Last month, we discussed what grains Laws Whiskey House uses, and why they use them. You can check that article out by clicking here.
After Laws carefully selects the grains, they must be converted into delicious, delicious whiskey. And, just like the intentionality Laws demonstrates in their grain selection, they are equally intentional with their distillation process.Laws Whiskey House brings their “no shortcuts” attitude to each step of their production process.
Laws Whiskey Uses An “Inverted” Mash Process
Some of Laws’ steps are tried and true classics, like utilizing a sour mash process. This is where a distiller will use a small amount of spent grains from an old mash in a new mash. They do this to help control PH levels and add consistency between batches since the new batch will take characteristics from the old one. When the PH lowers, it grows more acidic and begins to have a sour taste, hence the name.
Some of the mashing steps taken at Laws are quite different then what you might find at other distilleries. For example, their “inverted mash process” is an important part of making the flagship four grain bourbon at Laws.
The process starts with milling. While water is brought up to temperature, grains are freshly milled in the order of which they’ll be added to the mash cooker, starting with corn, then San Luis Valley Rye, Centennial white wheat, and finally heirloom two row barley.
Next the grains are “cooked” to break down their molecular structure into more readily processed glucose. This allows the yeast to “eat” the glucose in the mash and convert it into heat, carbon dioxide, and alcohol. Most distilleries mix all of their grains together and bring the temperature up. However, Laws takes a different approach.
Laws begins with corn and rye first since they require higher temperatures to break down more fully. Next they lower the temperature and add Centennial white wheat, heirloom two row barley. By lowering the temperature this allows the newly added wheat and barley to cook properly and round out the four grain mash bill for the fermentation stages.
Laws uses open air fermentation for their mashes. This means that they allow the fermenting mash to be exposed to the elements. They do this because it allows their environment to more readily affect the whiskey.
Each different location on our wonderful earth is teeming with all sorts of microscopic organisms that we breathe and ingest every day. Because no two climates are exactly the same, neither are the type and density of these organisms.
Open air fermentation allows these microflora to affect the process in a way that’s local to that particular area. However, this practice is becoming more rare, as it also comes with the downside of not being able to perfectly control each moment of fermentation. This is where science and art blend together, allowing whiskey to embrace its uniqueness while the distiller’s preparation and experience help keep it on profile.
Another process that Laws uses is on-grain fermentation. What this means is that they keep the grain in their distillation process as long as possible.
Many distilleries will remove grains prior to fermentation for convenience or for other reasons. However, Laws keeps the grain in during fermentation. They believe this helps the grains to continue influencing the mash during a pivotal point in it’s transformation. They also say it imparts more flavor into their mash, as it steeps like tea from the heat generated by the yeast.
Why do these matter?
There is a special word, “terroir.”
It is prominent in the wine industry, but often not discussed in the whiskey world. However, this word still has profound application and impact on whiskey throughout its journey.
It refers to the environmental impact on something. For example, how the soil, minerals, and weather affect grapes that are grown to make wine. And, for whiskey, the environment also has a significant impact on things. For example, the unique flavors of grains grown in a specific area are expressed during cooking, fermentation, and distillation. . The microflora that affect the mash during the open-air fermentation process can alter the end product in favorable ways
Laws understands this. Not only do they understand it, but they harness it. They use it to their advantage to help create something unique to them. They use this process to create a layered whiskey and honor the heirloom grains they so carefully chose.
It’s all about intentionality and highlighting their natural environment at Laws. That’s why they choose heirloom grains. It’s why they have unique mashing processes. And, it’s why they have so many unique expressions. It’s all about highlighting the goodness already there.
If you want to learn more about Laws, you can click here to visit their website and check out all the amazing things they are doing!
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Greg Sinadinos started his spirits journey writing a whiskey periodical for Fine Tobacco NYC Magazine. He began answering review requests under a social media page he named “Whiskey Culture,” which quickly merged with Greg’s passion for connecting with others and his interest in history.
Today, Greg travels the country not just looking for great whiskey, but also exploring the history and individuals that the whiskey community is founded upon. He has authored “Whiskey History From Around The World” and is the host of “The Rickhouse” web series.