September 14, 2018
Distillery: Smooth Ambler
Type & Region: American Whiskey, West Virginia, USA
Composition: Blend of ~28% bourbon (60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malt) and ~72% American whiskey (undisclosed bourbon mash, so > 50% corn)
Aged: 12-year-old bourbon aged in virgin American white oak, and 6-year-old American whiskey aged in recharred used bourbon barrels
Price: $42 (750mL)
From the Smooth Ambler Distillery website:
“Old Scout American Whiskey is a union of two whiskies distilled from classic bourbon mash bills. One is aged in new oak barrels and the other matures in rejuvenated, re-charred bourbon casks. While this unique aging excuses the marriage from being called bourbon, it shares all of the character and drinkability you would expect from a whiskey on the brink of being one. Like the other Old Scout whiskeys, it is blended in limited, hand selected batches and without chill filtration.“
Smooth Ambler is a West Virginia distillery that got its start sourcing whiskey for its products, such as the Old Scout 7 Year Rye, but over the years started making some of their own and blending it with the sourced stuff. Their single barrel bourbon offerings (OSB) are excellent, but I’m not too familiar with their American Whiskey. The bottle for this review is a Total Wine single barrel selection. When considering this bottle, I was lucky enough to talk with John, who selected the specific barrel for this bottling (barrel 9946). He told me that he picked this because it was the most rich yet least spicy barrel that he tasted.
The term “American whiskey” is a broad term that describes everything that isn’t purely bourbon, rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, or Tennessee whiskey. Even though Smooth Ambler American Whiskey is partially made with bourbon, it can’t be called that because it’s blended with a non-bourbon. The American whiskey component (aka the non-bourbon part), although made from a bourbon mash (at least 51% corn), cannot be called bourbon because it’s aged in used bourbon barrels, not virgin American white oak as decreed by law. Does it make a difference? Let’s find out.
As much as this isn’t technically bourbon, this sure smells like it. It exhibits the same nice and rich mix of freshly opened peanuts, vanilla, charred wood, caramel, maple syrup, and honey that come from years in charred barrels. Then, there’s a malty and floral note like grain husk, and a light blend of peppermint and roasted corn. This smells like peanut butter spread on toast or vanilla frosting depending on how the scents mix at that exact moment. The alcohol stays in the background, letting everything else take center stage, but gently reminding you that it’s there. Very vigorous swirling boosts the alcohol scent, but it remains manageable, and introduces a faint tangy citrus smell. Once the glass is empty, I smell slightly sweet wood, peppermint, and the last remnants of black tea in a pot when it’s mostly leaves.
Old Scout American Whiskey 107 is well balanced between sweet, nutty, and roasty scents. It’s nice and enjoyable to smell.
Yet again, this tastes like bourbon. Vanilla and butterscotch sweetness immediately hit my tongue like Werther’s Originals (but not quite as sweet), followed by peanut butter, then light chocolate and alcohol. Those flavors also create a creamy mouthfeel. On my second sip, I taste more nuts, caramel, vanilla, honey, corn, and grain husk. The best comparisons are sweet and savory foods such as peanut brittle, fudge with nuts, or peanut butter on bread. There’s also a quick grassy and malty bite on my tongue, like biting into corn bread or eating creamed corn.
Vanilla, wood, and peanut butter smoothly transition into the aftertaste, not surprising given the taste. Once those sweet flavors dissipate, I’m left with lingering peppermint and just a little bread grain.
This is well balanced whiskey with sweetness and nuttiness to boot. It’s very easy to drink, and I’d easily be fooled into thinking that this was bourbon. It’s nice and rich, but not to the level of Stagg Jr or Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (both of which I have reviewed). It’s not the fairest comparison given the two have 10%+ more alcohol than the Old Scout American Whiskey, but I can’t help but think about it since they have many of the same characteristics. I honestly would put them in the same ballpark, so if you can’t find either of those, the Old Scout American Whiskey will do well in their place.
This is a richer whiskey that would pair well with foods that have peanuts or peanut sauce in them, as well as a dessert or post-dinner drink with nut or chocolate-based treats such as fudge, nut pies, and chocolate ice cream. Less appropriate pairings include lighter flavored foods such as seafood, chicken, fruits, and vegetables.
Smooth Ambler American Whiskey 107 is a very good, yet straight forward American whiskey that I’d happily sip on any occasion. Even though it legally can’t be called bourbon, it’s very similar. The American whiskey component, made from bourbon mash but aged in reused bourbon casks, doesn’t detract from the experience at all. It has all the malty, sweet, nutty, and woody flavors that you would expect. It’s not particularly unique and doesn’t utterly blow my mind, it doesn’t have has to. I would gladly buy this again and suggest that you do as well. Good job John.