He may be analytical, even methodical, in his work. But he appreciates eclectic styles of music and sometimes muses whether our historic Lawrenceburg distillery is haunted.
Meet RJ Laws.
When did you start at MGP, and what was your first position here?
May 2012 as a Lab Tech in the Lawrenceburg Laboratory.
What is your educational background?
Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry, minor in Math and History from Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana
Why do you do what you do?
I have a knack for keeping instruments running well.
What part of your job do you consider crucial that others might overlook?
Attention to detail, along with back tracking to find where things went off track.
What album would you listen to while working around the house?
Not sure there would be an album as much as a hodgepodge of rock, grunge, classical, hip hop, and country. Depending on how smoothly things were running, would determine how fast of a beat the music would be.
What’s your favorite distilled spirit? Definitely rye whiskey. Wheated bourbon has a softer, more gentle profile, so it doesn’t have the mouthfeel. Heavy corn bourbon, while a good mouth weight, has a stronger sweetness to it, as corn in and of itself is sweeter than wheat or rye. Rye whiskey has more complex (baking spice) profile. I have mine with ice, let the ice melt some before drinking. The sweetness of barrel flavors combined with the heavier cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg from the rye just seem to be a better balance for my palate.
What blog, podcast, website or book do you go to for education on the industry?
Sometimes I read Whiskey Advocate. Or, I may hit the TTB website. Otherwise, I am reaching out to other labs to pick their brains on what is happening.
What are you passionate about?
Fishing. Up until Covid my father and I went fishing in Northern Ontario every year for 22 years straight. Family keeps me busy with the kids’ activities and school.
Who has had the most influence on your career?
I learned a lot about GC (gas chromatography) maintenance and calibrations from senior techs while working at Givaudan on the spray dry lab (powdered flavors). When I came to MGP, I kept asking questions. Developing relationships with a few people who run other labs or repair companies also has helped in finding solutions.
What has been the most rewarding part of your time at MGP?
Seeing the company’s stabilization and growth into a leading whiskey producer.
What’s the biggest difference in distilling today versus when you started?
The complete turnaround of the whiskey market, combined with the craft whiskey boom. The early 2000s was still the flavored vodka craze, right before craft brewing. There were only a few big distilleries in the bourbon market, and since then the number of producers is mind boggling.
How would you describe MGP to someone who is unfamiliar with us?
Think Willy Wonka for adults, only we’re making alcohol instead of chocolate and there are no Oompa Loompas singing songs.
What’s the biggest misconception about your job and MGP?
Actually, there are a few. We don’t spend all day everyday taste testing. Testing with GCs (gas chromatography) in real life is not like those tests you see on CSI, you don’t always get a straight answer. And Seagram’s is now just a brand name, not a distillery.
What is something great about MGP that no one knows about?
Sometimes I think the place is haunted. Odd noises, movement out of the corner of my eye when no one's there.