Three bottles of Laws Whiskey with embossed custom labels in a cellar surrounded by wooden barrels.

Customer Spotlight: Laws Whiskey House

From Wall Street to Whiskey

How Laws Whiskey House bet the farm on locally sourced heirloom grains to express uniquely Colorado flavors in their award-winning whiskey

Whiskey has always been a passion for Al Laws. But it wasn’t until 2011 that he and his wife Marianne turned that passion into a profession with the founding of Laws Whiskey House, an award-winner distillery in Denver, with the distribution of its American whiskeys in 18 states.

Before there was whiskey, Al spent 15 years in the world of finance in the oil and gas sector, including a decade on Wall Street in New York City. An opportunity with his employer to move to a Denver-based office brought the Laws to Colorado which would prove to be a serendipitous move for the future distillers.

From consumer to connoisseur to scholar

“Like many fellow Canadians, my lifelong journey with whiskey began early,” Al jokes. “And my drink of choice was Jack Daniel’s. As my passion has always been American whiskey.” Over the years he expanded and elevated his palate, amassing an impressive library of 600 bottles of whiskey in his home, from liquor stores across the country, many of which carry Laws Whiskey today.

After getting settled into Colorado for a few years, Al and Marianne decided the time was right to trade in his three-piece suit for shorts and Birkenstocks to pursue his dream. Al immersed himself in learning everything possible about the whiskey-making craft. “I read all the books and magazines out there,” he says, “including ten years of Whisky Advocate back issues.”

Al also sought mentors such as Bill Friel, a master distiller in Kentucky for four decades and one of the veteran members of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. “He agreed to help me put the company on the right track out of the gate and coached me on all the nuances of distilling whiskey”. Al says Bill was at Laws distillery for the first distillation. “He taught me the difference between just making whiskey and making whiskey with soul,” explains Al. “As making whiskey is an art as much as it is a science.”

Uniquely Colorado

Bill Friel isn’t the only secret weapon Laws Whiskey House has in its whiskey-making arsenal. Mother Nature plays a pivotal role too. The distillery sources its heirloom and heritage grains exclusively from just two family-owned Colorado farms—the Cody Family Farm in the San Luis Valley and the Whiskey Sisters Supply in Colorado’s eastern plains.

Al happened upon a Cody-grown 50-pound bag of wheat at a home brewing store that caught his eye. “I used it in a batch and the difference was immediate,” Al recalls. “It filled the distillery with intense aromas.” He met with the Codys and quickly established a relationship. The farm now supplies all the distillery’s flavoring grains, wheat, rye, and barley. Laws sources its corn exclusively from Stephanie and Felicia Ohnmacht of Whiskey Sisters Supply whom Al met while pouring whiskey at a fashion show.

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The Laws’ early discovery of these two farms set the course for Colorado-focused whiskeys that make Laws Whiskey House distinctive and reminiscent of regional-based whiskeys prior to Prohibition, such as Pennsylvania rye and Kentucky bourbon.

“As our relationship with these two farms grew, I realized that there are grains grown specifically for flavor versus high yield/commodity,” explains Al. “That’s why we prioritize grains that present distinctive flavors that add uniqueness to our whiskey.” Al credits Mother Nature’s blessings on the Colorado region for this flavor distinction. “The thin air, hot days and cool nights of the Rocky Mountain region, and the rugged growing conditions of the San Luis Valley and eastern plains stress the grains just enough to deepen their flavor of our terroir-driven, grain-to-glass whiskeys.”

Al notes that terroir is a concept usually associated with wine, “but it definitely applies to whiskey as well. You can really taste the impact of the land, the influence of the folks that grow them, and the effect of our state’s unique growing conditions. These factors impart rich nuances to our whiskey.”

Like a patient gargoyle

Once a wizard of Wall Street, Al likens himself to more of a gargoyle, the guardian of spirits. He explains, “We filled our first barrel of Four Grain Bourbon on July 4th, 2011, but didn’t sell our first bottle until October 2014. In the early years, I often felt like the gargoyle of Laws Whiskey House, patiently waiting until the whiskey had enough time to mature and develop,” he laughs. In fact, Al got a tattoo of a gargoyle resting on a barrel on his arm to remind him of this experience.

Laws Whiskey House offerings include their flagship whiskeys, Four Grain Bourbon and San Luis Valley Rye, and the newest releases of their Bottled in Bond Four Grain Bourbon and San Luis Valley Rye. Al says, “to be Bottled in Bond, a spirit must be at least four years old, a product of a single season and a single distiller, and has been aged entirely in our federally bonded rack house. Our latest Bottled in Bond Four Grain Bourbon carries an age statement of eight years, and the Bottled in Bond Rye is seven years old.”

The next great American whiskey

“Building a spirits brand takes time,” Al reiterates, “but we are using that time to do things the right way and to apply our ‘no shortcuts’ philosophy to all that we do. We set out on a twenty-year journey to build and establish our distillery and we are over halfway there.”

With a talented team of 40-strong, known as The Village, Al says the goal is to become part of the fabric and colorful heritage of great American whiskey brands. “We’ll likely never reach the size of Jack Daniels,” he admits, “but we’ll continue to focus on bringing to life rich whiskeys that frame the flavors of our heirloom and heritage grains.”