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Laws Whiskey House Experimental Barrel Straight Bourbon finished in Honey Cask

Laws Whiskey House Experimental Barrel Straight Bourbon finished in Honey Cask
Laws Whiskey House, which I believe used to be called A.D. Laws, has been in the Colorado distilling business for 10 years now.  During that time, they have saw substantial growth and distribution throughout the United States.  Their two main products are a Four Grain Bourbon and a Rye Whiskey.  Each whiskey type has 3 variations including a standard, bottled in bond and a cask strength bottling.  There have been other interesting releases throughout the years to include a malt whiskey, wheat whiskey and an Experimental Barrel line.
Today’s review covers one of those Experimental Barrels, which Laws releases seasonally.  To be honest, I have not been following them enough to know they even had this line of whiskies.  Looking through their social media shows experimental releases finished in everything from Ruby Port, Calvados, Orange Curacao, Armagnac, Cognac and Honey casks.  This program is at least 3 years old which means releases like this will probably continue for the foreseeable future. 
Honey Cask finishes are all the rage these days with multiple distilleries trying their luck at recreating the hype that Belle Meade’s version unleashed on the scene 4 years ago.  So it was just a matter of time before Laws decided to take a stab at releasing one for themselves.  One of the first things you notice about this particular bottle is just how jam-packed their label is with information regarding the final product.  For example, this release was comprised of 4 barrels that were each distilled sometime between March and October 2018.  The barrels were all then dumped on October 19, 2021.  

Laws Whiskey produces 8 year old bourbons, so why are they only using 3 year old bourbons here?

What surprised me is that the barrels used in this release were harvested before they even turned 4 years old.  This is strange for a distillery that mainly bottles their products between 4 and 8 years old.  Why didn’t they use the more mature bourbon that they had at their disposal?  After further research, I have found that the vast majority of their experimental releases also used whiskey that was under 4 years old.  What gives?
Getting back to the bottle at hand, the label gives us some interesting stats about the bourbon that was used to include the entry proof (110) and the exit proof (107.3) and the bottling proof; a rather low 95.  The 53 gallon barrels were given to Bee Squared Apiary which filled them with honey for a period of time before dumping it and giving the barrels back to Laws.  So how is the finished product?  It’s time to pour a glass and find out.  I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Expecting the full weight of the honey cask to be my first note I detect, I’m surprised to find that the nose is almost entirely bourbon notes.  Is there a sweetness to the nose?  Yes.  But it’s quite subtle.  The nose has a bready scent that comes off as somewhat grainy.  Cream of Wheat hot cereal mixed with some berries comes to mind with honey scents coming next.  It’s very nice, but there’s no escaping the many youthful scents it still has.  I’m not detecting a whole lot of oak or spice notes which mean that either the water added to proof it down was too much or the honey is blanketing everything else.  One unusual note I had scribbled down in my notebook was how much this comes off as an American Single Malt Whiskey, rather than a honey cask finished bourbon.  
Palate: Cooked grains, cinnamon, spiced honey, wildflowers and vanilla are all flavors I can get right off the bat.  Other notes that come to me as the session continues include cooked stone fruits, a tiny amount of cocoa butter and a little bit of wet cardboard.  For all the flavors I just described, the palate is not particularly impressive because the flavors seem subdued.  I blame this on the low proof and the “coating” nature of the honey that seems to be masking it.
Finish: The finish is where the honey finally shines.  After the sip is complete, the script flips with the sensation being like you just stuck a honey dipper in your mouth.  A small amount of cinnamon spice remains but mostly the heat is held in check and the other flavors have been pushed aside to make way for more honey.  If there are any other flavors that I can taste on the finish, the “flavor” of potpourri seems like its there.  Weird.

Score: 4.5/10

To be brutally honest, I find this to be one of the least special honey cask finished whiskies I’ve tasted.  The low proof does the sticky-sweet honey effect no favors.  Barrel flavors struggle to come through while the honey becomes a kind of one-trick-pony.  On top of all that, I can’t get over the overwhelming sensation that this tasted and smelled like an American Single Malt Whiskey.  For whatever reason, those kinds of whiskies always seem to be very honey-forward and not particularly complex. 
I get the allure of producers wanting to be the next big thing in terms of honey cask finishes.  If done correctly (like Belle Meade has done), it can be a life-changing experience for the drinker.  But all too often there is an element or two that throws off the entire experiment, resulting in a lackluster bourbon.  That’s the case here.  Laws shouldn’t take this as a personal insult as I’ve yet to taste a suitable contender to Belle Meade’s version.  The closest ones typically use MGP bourbon as a base because MGP has such a thick and oily body with a strong enough profile that it stands up just fine to barrel finishes.  Laws Whiskey House, on the other hand, has a polarizing bourbon profile at best and one that seems to be too young and thin to take on the task of such a strong finishing barrel.  And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why Laws didn’t bother to use some of their best and oldest bourbon for this treatment… or at least leave this at barrel proof.  That should’ve been my first warning that this bottle was going to contain some flaws.

Final Thoughts

I wouldn’t be surprised if 2022 sees a few more honey cask finished whiskies coming out from other distilleries.  They will undoubtedly be sought after by those that have read the hype about Belle Meade’s popular bottle but can’t find or afford one.  The simple truth is that very few will come close to its legendary status.  So before you open up your wallet for a whiskey that you think will be the next big thing, consider finding a sample first and determining if its worth the chase.  Not all barrel finishes are created equally. 

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