The Law of Whiskey

Photography: Allison Moix  Words: Chris Murphy

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From Wall Street to Colorado whiskey — not a path many would predict, but there’s nothing quite predictable about Alan Laws, founder and sole owner of Laws Whiskey House. Take a sip of Laws and you’ll experience something a little like Alan: warm, genuine and exceedingly complex.

But first, there’s that fire.

“We make whiskey. We make it every.damn.day. That is what making whiskey is about. If you don’t really, really love whiskey — you’ve got no business making it. Whiskey has heart in it — so it needs to have that passion around its process.”

Process is sacred in their family. Every employee comes with an intellectual curiosity about distillation. It’s a part of the culture that fuels learning, experimentation and the daily process of crafting four-grain whiskey. This passion lives in the facets of the experience — from education of whiskey lovers in the cherished “Whiskey Church” to hands-on training for all Laws employees and even the choice to remove the lead-distiller position entirely.

“Everyone deserves to be at the table, everyone has a role and everyone has to be able to pick up their game every day. It’s a hard culture to have, but we’ve created it here.”

Some might call them over-achievers. They’d probably be right — except for the attitude. Beneath the entrepreneurial mentality and appreciation for heterogeneity and terre noire, there is an honest, patient company.  

“Honest whiskey, man. Water. Grain. Yeast. Oak Barrels. Time.”

It took five years of planning before the first barrel was filled. Then four years before it was ready for the market. Add another two years until entering into competition. That’s 11 years of hard work without a competitive benchmark, until this February.

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How’d they do? They’re batting 1000.

Of the five whiskeys entered in respective American categories, each one medaled. Laws Bonded Rye Whiskey — best in world. The 4-Grain Bourbon Cask-Strength — world runner up. Wheat Whiskey — world runner up. Bonded Bourbon — gold, American category. Experimental Rye Mash — silver, American category.

Patience is always rewarded. Nothing sees a bottle until it is extraordinary; that’s a promise the entire family at Laws Whiskey House lives each day. While on a tour of the distillery, one thing is clear: the welcoming, patient, yet intensely curious atmosphere is magnetic for all who visit.

That includes native Kentuckian Bill Friel, one of the five living members of the Bourbon Hall of Fame, and mentor for Alan since the planning stage. Each year, he is flown out to teach something new to the team, often in unexpected ways.

“Bill’s like Yoda … the conversation isn’t, ‘Do this, this and this. Memorize it.’ He will answer your question with another question … because whiskey isn’t a memorization thing. It’s a feel thing. You can’t be so locked into rigidity. The whiskey won’t have any soul if it is too rigid.”

Laws Rack Room 1 is the embodiment of this feeling.

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Every barrel is different. Different colors. Different labels. Some stained with sugars from the oak barrels, some in the early phases of aging. Time gives whiskey a soul. Each barrel has a personality and spirit that grows in the stillness — a spirit that’s kept honest by purposefully selected and handled ingredients. 

“We know where everything we use comes from. Most people don’t have that today. We want to know where our grains come from, who grew them and why they did it … all of that matters.”

Laws Whiskey House pays two to three times the commodity price for grain because of this. Every ounce of corn, wheat, barley and rye is proudly Coloradan and supports the local families of Cody Family Farms, Colorado Malting Company and the Whiskey Sisters. Every drop of water to proof is from Boulder-based Eldorado Springs Water.

To the Laws’ family, it’s a matter of integrity, which is hard to find in spirits.

It’s the reason why they worked to become the first Bonded Four-Grain Bourbon in the United States. They want people to know the Laws brand is to be trusted, no matter what variety is in the bottle; that every whiskey is made and bottled by them, in-house.

Call it entrepreneurial spirit or curiosity, or both — Alan always has his eyes set on the next big thing. And now, that’s a 10,000-barrel production, distributed nationally, yet entirely independent— a craft made and delivered by them. The Laws’ family is raising the collective bar of Colorado spirits with one foot in the present and one in the future.  

“Tomorrow, we’re going to make the best whiskey we’ve ever made, because today we made our best. Every day is a trial. Every day is about getting a little bit better. That is how we’ve come to be.”

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Originally published in Vol. 4 of Colorado Collective, June 17'