Sunday, October 7, 2012

Whisky online part II of II - Smooth Ambler

This spring I got approached by Smooth Ambler Spirits when I randomly published on twitter I was driving around Kentucky visiting distilleries. They invited me to come visit. Smooth Ambler Spirits is one of these many new small distilleries shooting up all the world, particular in the USA. They are often named craft distilleries, a term I don't really like as I don't necessarily consider bigger, well established distilleries as non-craft distillers :-)

John Foster and Smooth Ambler stills

I really like Smooth Ambler Spirits. 

The days we had in Kentucky were extremely hot. The neighbouring states were more or less flattened by an unusual summer storm, putting areas in West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia out of Power. It was very very VERY nice that John emailed med in the morning before we drove from Lexington, Kentucky, that we better fill the car with gas as his area was powerless and they had no idea when it would come back.

John told me, that one of the reasons it's nice to live in West Virginia, is that they are not normally exposed to harsh weathers and storms. Hills, forests and small mountains usually do the job of calming down winds and weather. Not this time.

When we approached east West Virginia we saw what happened

Many fallen trees around Smooth Ambler.

There were no power around Smooth Ambler. It was very hot, above 40C. A gas station with a generator had a line of cars waiting half a mile down the road and then as far as my eyes could see down a side road. If John hadn't advised us to fill the car up with gas, we would have been stuck. Thanks!

Lexington, Virginia

Out of power also means no air condition. No fridges, no lights, no distilling, no nothing. There was kind of a ghost town feeling around the distillery that day. And very very hot.

 On this hot sunday, we were greeted by John, and had a small walk around the distillery and than sat down in their bar and had a little presentation of their products. We also managed to find a little sample of Mortlach for John, the last drops of travel goodies :-)

John lines up Smooth Ambler products

So what do a new distillery do ?. They won't have a 10year old ready until some years, 10 years to be precise. There's a few things to be done to generate income. Smooth Ambler do most of these

A. Make some white spirits like gin and vodka. These more or less comes straight of the still and straigth into the bottle and can be sold  right away. Smooth Ambler bottle a vodka and a gin. I really like their gin by the way.

B. Bottle some young whisky. This can be dangerous. People are used to drink older, well matured whisky and might not like whisky aged for just months or a couple of years. Look at the appendix below for more on this subject
Smooth Ambler Spirits do this and they also have a bottle aged gin!

So how are they doing

1. Smooth Ambler Yearling 46%
Aged for 1year and 10 months

Nose : Bourbon light. It got the bourbon characterisitc, with wood, quite a lot of vanilla, but also floral touch. Also a hint of north european vegetables, mainly fresh boiled potatoes-
Palate : A little rough, but not much. Very creamy and vanillaed, with a slightly somewhat bitter wood finish. A hint of a floral perfumedness. But in the end the creaminess, the vanilla and the youthful spirit stands out as the dominating flavours.

Rating 82/100

This is actually surprisingly good. It is what it is. A very young bottling of whiskey. But also very drinkable. This is a wheated bourbon, so there is not a heavy rye flavour for the young spirit to hide behind. The decision to make a wheated bourbon seems to be a brilliant decisison, as I reckon the quality of this bourbon is also a good balance between the wood and the soft creaminess of a wheater.

If a new distillery present their young whisky at overpriced inflated prices as special unique products (I've seen this happen in Denmark and Europe) I loose respect for the producer. This can be hard for them to regain :-)

If a new distillery is a little more humble about their products and has a more realistic view of their own products, I, as a consumer, will also have some confidence they know what they are doing. Smooth Ambler are aiming to make older bourbons.  It was pretty clear from my talks with John that these guys know what they want to make. Their ware house is full of normal sized barrels. Smooth Ambler is a distillery that wants to make whisky tomorrow, not just today.

Yearling and Old Scout

C. A third way to promote your brand and earn some cash is to bottle sourced whisky. High West gained fame by bottling sourced whisky, mainly ryes. Sourced predominantly from LDI
Smooth Ambler Spirits has also sourced barrels from LDI, but mainly, if not all bourbons.

Cask end at SAS. Looks like Four Roses to me :-)

Smooth Ambler doesn't use the term "sourced", but use "scouted" whiskey and they bottle it under the Smooth Ambler Old Scout Label

2. Smooth Ambler Old Scout 6yo 49.5%

Nose : Floor varnish
Palate. Woody, Liqorice. There is definetely a rye component here. This has got some of the same components as those total black sherry whiskies. This is a well balanced whisky. It means the major flavour components are balanced out and none of them heavily dominantes the other. It's the licorise wood, rye spice and creamy sweetness. It is more woody and less sweet relative to other bourbons. And my guess is that it is a high rye mash bill of some kind. 

This is a hardcore bourbon. The flavours are intense. Anyone who thinks Jack Daniels is rock'n'roll haven't tasted the real stuff

Rating 86/100

3. Samples
I am very thankful for the gifts I received from Smooth Ambler. Especially three cask samples of sourced bourbons aged 12, 19 and 21 years old. All three labeled "Very Old Scout" together with specific cask data. I was told that these casks will be somehow vatted together. So far I have seen labels of a 11yo and a 14yo when googling the internet. My favourite of the three is the 12yo, the two older ones are quite woody. I get the best results when I add a little of the older ones into the 12yo. It's always fun to do your own homevattings and not that hard if you got components with basic flavours. Smooth Ambler has done the same with their 14yo which has 15, 17 and 19yo whisky in it as well


One of my favourite bloggers got into trouble with a new distillery recently:

All I can say, is that at least Sku tasted the whiskey before mildly critisizing it. I think Leviathan should have read Sku's blog before ciritizing Sku :-)

1 comment:

  1. Awesome coverage! I love learning about all the little distilleries that are popping up. It looks like Smooth Amber has a similar still setup to Finger Lakes Distilling: