As for the whisky, most of the stuff they make is wheated Bourbon, but to keep their options diverse they have at least seven other mash bills maturing throughout their two rickhouses. After a brief flirtation with small cask maturation, they chose to exclusively fill full-sized, 53-gallon casks, and so far, they’ve laid down about 900 of them.
The operation is still very young, though. Having opened in 2009, the oldest of their stocks is 4 years old. The current results are promising enough that talks have begun around a possible 5 or 6 year old bottling in another 18 months, but the two whiskies I’m writing about today are Bourbons with rye in the bill and both are older than the distillery itself. Distillation isn’t the only thing the team at Smooth Ambler dabble in. They also broker casks for a ryed whisky line under the label Old Scout.
They chose to add the Old Scout distinction to clarify that they were “scouting” for stocks they like, and that those bottles were not distilled in West Virginia. They pluck their ryed whisky stocks from the distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, but they’re quick to point out that before it was MGP Ingredients’ and before it was LDI’s, it was Seagram’s distillery. Head distiller Larry Ebersold was in charge when the 7, 8 and 10 year old stock was laid down, and the attitudes of and about the company were much different then than they are today.
One last distinction, unlike many other “merchant bottlers” who say publicly that they’re only brokering casks until they have enough in-house stock to survive, Smooth Ambler intends to always have a series of whiskies they’ve picked alongside a series of whiskies they made. So long as they have the resources and market for it, why not? It’s a smart way to broaden your experience and keep your blending skills sharp while your smaller, craft distillery focuses on their grain to glass program.
Nose: Deliciously savory, like the exposed wooden beams in a fancy restaurant. Beefy with pan gravy and tangy ketchup. Ski lodge, hay, celery and torn spring greens. A mix of cashews and almonds with a little bit of caramel and sweet ether. Water opens up loads of vinyl and cumin.
Palate: Bold and spicy with a cooling, caramel finish. Pine and mild pencil shavings. White pepper dusted almonds. Spent cassia sticks steeping in hot water. The finish is a little woody, sharp and very punchy. There’s a faint epoxy flavor in the mix.
This is a high rye Bourbon, a 60/36/4 blend of corn, rye and malt and it’s definitely spicier for the extra rye and three less years. Even though it wasn’t distilled there, this is a very “West Virginia” whisky: rugged and unapologetically bold.
Nose: Sweeter, smoother and not as woody than the 7. Model glue. The rye backs off a little and makes some room for more malty influence. Almond cookies and marjoram. Mild citrus, wood polish and marinated green olives. More reserved and not quite as farmy as the 7. Vanilla frosting, orange creamsicle peek in for moments between grass. A little bit stony like a hot rain puddle on the sidewalk.
Palate: There’s a bright, metallic lime note that appears from time to time. Maybe it’s just the rest of the present citrus notes shifting around in my brain. Like the nose, this is sweeter than the 7, but not as woody and with less of the light solvent overtone. Mild green apple and Dr.Pepper following the late palate into the finish.
The casks chosen for this and previous batches of both Old Scout 7 and 10 are non-chillfiltered vattings of 3 or 4 barrels, all the same mashbill and age. In a few weeks they plan on releasing some Single Barrel and Cask Strength versions. The cask strength stuff sounds particularly exciting.
For $40 and $50 each it’s really a matter of preference as to which you should choose if you see them both. Hotter and spicier chooses the 7, mellower and sweeter chooses the 10.
Thank you to John Foster of The Artful Drinker for the bottles! Cheers!