Whiskey Name: Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon
Distillery: Smooth Ambler
Whiskey Type: Straight bourbon
Release Date: 2017
Age: NAS. About 5
Mashbill: I couldn’t find it. But the Yearling, which preceded this, was 60% corn, 20% wheat and 20% malted barley. So that’d be my best guess.
Introduction/Background: I know, I know. We did Smooth Ambler yesterday. But that was their sourced MGPI stock, whereas today’s is all made in-house, so it counts.
For the last few years Smooth Ambler have been releasing a wheated expression called “the yearling”. A little like the Work in Progress series from Scotland’s Glengyle Distillery, it was intended to show followers how their home-made spirit was progressing, whilst they released their Old Scout whiskies on the side.
At the tasting last year, one of the questions we asked John Little was “when do you think your bourbon will be ready?” At the time, the Smooth Ambler Spirit was about four years old, and his reply was that he reckoned it’d start reaching its peak at around seven or eight. So I was a little surprised earlier this year when the launch of their new wheat recipe bourbon was announced.
Intriguingly, their “home-brew” goes in completely the opposite direction recipe-wise to their Old Scout. Where Old Scout is about as high-rye as bourbon gets, their in-house juice is wheat recipe, and at 20% wheat, pretty emphatically so. So naturally there’ll be no similarities whatsoever, which actually isn’t a bad way of going about things.
Appearance: Light Amber. As you can *just* tell. You’d have thought I’d have ironed out my photography thing by now.
Nose: A raging adolescent. Big aromas of cereal, dough, cheerios (!), pencil shavings, and a touch of something animal. Hay perhaps. There’s actually a curiously saline aspect too. It’s a prominent, insistent nose, but it’s also rather raw and visceral. The wheat has put the brakes on maturity rate as it so often does.
Mouth: Much sweeter on the forward palate, and SA’s non-chill-filtering approach means the growl of alcohol is enveloped by viscous body. Caramel overlays the grains and a splash of lightly under-ripe peach is allowed through. A touch of pinewood as well.
Finish: Dries on the finish to grain and macadamia nut.
Value for Money: Bit of a stretch.
Summary: I’ve a lot of respect for John Foster’s admission on releasing this that “it would only get better if we decided to wait again.” I can completely understand their decision to finally release it; five years is a long time to wait to release one’s own bourbon; certainly plenty of other distilleries aren’t nearly so patient.
It’s still very much a whiskey on its journey though, rather than one that has arrived, or even is on the cusp of arriving at, its final destination. It’s a robust, full-bodied spirit, and that fullness of body, alongside the high wheat percentage, means it has serious miles left in the tank to further develop in cask. Certainly it has moved on considerably from the yearling, but there are still miles left to be covered. I look forward to following its progress as it does.
Overall Verdict: Doesn’t (yet) compare to their Old Scouts in terms of quality, completeness and value, but well worth trying a glass of should you find it at a bar.
Words by WhiskyPilgrim