Old Scout Bourbon whiskey is produced by the Smooth Ambler Distillery, which is located in the booming metropolis of Maxwelton, in the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia. Smooth Ambler offers a series of Bourbons, and here we have one of their Old Scout Single Barrel releases. This is an 11 year-old Straight Bourbon from Barrel #811 that was bottled 9/18/2014. The whiskey is made from a mashbill of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley. It was bottled at cask strength, with a 56.1 abv, and produced an outturn of only 114 bottles.
The Smooth Ambler Distillery was founded in 2009 by John Little and his father-in-law TAG Galyean. The family team’s distillery started out sourcing their whisky, meaning that they acquired it through contract production from LDI (more on that later), as a means to be able to release whiskies and generate cash-flow as they got their feet under them. Additionally, while Smooth Ambler was beginning to distill and age their own Bourbons, they were also producing vodka, gin and a white dog whiskey.
As Smooth Ambler began to gain momentum, they issued an early release of a bourbon whiskey that they had distilled. Named “Yearling”, this bourbon has had varying ages on the releases, generally running around 2.5 years. The Yearling bourbon is double-pot distilled with a mashbill consisting of 60% corn, 20% wheat, and 20% malted barley.
Smooth Ambler also have been releasing two versions of aged Straight Bourbon whiskies, Old Scout which runs between 5-7 years, and Very Old Scout which ranges from 11-20 years, as well as various aged single barrel Bourbons and single barrel Rye whiskies.
But wait a sec…..if Smooth Ambler Distillery was founded in 2009, how do they have whiskies older than 6 years?
Well, like many distillers just getting started, Smooth Ambler sourced their base whiskies from a company known as LDI, or more formally, Lawrenceburg Distillers, Indiana. Situated right across the river from Kentucky, this contract distiller was originally owned by Seagram’s, became part of LDI, and then was acquired by Midwest Grain Products (MGP) in 2012. .
So, who exactly is MGP? Well, in a bit of an understatement, MGP is quite simply a huge, nondescript, industrial operation that produces all sorts of spirits: bourbon, rye, vodka and gin, made according to a very long list of specific recipes based on the client’s specifications….and they do so very successfully, I might add.
Although MGP (or LDI) is an anonymous producer, there is a good chance you may have already tasted some of their products – some of which are excellent, by the way. MGP produces various spirits that are used by a significant number of “Craft Distillers”, including growing brands such as Redemption Bourbon and Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Temptation Bourbon, and the recently released Willett three-year old Ryes, amongst others.
So how do you know if the whiskey you’re drinking is distilled by the Brand Label or by the anonymous MGP? Well, you’re in luck because federal regulations require that the state where the whiskey was distilled be disclosed. Steve Urey, author of the Sku’s Recent Eats blog, wrote up this excellent summary:
“If the whiskey is distilled in the state where the company is located, then the address of the company is sufficient to comply with this requirement. However, if the business address is not in the state where the whiskey was distilled, the state has to be stated separately on the label. (There are some limited exceptions to this regulation, but it applies to most whiskey). See 27 CFR § 5.36(d). LDI (MGP) is the only whiskey distillery in, so if the bottle says “Product of Indiana” or doesn’t state where it was distilled but the business address is in Indiana, then you know it was made at LDI.”
The big issue with using MGP produced spirits is neither quality nor taste; they make some very good bourbons and ryes. No, what it really comes down to is disclosure, honesty, and truth in labeling. Sadly, some Craft Distillers have taken rather dubious routes to mask the source of their whiskies, spinning tall tales about their grandfather’s secret recipe, or evoking some historical connection to a Master Blender long-passed or a distillery long closed, blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada.
Some of these “Craft Distillers” go to great lengths to hide the source of their whiskies and to create an identity in the market. Smooth Ambler, on the other hand, has always been forthright about their products, disclosing the source of their initial spirits as they talked about their future plans for their own distillate production. Kudos for the honesty!
Okay, so back to our Smooth Amber, Single Barrel 11 year-old straight bourbon whiskey….what is this like in the glass?
Review: Smooth Ambler 11 year-old Single Barrel Straight Bourbon
Color: Light Amber
Nose: The nose starts with a big dose of ripe red fruits – berries, cherries, all on top of a strong vanilla core. There are some beautifully integrated oak spices – herbal, soft, and aromatic. Toasted brown sugar, a hint of barrel char, and a touch of pepper. With water the pepper and oak spices go up a notch. Still full of fruits and vanilla. The barrel char is more pronounced. Quite a nice nose.
Taste: A sweet arrival, vanilla toffee, the herbal spices, more pepper adding a “bite”; the berries, red plums, a soft cereal note, more vanilla. Water tones down the peppery side, making the palate richer and bringing back the sweeter fruits and vanilla.
Finish: a nice bitter-sweetness, cherries and berries, vanilla cream, ends with the barrel char note and some delicate tannins.
Overall: As I noted above, the MGP juice can make for some excellent whiskies, and that is the case, here. This one has a real depth of the flavors and aromas, sweet without being cloying, enough spiced sharpness to intrigue the tongue, yet it remains very well-balanced.
Distillery: Smooth Ambler (sourced: LDI/MGP)
Type: Straight Bourbon
Age: 11 year-old (Bottled 2014)
Maturation: American Oak
Availability: Hard to find
Sample Source: Mark H.
www.cooperedtot.com/2012/10/smooth-ambler-old-scout-very-old-scout.html, www.recenteats.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-do-you-know-its-ldi.html, www.chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2011/10/mgp-acquires-ldi-distillery.html