For those that seek craft, locally produced spirits, look no further than the recently unveiled bourbon at Laws Whiskey House. The distillery, led by head distiller Jake Norris and owner Al Laws, has been in the works for several years but started bottling and selling its A.D. Laws Four-Grain Straight Bourbon at the beginning of October.
What's notable is the team's commitment to owning every aspect of the production process and putting out bourbon that is truly made on-site. While some distilleries may state on the label that a spirit is crafted locally, distillation may actually be outsourced to bigger, out-of-state facilities.
"I'd say what sets any whiskey that we're gonna put out apart is our fanatical dedication and doing things the right way, and our ethical approach to doing it," says Norris. "We've never sourced one drop of spirit from anywhere, ever. And that's a really critical differentiation to make....All of us here feel very strongly about being honest. Each one of these bottles is basically a contract that we’re making a promise to the person who buys that bottle, and that we’re building trust with them and it’s important that every single thing that we put out is ethical and is properly represented as what it is."
Norris, a self-described dedicated hobbyist, got into whiskey-making professionally as Stranahan's head distiller back in 2003. After the company was sold to Proximo Spirits he decided to cash out his part-ownership and spent the next six months consulting and training as a blacksmith to make his own knives. Then he met Laws, whose background is in finance, and the two bonded over their shared passion for whiskey. Laws had been working on opening a distillery for several years, and Norris agreed to join the project.
"Al made me fall in love with whiskey again, with why I started doing it in the first place, and why I sacrificed as much as I did and for as long as I did in the past to make it happen," Norris says.
After a few months of experimenting with recipes, the first batch was started on January 1, 2012. Two years and 10 months later, the results of that batch are now making the rounds at liquor stores, bars, and restaurants around Denver, which Norris himself is delivering.
"The reason we decided as a team [Norris and Laws, along with Jason Mann, Alex Alexander, and Stephen Julander] that I needed to be in the field is because we felt like it took one of us to tell our story accurately, to be able to answer questions," Norris explains. "I've got a lot of relationships in this town and I love to get out there and see friends and have them try the new whiskey. If there is any feedback, I want to hear it. And if they give me feedback, it goes directly to a decision-maker."
So far, the demand has been high for the A.D. Laws Four-Grain Straight Bourbon, which comes in at 47.5 percent ABV. The four-grain type—made with 60 percent corn and then lesser ratios of wheat, barley, and rye—is one that's not often seen, but that Laws chose to start with.
"The four-grain is complex, so you go and you say—if you're a whiskey person—'what's the hardest thing to make?' first," says Laws. "We know we can make single, corn whiskey. Four-grain's the toughest to make because typically the rye overpowers it. So to make a four-grain that isn't just a full-on rye hit, but to have the rye experience tied in is very difficult. We tried different things to get that to happen, and we did it."
There's only one other four-grain bourbon that Laws and Norris can think of that's in constant production, from Tuthilltown Spirits in New York.
"It's a very formidable whiskey to make. It's a very difficult whiskey, and that's really why you don't see very many four-grain bourbons out there. Each one of those grains requires its own temperature to extract the sugars and flavors, so our cook is about a six-and-a-half-hour cooking process," Norris explains.
With around 3,200 bottles coming out of the first batch, the plan is to get up to 5,000 bottles per batch within the next couple of years. A goal has been set to source 100 percent of the grain used from Colorado. Currently the barley, wheat, and rye come from Colorado farmers, and once the distillery's buying power is up, it will be able to get the corn in-state as well. Laws is also looking forward to growing in both space and influence.
"I want to get this in as many people's hands and in their glass as possible," Laws says. "We want to be the whiskey for Colorado. That's one of our stated, number-one goals."