Al Laws and Jake Norris haven't taken any shortcuts on the path to top-shelf bourbon and rye whiskey. Laws calls his eponymous distillery a "whiskey church."
The Alberta-born Laws worked as an energy analyst before he went into distilling. Like many a Colorado entrepreneur, he followed his heart -- and financed it with oil and gas money.
"Whiskey has been a big passion for me since I was 16," he says. "I've got 600 different whiskeys at my house. I collect it, but I open it." The Library, his den at home, "is where we do all of the sensory testing," says Laws.
There was nearly five years of educations and strategy before the distillery launched. Laws calls retired Barton distiller Bill Friel his "Yoda," noting, "I spent a lot of time with him learning about whiskey and how to make it."
Former Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey head distiller Jake Norris joined the Laws team in early 2012, about six months after distilling began. "Al was well on his way," says Norris.
Norris brought the knowledge and experience to scale the operation, and today the distilling operation is a well-oiled machine. "It's like the A-Team," says Laws. "Jake might be B.A. Baracus."
On the wall next to the still in big, bold letters: "There are no shortcuts." It's no mere marketing slogan. Before bottle no. 1, the team bided their time while the whiskey aged for a full two years.
"The most innovative thing we've done is make our own fucking whiskey from grain to bottle," says Norris. "What we're doing is very traditional. All we've done is employ better practices -- better application of chemistry, better techniques to get a more consistent and higher yield -- but otherwise what we do is the same thing they were doing three centuries ago in Kentucky."
First released in October, the bourbon is a complex four-grain blend, with 60 percent corn, 20 percent wheat, 10 percent barley, and 10 percent rye. The rye will be available in mid-2016, after it hits the 34-month mark. There are about 50 barrels aging in the Laws racks of smaller-batch whiskeys that will likely be available exclusively in the tasting room at the distillery (1420 S. Acoma St. in Denver).
The distillery is sitting on an inventory of about 1,000 barrels, and will bottle about once a month in 2015. Annual production capacity could hit 1,000 barrels if the system was maxed out.
Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa, Colorado, malts the company's grain, but Laws uses both raw and malted grain in their mash. "Without raw, you won't get the terroir and you won't get the depth," says Laws.
All of the grain except for the corn is Colorado-grown, but that could soon change. "As soon as we get our buying power up, we'll buy our corn in Colorado," says Norris.
The future might include an expanded tasting room and restaurant across the alley on Broadway. "This is a place to come to," says Laws. "This is a whiskey house. This is a whiskey church."
Challenges: The lag time from production to sales. "Our production is capped by cash flow," says Norris. "For two years, we bled cash like a stuck pig. This is $15 million in inventory."
"Now we have to make money," says Laws.
Opportunities: With more than 100 counts right out of the gate, Laws Whiskey House is looking to aggressively grow in Colorado and beyond. Laws says he anticipates in selling in multiple states by the end of the year. New York is high on his list.
Needs: Barrel storage. "We need another building to put barrels," says Laws. "We've got 1,000 barrels and room for 300 more. I've got a real estate guy looking for buildings. The pot business has driven up prices."
The distillery also needs a few employees for both the tasting room and the back of the house. "We're hiring three more people," says Laws.