Situated in the heart of Appalachian country West Virginia, Smooth Ambler is a craft distillery that’s become massively popular and has been winning some big awards since opening their doors in 2009. Like many craft whiskey producers Smooth Ambler sourced all their initial whiskey stocks from MGP Indiana (Midwest Grain Products of Indiana) whilst they got to work making their own white spirits and whiskies to age in their rick-houses that are exposed to the elements of West Virginia. Unlike a few questionable distilleries, Smooth Ambler made a point of letting drinkers know exactly which of their products were sourced by bottling them under their ‘Old Scout’ label. These included a 7 y.o high-rye bourbon, a 10 y.o bourbon, a barrel-proof single barrel bourbon, and their various single-barrel bourbon picks. Today I’m going to have a look at their 7 year old high-rye bourbon which is at least 7 years old, non-chill filtered, non-carbon filtered and aged in heavily charred oak casks. This bourbon came to me as a small sample from a generous friend in the UK who had tracked down a full bottle and was happy to share.
Name: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon
Age: 7 years old (at least)
Proof: 99 Proof (49.5% ABV)
Type: Straight Bourbon
Mashbill: 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malt
Producer: Smooth Ambler, sourced from MGP in Indiana
Appearance: Deep gold
Nose: The nose opens with a burst of intense burnt caramel, followed closely by vanilla, herbaceous earthy tobacco spice, and a subtle hint of cherry sweetness
Palate: The mouth-feel is slightly viscous with initial flavours of sweet caramel, fading to dry oak, chocolate, cherries again, and an earthy, spicy rye kick at the back
Finish: The finish is moderate length and slightly spicy with more charred barrel caramel notes and earthy rye. As this fades it leaves a herbaceous and dry aftertaste with slight dark chocolate.
Although these whiskies were sourced from the infamous MGP is has to be said that Smooth Ambler sure knew how to pick some great barrels. With this whiskey the benefits of ageing in heavily charred casks are clear from the moment you smell it. That welcoming explosion of intense and sweet caramel combines with the drying rye spiciness which adds an earthy balance, making this sip exceptionally well neat for a 99 proof whiskey. This really is a great entry level bourbon and one that’s won several prestigious awards (American Distilling Institute Gold Medal; Wine Enthusiast: 95 points; San Francisco Spirits Competition: Silver Medal; World Whiskey Awards: World’s Best Single Barrel). I just wish I had bought a bottle of this when the chance had presented itself as this product has now been discontinued. Unfortunately Smooth Ambler had not foreseen just how popular these bottlings would become when they purchased their original stocks and so this, combined with the crazy demand, resulted in stocks depleting a lot faster than had been anticipated. This has since meant that the Old Scout lines have all been discontinued whilst new stocks mature for another 18 months or so. If you can’t wait that long there are still bottles from the Old Scout line to be found by the diligent hunter – best of luck!
In terms of Smooth Ambler’s own made whiskey, there are some very promising times ahead with both an own-made wheated bourbon and rye whiskey currently ageing in their rickhouses (now approx 5+ years old). When making their own products Smooth Ambler do their very best to use quality grains and involve as much of the local community as possible by using non-GMO crops grown locally, returning spent wash to farmers, and by holding charity auctions of their finer premium releases on an ongoing basis. For these reasons and many more I greatly respect the men and women behind Smooth Ambler and love finding hidden caches of their whiskies in obscure places.
Try or Buy?
If you see a bottle of this (or any other Smooth Ambler offering for that matter) sitting on a store shelf I’d recommend you give it a loving home! Otherwise these whiskies are always a no-brainer if found in a bar, and some US and UK bars even have their own Smooth Ambler barrel picks which I’d highly recommend checking out.
If you agree, or have any thoughts on this whiskey, why not post them in the comments below? Sláinte!