How collaboration and terroir are fueling success at Laws Whiskey House

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Laws Whiskey House has been around for 12 years, and Founder Al Laws is quick to point out that they are nowhere near done learning all there is to learn about distilling. Laws let his love of whiskey and learning lead him into this business, and now he’s excited to have a hand in taking Colorado whiskey to the next level.

“Obsession with whiskey!” Laws exclaims when asked how he got into the whiskey business. “Every job I’ve ever had, a lot of research went into it. it became, okay. well, we did this. Why don’t we try this? And go learn much as you can about it, get the right people. It’s always about the people, right? All these things really circle around the people you have around you, and having great, motivated people around you just makes the whole thing super fun.”

Laws Whiskey House has been around for 13 years, but Laws isn’t anywhere close to being ready to move on to the next phase of his career. In fact, he doesn’t even feel like he has learned all there is to learn about the whiskey business yet.

Growing Pains

“We’re trying to establish this generational thing, this 21st century whisky brand,” Laws says. “This is going to take 20 years, we’re like 12-13 years in so we’re halfway there. You’ve got this thing out there, and well, how do you take it to the next level?”

When Laws Whiskey House first opened, it was producing 10-12 barrels of whiskey a month. Production output has increased significantly since then — soon approaching 300 barrels a month. But growth in the whiskey industry isn’t always just a matter of buying more raw materials — equipment has to scale up along with personnel.

“A lot of our folks that work with me came from the oil and gas industry,” Laws explains. “In the gas industry it is pretty easy to go from zero to 2000 barrels a day. It’s a little harder to get to 5000 barrels a day. We’re at a point where it costs a lot to grow. So if you’re doing, I don’t know, 20,000 cases and you want to get 40,000, it’s a hell of a lot harder than getting from zero to 20,000.”

Distilleries that opened in the last 10-15 years and have gone through the Covid years don’t always have the best historical data on which to base decisions for the next ten years, and Laws Whiskey House is no exception.

Figuring Out What’s Next

“This business is tough and it’s dependent on a marketplace where folks can be fickle and we’ve had a lot of weird years in the last three years,” Laws says. “As it normalizes, you have to figure out what your avenue is and try to build from there. We’ve already done the expansion. Now we have to kind of backfill what we spent the money on doing. We have a tasting room that’s under construction, has been for almost a year, and it’s a new step for us because there’s a hospitality component to it which we have not really had.”

The new tasting space will add to the existing tours at Laws Whiskey House. “That adds a whole new element to our tours and our education center,” says Laws. “We have a cool church with a big arched window and all these cool, cool pews. It’ll be a nice experience for people to come and see us and see what the brand is about. There’s an elegant cocktail bar on the second floor and plans for a roof deck over the next couple of years once we get it established, but this is all new to us. That’s another whole business into its own. We’ve never really done that. We’ve had a pretty small experience before, and this will definitely be a more elevated experience.”

Collaboration Rules

At Laws Whiskey House, there’s no one person who has the title Master Distiller. Instead, they like to say that their Master Distiller is a village.

“We’ve been around for 12 years and most folks that we have or have had aren’t master distillers,” Laws explains. “I know that because my Yoda, Bill Friel, was a master distiller and did it for 40 years. He’s a real master distiller. We think collectively together as a team where everyone’s heard and engaged together; they can make up this single master distiller. We have some hierarchies. We have a head distiller. We have our weekly production meeting, and everyone contributes. In our world, if you run the equipment, you are the master distiller. You’re accountable to all your teammates and to me and so that’s a good way to run it, and it engages people. We like to say we don’t want anybody who’s just going through the motions on our floor. They have to be engaged. By doing that, we give people a voice and I think that transfers all the way through into the liquid and makes it spectacular.”

Expressing Terroir

Another secret ingredient in Laws Whiskey House’s success is the focus on terroir, particularly when it comes to heritage grains grown in the San Luis Valley of Colorado.

“We’re getting all of our corn from Burlington (Colorado),” Laws says. “Our relationship with Whiskey Sisters allows for us to try some other things, too. We did some blue corn last year, which is pretty good. It definitely tasted different coming off the still as a white spirit, but we won’t know for a few more years how that turned out. We might weave some of that in as well. We don’t tend to make two barrels. We tend to make 30 or 40. Probably the least amount we make would be 12 or 16. So you have an ample amount of it. Doing two or three barrels to something just doesn’t give you enough information.” He adds, “When you get to the small grains, that’s where the flavors come from. Corn is mostly the starch, although, I think you can get some flavor from the corn. The barley, which is used for conversion for us in the bourbon, as for most people, ours actually contributes to the flavor. It’s a scarlet barley, a specific varietal. It’s very tasty, very nutty. Then we have San Luis Valley rye. For a long time, it was just a cover crop. It comes up in the spring. It’s a winter rye. That’s the basis of our 100% rye. Colorado Malting Company is on the farm that grows our small grains. And so we can tweak anything or if we want something a little bit different, they can do that for us. We’re pretty tight with them so that we consider them basically part of our village.”

Terroir plays a major part in the identity of Laws Whiskey House, and it’s not just about the location where the grains are grown — the soil has some distinct qualities, as well.

“This is all grown in an ancient seabed,” says Laws. “It’s 7800 feet above sea level in the Colorado mountains in a valley. The soil is very, very high in salinity. The water tables are not very far down. It’s a sandy environment and with the salinity, it makes the grain struggle to produce, which means that when they’re struggling, they’re making flavors in the grain. It gets cold at night and it’s hot during the day, so it helps the kernels of the greens concentrate a little bit more. They’re a little more dense. We don’t think all the terroir things transfer through in our whisky. Where it’s made, where it’s grown, where it’s aged, all has an impact on the financial flavor profile. That’s important to us.” And it’s important to drinkers too. Laws Whiskey House Bonded Four Grain Straight Bourbon Whiskey was a gold medal winner in the 2022 NY International Spirits Competition.

Tours and tastings are available Wednesday thru Sunday.

This article originally appeared on Alcohol Professor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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