For December, a month with many reasons to raise a glass of something warming,
the Healthy Spirits American Whiskey Club has returned again to Denver,
Colorado. This month’s exclusive store pick is not one but two cask strength single
barrels of Law’s Whiskey House Four Grain Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
My own personal introduction to Laws Whiskey House was a stellar and I mean
stellar single barrel of their San Luis Valley Rye. Intrigued by the unique, grainforward (not to be confused with “grainy”) flavor profile, I read up on Laws as I
sipped that whiskey. I think of them in the same way I think about Leopold Bros,
also in Colorado, or St. George here in the Bay Area’s Alameda. Laws is a craft
operation dedicated to the power of terroir to create flavor.
Terroir is a term more readily used in the wine world, which has always been very
centered on the impact of regions—e.g. Bordeaux versus Beaujolais—in terms of
overarching flavor profiles one might come to expect from the grapes grown in one
versus another. It is the American craft whiskey movement that has brought the
importance of terroir to the awareness of whiskey fans. Craft distilleries cannot
point to a generations-long history, a mash bill jotted on faded parchment by a
great grandaddy, or some other origin story that memory and marketing may or
may not have embroidered to the point of fiction. Rather, American craft
distilleries distinguish themselves by their location, the land—the terroir—where
they craft their whiskeys.
Terroir is generally considered a reference to the regional landscape and its
weather patterns. But as the term has come to be used and understood more widely,
it now also includes the local culture that is itself shaped by that landscape and
weather, and so also the intentions of the whiskey maker. Land, grain, weather, and
intention collaborate to define the flavor profile of a given terroir. So, for example,
between Laws Whiskey House, Stranahan’s (last month’s pick) and Leopold Bros,
one might begin to recognize characteristics particular to the Denver, Colorado,
terroir. As with the afore mentioned French wine regions, sub-regions within
regions then add further difference and complexity to whatever might be broadly
shared within the larger area.
With Laws Whiskey House, one decisive factor is certainly their choice of grains.
Their mash bills are built entirely on “heirloom” and “heritage” grains—finicky,
low-yield, highly flavorful grains that mass grain production steadfastly avoids in
favor of more consistent (therefore cheaper) growth and flavor patterns. Two
Colorado family farms grow these grains for Laws—the Cody Farm in San Luis
Valley and the Ohnmacht Farm in the state’s flat eastern region. The growing
conditions in these areas are rugged, with rocky soil, thin high-elevation air, hot
days and cool nights. Native grains grown there have developed a hearty stamina
to survive. Like any being, grain too is impacted by life’s challenges. And so the
aromas and flavors yielded by these resilient grains have whatcha might call
personality. Now over a decade into their whiskey making, Laws has not attempted
to tame these flavors so much as corral them into whiskeys that taste at once wild
Their bourbon features an uncommon all-Heirloom four-grain mash bill,
comprised of 60% Homestead corn, 20% Centennial wheat, 10% Secale rye and
10% Henry Road malted barley. The corn brings the sweetness, the wheat a
creaminess, the rye offers spice, and after helping to prompt fermentation the
malted barley adds fruit, nut, malt and chocolate notes. There is a lot going on in
this mash bill.
Because one barrel alone would not yield enough bottles to serve our growing
whiskey club membership, we picked up two. They are very similar, differing in
proof by a mere 1.4 degrees and each aged 9.5 years—still an uncommonly high
age among the many relatively young American craft distilleries. The oak barrels
were air-seasoned for 18 months and charred to level 3 before the whiskeys entered
them at 110 proof. And the full process is Kosher from start to finish—standard
practice at Laws Whiskey House.
Whereas one barrel yielded too few bottles, two barrels provides us with a cozy
surplus. So if you love the barrel you pick up, or know you’d like to enjoy a
terroir-based taste test straight away, we encourage you to also pick up a bottle
from the second barrel as well.
Let’s pour a glass of each, and see what these barrels are up to:
COLOR – rusty russet orange with fiery
NOSE – dry rye grasses, soft malt, thick
caramel, chocolate, a kind of rustic cream of
wheat with a big pad of butter melting on it
PALATE – simmering heat beneath syrupy
caramel, chocolate, the malt and rye spices,
some kind of dark non-flowery herbal tea,
just a touch of pulpy orange peel
FINISH – a flare of heat from the proof that
settles into caramel and malted chocolate
OVERALL – a gently malted and herbal, chocolate bar lover’s bourbon
These are matters of degrees, discernible with careful tasting. If I were drinking
rather than tasting, I might not notice the differences. Both barrels offer beautifully
gentle malt notes, not at all edgy as some malted bourbons and ryes can be. The
variations on chocolate, from thick bar chocolate to creamy frostings and syrups,
are warming and cozy. The herbal notes are at once fresh and dry, like a newly
picked herb bundle hung upside down in the sun that has only just dried out. The
heat does bite a bit, eventually leaving a pleasant numbing quality in its wake.
Altogether these two Laws offerings can stand up to both contemplation and
mixing. Yes mixing! I can see these going toward a nice cozy coffee based
cocktail, some variation on an Irish Coffee made with this Laws bourbon, using
either real dark roast coffee or maybe some Mr. Black’s Coffee Liqueur, and a big
dollop of freshly whipped cream. Yum!
After you’ve had a glass yourself, please stop by the store again and let us know
what you think.
Dark lapsang tea & just a touch of pulpy orange peel.
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