There’s Some Great Bourbon Being Made Outside of Kentucky

How distilleries in Colorado, Utah and Texas are setting their quintessentially American brown spirits apart

April 18, 2024 6:54 am
A bottle and a glass of Laws bourbon, from Colorado
Based in Colorado, Laws Whiskey House makes an award-winning bourbon
Laws Whiskey House

It’s a common misconception that bourbon must be made in Kentucky to bear the product name. The legal requirements dictate that the spirit be aged in charred new oak barrels for at least two years with a mash bill of at least 51% corn…and produced in the United States. 

While there’s no denying that Kentucky will always make up the majority of the market share (a dubious and often-cited 95%), non-Kentucky bourbon is on the rise around the country. In fact, honors like the World Whiskey Awards have non-Kentucky bourbon categories. The SIP Awards honored bourbon from Texas, Utah and Indiana with Double Golds in 2023. The bottles that stack up against Kentucky’s finest use the same processes, but retain a special terroir. 

bourbon from Laws Whiskey House resting on two barrels
The cask strength version of this Laws bourbon won World’s Best Small Batch Bourbon at the World Whiskies Awards
Laws Whiskey House

Al Laws, founder and CEO of Laws Whiskey House, knew what he was up against when he decided to launch a bourbon: “No matter what you make, if you make it in California or Colorado or in upstate New York, it’s always going to get compared to Kentucky.”

Laws has made bourbon since 2011 using Colorado’s heirloom wheat, corn, rye and barley from family-run farms, plus mountain spring water. The grains are what set it apart, and the team works closely with farmers in terms of planting and conditions. 

“We’re only using the grain of the prior year or the prior harvest season, which happens to be the prior year,” he says. “We have malted grains and a lot of them are warm when they arrive. All those things factor into flavor.” 

The pot-distilled product paid off, as Laws was just awarded Best Non-Kentucky Small Batch Bourbon and World’s Best Small Batch Bourbon at the World Whiskey Awards

Garrison Brothers 2024 Guadalupe Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Garrison Brothers 2024 Guadalupe Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bourbon
Garrison Brothers

The Texas bourbon scene is also booming, thanks, in part, to Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hill Country, the state’s first legal whiskey distillery. Founder Dan Garrison has always been a bourbon fan, so distilling it made sense.  

“The challenge was convincing the rest of the world of the truth. Bourbon can be made in any state in America,” he says. “But no one knew this until we came along and informed them. Great grains are grown in almost every state.” 

The grains, specifically, include food-grade white corn, red winter wheat and barley all grown from different parts of Texas. They go into Garrison Brothers’ single barrel, small batch and barrel-infused bourbons, which have won all the top awards in distilling.

The High West Distillery and Tasting Room in Wanship, UT
The High West Distillery and Tasting Room in Wanship, UT
High West

In famously teetotaling Utah, High West Distilling has carved out a place in the industry, first by sourcing and blending and now moving towards its own distillate. 

“[Utah] has an alcohol kind of stigma in its history. It’s not in that kind of bourbon belt where you grow the best corn in the United States,” says master distiller Brendan Coyle. “We actually do have access to some really great corn out here in southwestern Colorado, which is where we pull all of our corn for our pot still bourbon, as well as rye of course, up in Idaho, and malted barley up in Idaho.” 

Coyle and crew set about creating a different product, with more earthy and aromatic notes from higher rye content and wild fermentation as well as experiments with heirloom grains. 

“The Mountain West is not what you think of for a great American bourbon. It’s kind of exciting for us because it’s a differentiator,” he says. “Our intention was to make that bourbon for the rye lover.”

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But these aren’t all. Indiana’s Starlight Distillery earned accolades for its single barrel and bottled-in-bond bourbons. Holladay Bourbon in Missouri follows a distilling tradition that predates many in Kentucky, with corn grown exclusively in the state, earning the title of “Real Missouri Bourbon.” It has also racked up honors from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Even Tennessee’s own George Dickel has tried its hand at bourbon. (And Fort Hamilton and Hudson Whiskey in New York, too.)

So is there room for non-Kentucky bourbons? Laws would like to see different geographic areas known for the spirit, similar to Scotland’s Scotch whisky regions. 

“Kentucky makes awesome whiskey. Why would I want to try to make just what they make?” he asks. “They already do that. Kentucky’s always going to be the heart, if you will, of American whiskey. We want to add to that.”


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