It is a feeling of unaccompanied satisfaction - just me, my thoughts, and my poison of choice observing the chaos of the city. But what happens when that bubble is popped? How do you react when a nearly forgotten face slides into the empty chair on the other side of the table?
Amid quickly recalled flashbacks from the past ten or fifteen years of my life and several ear-loads of stories about war, kids, and that drunken night back in the day at the Flogging Molly concert, I couldn’t help but laugh as I unexpectedly spent a lunch hour that quickly became two with an old high school friend. A friend that, once diplomas were in hand, took a very different route from my own. On the surface, this was just another conversation that left me thinking about how easy it is to feel like you are behind the curve in life when you are 31, have no kids, and still spend more time at Record Depot than Home Depot. But as we sat trolling over food from a far off land and laughing over equally distant memories, I thought about how at this age, and probably any after high school, it is too easy to put yourself in a social box.
As you move into a career path, or have a family, or whatever the focal point of your life is, it is so easy to begin pushing the people and things that don’t fit perfectly into that realm out and surround yourself with people and things that coincide with the path you have taken. I realized how much I missed this guy, and so many other old friends that without Facebook and the occasional random spotting I’d have no contact with. The times with them are special because those times are past. I have followed my guts down the path I am on, and he has done the same. Whenever I see him again, we will still laugh at the same old teenage stories while quietly thinking about how different we have become.
For the first time in a while, it wasn’t the food that made a restaurant experience something I couldn’t get out of my head. I still had this on my mind as I walked into Fluid Coffee Bar in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood the next morning to meet a local entrepreneur trying to imprint his name on the craft spirit scene. I grabbed a drip coffee, black, and sat down with JP Krause, co-owner of Krause Family Spirits, who produce SQUEAL spiced black rum. JP and his wife started the brand in 2013 as a way to express their lust for all things creative and fun. JP is also a chef. A guy who must by proxy understand the menaces of the BOH life as well as the soul of the FOH life. And as I quickly learned, also a guy who has had many social experiences like the one I had just gone through.
For JP, the inner social circle, as well as the ability to have connections both new and old, starts at the center. We are here to talk about his rum, but I keep going off subject and wondering out loud how I should go about involving people in my life. Is it possible to keep in touch with everyone you were once close to? It seems to be a question of how you’ve grown up. JP runs his own business and has learned that because of that, what he does ‘off the clock’ will absolutely affect his life ‘on the clock.’
“I went to an all-boys high school,” he says. “Everyone was super tight. There was no cliques growing up. You walked in and it was like a brotherhood of 300 brothers. There was no jocks and nerds, everyone just hung out. And being in Denver, you run into people all the time from high school. To me, it’s more like a maturity level. I’m 31; I’m not afraid to be young, but I’ve matured a lot. Certain people you can kind of connect with because they have matured also. There are other people who it’s like they are still living in college. Having a wife and kids, and a business, you have to have this certain sense that no matter what I do outside of work, it’s always going to come back on my business. You never know who you’re going to meet and who they’re going to talk to.”
Makes sense to me, I think as sip my coffee. I ask him who he talked to that led him from the kitchen to the still.
“When I was working at the Broadmoor I met this beautiful lady named Monika,” JP says. Monika (pronounced Mo-NEEK-a, as I learned from JP after I clearly said ‘Monica’ while speaking to her on the phone) is from Poland, and Krause had to chase her back there shortly after they met to put the ring on her finger. “We got engaged and I married her a few months later. We lived out there in Poland for a while.”
A small town called Winesoot to be exact is where Monika calls home. While there, JP vicariously immersed himself in the strong vodka culture of the region. The idea of molding his ability to master a recipe and this new love of craft spirits was born. “She grew up tasting really good, clean spirits,” JP says. “And I come from the chef world and I saw this movement towards craft beers and nice cocktails.” While running the bar at Denver’s Aloft Hotel, the idea came to him to create his own spirit. “I thought, ‘You know I bet I could make something taste really good.’”
The original plan was to make a vodka in the vein of the Polish spirits Monika was used to and that JP had experienced since meeting his wife. “We started playing around,” JP says. “We threw some peach in there, some spices in there. Then we thought, let’s make a nice spiced rum.” And voila, the concept for Krause Family Spirits’ SQUEAL spiced black rum was born. “Rum is kind of that ‘hang out in the summer, hang out in the winter at the clubhouse after snowboarding’ type thing. We’re all about having fun, and rum is fun, ya know?”
The result is a rum that is literally bursting with flavor - I was greeted with a strong dose of vanilla that actually stunned the alcoholic bite that drinkers become accustomed to when drinking Captain. I personally recommend holding the Coke and pouring your first taste neat because a seasoned aficionado will appreciate the candy-like flavor that dominates the experience from nose to tongue.
The concept for the branding of the rum came from matching tattoos that JP and Monika got after being married. The flying pig, embedded into their bodies just as it is embedded into the logo of the brand, represents, according to JP, “Making the impossible possible. I flew half way around the world to be with her. It’s kind of our love story.” Clearly JP and Monika’s product is representative of their love and, from what I can tell, a story as romantic as theirs happens about as often as a pig flies. Corny? Not in the least. Come on now. It’s imagery.
Art lies at the heart of their brand and as such Krause Family Spirits works with local art galleries and shops to promote their rum, pouring it at events and shows that target their market of adventure seekers that are, as JP put it, “on their way up.” For those with a sweet tooth, Twisted Cream ice cream here in Denver is using the rum to make a peaches and cream flavor with a little kick. “Having our product tied with another local company that makes ice cream? That’s what it’s all about. Being tied with local companies. It’s working for us and hopefully it makes sense to them.”
I’m sure it does. Their business is a product of their lives together, just like relationships are the product of shared experience. They can continue to grow, or they can evolve to take different paths, as long as down the line all parties can reminisce about it over a good meal and a stiff cocktail. That is what makes life worth living and relationships worth having. “We write ‘go pig’ on the bottle because it’s how we live our life,” JP says. “They say go big or go home. I didn’t just find a girl, fall in love with her, and travel halfway around the world to marry her because I want to take it easy. Being a chef, there are times when you get so many tickets and you’re so behind and so stressed out that it’s easy to get caught up with stress. It takes a certain personality to pursue your passions and we have that, people in Colorado have that. You can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and stand for what you believe.”
That’s it right there - there are plenty of people from high school, college, and beyond that I have not stayed in contact with and I’m left to think that there is good reason for that. We grew together for a while until our personality or our passions went a different way and the lid was tightened on the relationship. Once that seal is on there, it takes two parties to uncork it again.
Fluidcoffeebar.com - 501 E. 19th Ave in Denver