bottling happen up there." The Loveland facility has "300 gallons of distillation capacity," twice the amount of the Denver location.
When The Family Jones was self-distributing its own spirits, it accrued "250 accounts, mainly on the Front Range," according to Masters. Republic National Distributing Company now provides the brand with statewide distribution. "We sold more product in the month of December  than we did in all of 2018," says Masters. He adds, "Volume was up 60 percent, 2018 to 2019. Revenue was up 90 percent. We sold out of Atticus Jones, Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey, in one and a half months."
Masters describes the fast-selling Atticus Jones as a blend of 11 different barrels, aged for 30 months -- a mix of 75 percent rye, 15 percent corn, and 10 percent malt. "I like rye a lot," says Masters. "It's fun to make, too. There are a lot of nuances to rye."
Juniper Jones -- the distillery's "high-end gin" (as opposed to its Jones House house gin) -- incorporates two separate distillations. The first contains juniper; the second combines items like coriander, orris roots, and dark chocolate cacao nibs. Masters strikes a harmony between the two distillations: "Too much juniper and it tastes like a pine tree, not enough juniper and it doesn't taste like gin. So, the reason we distill those separately is then we can balance [them together]." He adds, "The lemongrass gives it some great citrus notes, the cucumber makes it nice and fresh, and then the cacao nibs come in at the very back end as like a nice sweetness."
More family members: Mo Jones is a double pot-distilled, molasses-based rum, fermented with a "funky" wine yeast. "It's very unique and unusual," says Masters. "It's not your standard white rum." Annika Jones, a "Scandanavian-style vodka," incorporates a Swedish wheat grown by Olander Farms in Loveland, not far from The Family Jones' production facility. "To me, the wheat gives it this melon character, like honeydew melon," says Masters. The distillery also sells a premade rock and rye named Automatic Jones, no muddling required. Masters says, "After a long day, it's nice to throw some of that on ice, call it good."
Masters says he enjoys the spirit of collaboration. The Family Jones has worked together with Denver craft brewery TRVE on a jenever-style gin: "The house culture came over from TRVE [within the gin], so it's got some of that sour notes." In addition to the Øland wheat from the Olander family's Root Shoot Malting, it obtains other grains from Colorado Stock and Grain and Whiskey Sisters Supply.
In addition to collaborating, Masters – who's been distilling for 13 years – enjoys educating his customers.
"I love teaching people," he says. "One of my favorite things is spending time downstairs, behind the bar, talking to people about all our different spirits. Why we made them the way we did – and what makes them unique and great. And educating people about the benefits of drinking good spirits as opposed to something that's, maybe, mass-produced and made cheaply."
And what distinguishes The Family Jones' craft spirits from mass-produced ones? "Tender loving care," says Masters. "Blood, sweat, and tears."
Challenges: "Every distiller will tell you regulations are a big challenge," says Masters. "We're always doing paperwork to move product between the two facilities."
And there's changing consumer tastes. Masters says, "That's one of the hard parts about racking whiskey: Is somebody going to even care about my bourbon in three, five years? Or are people just not going to care about bourbon anymore?"
Opportunities: Fostering a base of loyal customers, says Masters. "Giving them a real cocktail and some good food and an amazing experience is super important to us."
And there's potential for a new line of packaged products: "We're talking with some people about doing canned cocktails."
Needs: "Capital is always big," says Masters. "When you're racking a lot of whiskey every year, that's a lot of money sitting in barrels in a rackhouse. So, capital's always important."