Following in the footsteps of Michter’s, Willett and others, West Virginia’s Smooth Ambler Spirits built a cult following by sourcing some of the tastiest whiskey on the planet. Appropriately called “Old Scout” (SAOS), the bottles could be counted on for their quality, and they have taken home some prestigious awards. Unfortunately, given the current bourbon climate, the sourced Old Scout bottles were swallowed up so fast that the folks at Smooth Ambler were sadly forced to discontinue their standard 99 proof rye and bourbon Old Scout releases.
As we say goodbye to the fantastic 7-year rye and the dependable 7 and 10-year bourbons (they will still be releasing limited single barrel versions of both), Smooth Ambler has been distilling their own whiskey with an eye toward the future. Unfortunately, their whiskey hasn’t yet reached the age where it can stand tall against the big boys. In the meantime, there have been a few creative releases to tide us over. Its super-young Yearling has left many with excitement for what it might taste like after a few more years of aging. Another, called Contradiction, is a blend of a high-rye and a wheated bourbon. Like the High West Rendezvous Rye, Contradiction combines an older and younger whiskey in another effort to get its own distillate into the market. This won them a gold medal at the World Whiskies Awards.
I’m a huge Smooth Ambler fan, and I give them a lot of credit for managing the transition from brilliant whiskey sourcers to full-blown distillers. They have proven they know how to release great whiskey, and some feel they are already making it. Their latest release is an Old Scout American Whiskey, which is another blend- this time of an Indiana-distilled high-rye Old Scout bourbon and Tennessee-distilled whiskey aged 5 years in “rejuvenated” barrels. My guess is the high-rye bourbon is the 7-year Old Scout (which is the higher rye mashbill versus their 10-year) from MGP. The 5-year is likely Dickel whiskey.
Name: Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey
Proof: 99 proof / 49.5% ABV
Age: NAS (no age statement) but assuming around 5 years
Color: Light Amber
How I Drank It: Neat, in a Glencairn glass.
My Nose Noticed: Sweet corn and apple, with some faint caramel. Maybe even a whiff of banana. Very pleasant nose.
First Sip (Neat): Initially you are met with that terrific SAOS flavor, but that disappears quickly into a stinging burn on the tongue. Thin mouthfeel offers very little to chew on.
Burn/Finish: The burn remains on the tongue and never makes it into the throat. It’s a real disappointment to me, someone who can’t get enough of the SAOS bourbons and ryes. The finish hangs around like a burn on the tongue after biting a slice of pizza right out of the oven.
AFTER ADDING SOME WATER
My Nose Noticed: After a little water, the banana leapt forward and it seems a little more balanced.
Taste: The water helps to slow the delivery of flavor but it also thins it out and minimizes its intensity.
Burn/Finish: Water softens this one up, but there’s nowhere to hide from this finish. The tongue may not feel the same stinging intensity as before, but it’s still an unpleasant finish that never makes it into the throat.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: I think the bottle proof of 99 is the right way to drink this.
Share With: Share this with someone who is already a fan of Smooth Ambler and wants to try something different. I would strongly suggest that you explain ahead of time what this is. For me, it’s a melding similar to Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse, which just doesn’t work well together. I can taste some of the flavors I love in the SAOS bourbon, but it is tainted by the Tennessee whiskey. Where the flavors of a good blend should complement each other, here they seem like two separate whiskeys that don’t belong together. If I am correct that the Old Scout bourbon is the 7-year, I can’t figure out why it was blended with 5-year Dickel, unless it was just to stretch out their stocks.
Worth The Price: This isn’t yet available in wide release but the kind person who provided me a sample said the bottle cost around $40. If you find that you enjoy it, I would suggest that’s not an unreasonable price. If, like me, you probably will never drink this again, then it’s not worth the money spent. You can still find the standard SAOS products if you look a little bit, and none of those are much higher than this price point
Bottle, Bar or Bust: For me this is a bust. I fully endorse supporting Smooth Ambler, and will continue to do so unless they demonstrate they just can’t recreate the magic of their sourced releases. The day is coming where Smooth Ambler can release the bourbon they want to, and have it stand on its own. It’s simply too early to make that determination. The American Whiskey only proves to me that no brand is infallible. High West has had success blending and finishing different whiskeys (“Rendezvous”, “Bourye”, “A Midwinter Night’s Dram”), but also had a recent strikeout (“Yippee Kay-Yay”). There’s no reason to think Smooth Ambler can’t find one that works too. This just isn’t it.