Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon
We are at a very special point in the growth of the whiskey boom. We've waited years for the tipping point, the singularity, that moment in time when everything changes. That day when a new distillery releases their own juice on a commercial scale. You know, where you can actually get your hands on a bottle or two without having to sell your soul. The full ramification of this moment remains to be seen, but I have no doubt it will be only good for the whiskey drinker. More options of quality booze, made in new and interesting ways, will flood the market with top-notch hooch and, ultimately, I hope, drive prices down. Drinking well will never be easier or cheaper then it will be in the coming years.
Many of the "older" craft distilleries are finally reaching this moment. They are coming online with products of their own making. This signals a massive shift in the way consumers perceive their booze makers. As any reader of this blog is already aware, many of the "new" brands in the whisky market over the last fifteen years are rehashed pre-prohibition labels with some loose historical tie, real or imagined, to the modern purveyor. These labels adorn bottles of whisky made in one of a few large facilities that pumped out thousands of barrels, which were eventually sold to entrepreneurial individuals starting a drinks company. A few folks did this tremendously well and with great transparency. Many others did not, and they eventually paid the price as proud owners of new brands that no one wanted because the customer felt duped.
Now, some brands managed to find great success with this sourced whiskey model. Each one of those big successes was always upfront about their intentions. They made clear that they were sourcing whiskey, focusing on quality, blending it in creative and exciting ways, and all the while dedicating their production efforts to one day making a great whiskey of their own. Smooth Ambler is just such a company. This West Virginia distillery cut their teeth by blending Indiana and Tennessee distillate to great acclaim in their Old Scout American Whiskey. They stepped outside of the established order and chose to age part of their whiskey in re-charred barrels, eliminating the Bourbon designate from their labels. This creativity and transparency paid off. They've won numerous awards for these expressions and we've sought out and purchased single barrels here at K&L due the their extremely high quality.
Further down the line, as their own wheated distillate aged and built up some stocks, Smooth Ambler released Contradiction. The results were equally well received. Like Whistle Pig's Farmstock, this blend of house made whiskey and merchant whiskey gave a sneak peek at something new and a window into the world beyond sourced whiskey. The final result in the case of Contradiction was something like a four-grain bottling. Rich, mature sweet corn flavors melded with the punch of rye and creamy texture of wheat.
And now, finally, the moment has arrived where Smooth Ambler's 100% West Virginia Made Wheated Bourbon is readily available at K&L. Batch number 1 was only available in tiny quantity at the distillery. The next release has just hit our shelves. The Big Level Bourbon is a wheated bourbon 100% mashed, distilled, aged, proofed, and bottled at the Smooth Ambler distillery in Maxwelton, WV and receives no chill filtration prior to bottling. While it doesn't carry an age statement, it is all 5+year old whiskey and aged in #4 char 53-gallon barrels. The mashbill includes 71% corn, 21% wheat, and 8% malted barley. It's everything you want a craft whiskey to be. Their annual production hovers around 3000 barrels a year. The results of their painstaking work are phenomenal.
The whiskey is bright and lifted. Old enough to have the wood extremely well integrated, but young enough to have zip and life without the heavy dusty tones of very old bourbon. The nose is overwhelmingly that of creamy and sweet batter, like a Sunday morning making pancakes with dad. There is cinnamon and nutmeg running amuck mixed with brown sugar and melted butter. The palate is warm and inviting. It showcases the creamy nature of wheated whiskey beautifully. If you cannot find that bottle of Pappy you've asked every shop in town for, don't hesitate to give this a try instead. The sweet corn that accounts for 71% of the bill ramps up and powers through the finish. The 50% ABV carries that finish on for a very long time.
I've been asked over and over again, where I think the whiskey industry is going since I've taken over the spirit buying role in Northern California. I've had a number of answers over the last few months ranging from "the bubble has to burst eventually" to "the sky is the limit." If all of the new whiskey distilleries out there can come up with something even half as good as the Big Level, I will definitely keep looking towards the sky.