Smooth Ambler is a beautiful enigma in the world of craft bourbon distilling, because they offer not only amazing palates in choosing and blending sourced bourbon but also the drive and ambition to craft whiskey from grain to glass in the heart of West Virginia. On a recent vacation we stumbled upon the SAS distillery simply because we happened to exit the highway on the same exit as the distillery, stuck around town until the tasting room opened, and went over for the visit. My visit to Smooth Ambler Spirits was the happiest accident I think I’ll ever experience, and here is why:
To start, Smooth Ambler Spirits is known for their sourced Old Scout bourbon and rye whiskies, but also offers a number of other products, including: Yearling bourbon (their own distillate, bottled at 2-3 years in 375 ml bottles as a “teaser”), Contradiction bourbon (a blend of their 7 yo MGP sourced bourbon and their own yearling distillate), single barrel varieties of both their bourbon and rye (if you are reading this, please let B&B pick one!), along with rum, vodka and gin. The distillery has many more projects in the works, so this is definitely one to watch.
I happened to arrive at SAS on the perfect day when John Foster, director of sales, was in his office and offered to show me around. The grounds of the distillery are beautiful, surrounded by West Virginia’s beautiful rolling hills. All of the whiskey they produce at SAS is from local grains (except the malted barley) and uses local West Virginia water. What struck me most was how community-focused this distillery is: John told me that their main goal in making the distillery was to put West Virginians to work. They even send their spent mash to a local pig farmer to keep fueling the West Virginia economy.
Most of the bourbon they produce at SAS is a wheated recipe, which is what one will find in their Yearling or Contradiction bourbon (27% is their own distillate—yes—they are that specific). However, one look around the rickhouse will expose barrels and barrels of SAS distillate waiting to age in every recipe from rye to wheat to various bourbon whiskies. The most exciting project in the rickhouse, for me, is what John described as their version of the Single Oak Project. A number of different varieties of whiskey, all distilled on the 22nd of January and barreled between the 22nd and 23rd of January in 2014, were placed in similar positions in the rick house in a wide variety of different barrel types. Let me tell you, I am biting my fingernails just imagining how amazing this project will be when it comes of age in about five years! This project and others like it are why I am so in love with SAS. Not only do they produce damn fine spirits, but they also have the ambition to attempt things that most craft distilleries could not even dream of attempting.
That, and the bourbon. Oh, the bourbon! John was quite generous in the tasting room and let me go ham on a number of their products. We began with Contradiction, because I was very curious about it since the concept of blending an older whiskey with a much younger one is not frequently brought into the limelight. On the label for this whiskey, they actually state the exact percentages of 2-3 year old SAS distilled bourbon, and 7 year MGP distilled bourbon. It is, as John put it, the most straightforward whiskey label ever. Along with that, I tasted their 10 year Old Scout, their regular 7 year Old Scout, Yearling bourbon, and just because I liked it so much, the 7yo Old Scout again. Every product I tasted was phenomenal and exuded the passion and drive the company has for amazing whiskey, but I truly enjoyed the regular Old Scout the most. Worry not, SAS sent me home with a bottle of it to review, which will be up shortly here on Bourbon & Banter. I cannot express enough how excellent a time I had at Smooth Ambler Spirits and I really encourage any bourbon fan to make the trek out there. It is really a distillery that cannot be missed!