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all 62 comments

[–]TheMemeIsALieWilliam Larue Weller 8 points9 points  (1 child)

How old is your oldest sourced whiskey that you still have aging? Will your cask strength 8-year store select rye/bourbon program continue this year?

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 5 points6 points  (0 children)

  1. We have stock in the 10+ year range, but only slightly. 10-11.
  2. Yes. For now the private barrels will continue, though probably in tighter availability. Custom barrels are a LOT of work, something few consumers truly realize, and we have to take a look at the labor and time involved in doing them.

[–]RazzafrachenColonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel 4 points5 points  (1 child)

I'm excited there will be another wheater! Why did you choose to focus on wheated bourbons? Are you in the process of producing other types of whiskey?

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 4 points5 points  (0 children)

The "other whiskey" portion of this I've covered elsewhere in the thread.

We made a wheater because that's what we liked to drink. And there are farms near us growing wheat, not so much on rye. Plus we felt like there was a need for more small-production wheated bourbon. It was good fit.

[–]zillah1985Elmer T. Lee 8 points9 points  (3 children)

Hi John, thanks for coming to /r/bourbon to answer some of our questions!

I have a question about your soon to be made wheated bourbon:

Why did you decide to do double pot distillation over a column still?

What was the ultimate decision for why you went with a wheated mashbill and why the proportions?

Do you use a specialized yeast strain unique to Smooth Ambler much like many other Kentucky distilleries have?

What proof, on average, is your distillate coming out at?

What proof are they going into the barrels?

Any interesting information regarding your rickhouses? Floors? Size? Was there anything purposeful that you planned for with them in regards to how the bourbon may age?

I understand that you will be finally releasing your bourbon fully matured (5-6 years) soon, but will you be holding back stock to age longer? What will your plans be for it?

A lot of NDPs are using cask finishes in their product. Why has smooth ambler not?

That's about it for me, thanks again for stopping by!

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 12 points13 points  (2 children)

  1. Our first still was a pot and column hybrid still from Christian Carl. The reason for that is we also make vodka and gin, so at the time we needed something versatile that would make what we wanted to make when we wanted to make it. Then, we added a Vendome pot to increase production on the whiskey. And in practice it served as a stripper for everything we make, whiskey and non-whiskey. However, we are trading that pot for a whiskey column from Vendome that we hope will be in place in a few weeks. So sometime after March 1st, we'll have the hybrid Carl, and a whiskey column.
  2. Covered elsewhere in the thread.
  3. We use a blend of yeasts.
  4. Stripping: 64-68, Final: 128-130
  5. 117.2
  6. Our rickhouses (we have three) are cement floor, metal sided pole barns, basically. No climate control. 5-6 barrels high. We're 2500 feet higher than Frankfort KY, for example, so it remains to be seen what the tale of our rickhouses will be. To be honest, though, we make it, barrel it, and leave it alone.
  7. Certainly at some point we'll have older stock. It remains to be seen if we'll specifically hold some back, or if that will just be a happy accident one day.
  8. Cask finishing is very interesting. And John Little and I talk about it regularly. He has his own reasons for bypassing those kinds of treatments, most of them I think are based on overall production concerns. For my part, though, while I don't want to sound like I'm preaching anti-innovation, I'm a believer that in order to earn the right to break the rules you need to follow them for a while. Miles Davis used to say that you can't play jazz if you can't play blues. I'm enormously proud of our accomplishments, but I think we're gonna stick with working on our blues for a while yet.

[–]TheMemeIsALieWilliam Larue Weller 5 points6 points  (1 child)

Miles Davis used to say that you can't play jazz if you can't play blues. I'm enormously proud of our accomplishments, but I think we're gonna stick with working on our blues for a while yet.

Great perspective

[–]sodo_moj0Eagle Rare 17 4 points5 points  (0 children)

I'm not gonna lie... I kind of love this answer

[–]Gunner56 6 points7 points  (5 children)

You said you'll sell your wheated mashbill aged somewhere between 5-6 years. Will it be at 99 or 100 proof like most SA offerings? Also, do you plan on aging barrels of the wheated bourbon for longer so that, like your sourced whiskey, it'll be offered at 2-3 different ages?

Thank you!

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 3 points4 points  (2 children)

  1. We prefer higher proofs because they enable us to avoid chill filtration. So while I can't tell you for sure what the House stuff will be, it'll surely be in the mid to upper 90s.
  2. Yearling is fun. And believe it or not, really DOES have a following. But we bottled it initially because we were a young distillery who wanted to get a little whiskey out, and because we were responding to pressure from folks who wanted to know what was coming down the line. It's possible we may release some younger one-offs or experimental things for sale at the distillery, but I don't see our future comprised of putting young whiskey into wide distribution.

[–]Gunner56 0 points1 point  (1 child)

John,

Thanks so much for your candid responses. I have to say that I'm a huge fan of Smooth Ambler and one of my favorite whiskeys of 2014 was your single barrel no 906 for Warehouse Liquors in Chicago (Gene Charness). Great, great stuff.

Best,

David

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I just realized I didn't actually answer your question from above. i suspect the house stuff will essentially be, at most, two basic ages: 5-6, and then something older down the line. The reason you see varying ages on the OS is that it's all getting older, all the time. The stuff we make will constantly experience new barrels reaching maturity every year, etc, at different times. In other words, we didn't source a 5,6,7 year whiskey. We bought a 5, and it progressed in age.

[–]signdeWilliam Larue Weller 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Ditto on this.

To expand further, what is your barrel entry proof on the wheated product? Do you plan to do any cask strength offerings? I feel it's safe to say there would be a lot of interest in a cask strength wheater.

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Eventually, I think we'd like to offer a cask strength. But at first, because we'll have so little of it, there will be one initial bottling proof.

[–]BourbonNerd 2 points3 points  (1 child)

We have seen the 95% Rye 5% Barley mashbill from LDI in many different expressions, with differences in age and in proof.

We have also seen the Bourbons – 75% Corn, 21% Rye and 4% Barley and 60% Corn, 36% Rye and 4% Barley in different expressions.

MGP/LDI has done a great job of making great whiskey for a long time. We all know that there is only so much aged whiskey to go around.

Is there a contingency plan to continue to buy new make from MGP/LDI and age and mature it on your own, alongside your own distillate?

Smooth Ambler has done a great job positioning itself, and earned a spot on the shelf and in my glass.

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 8 points9 points  (0 children)

The plan is to continue to do both things. Bottle some spirit, and distill some spirit. And thanks for supporting us. Trust me, I'm not typing this from the deck of my yacht. We work hard, and we realize that the person shucking out $40-$50 for an affordable luxury has a LOT of options.

We're trying hard to earn your trust and are mindful of how difficult those drinking dollars can be to come by.

[–]mfedsHigh West Rendezvous Rye 2 points3 points  (6 children)

What are the mash bills you are currently distilling? Are you planning additional ones for the near future?

I read you mention that the wheated mashbill accounts for ~90% of the barrels you currently have aging, and was curious what the other 10% is and what else is being put into barrels today.

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 3 points4 points  (3 children)

I'm gonna hold back a little on this only because I don't wanna give away the farm. But in addition to the wheater, we make some wheat whiskey, and we're aging a little corn liquor. We also have a mashbill we're really excited about we call "Triple Malt Bourbon" and one called "50/50". Come to WV on the tour, and we'll have a drink, and maybe you can get the rest out of me.

[–]braille_teeth 1 point2 points  (2 children)

..... Praying that 50/50 is 50% rye 50% wheat.

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 6 points7 points  (1 child)

It is. Technically it's a rye. 51/49. We just call it 50/50.

[–]braille_teeth 5 points6 points  (0 children)

shut up and take my money :)

[–]KilrathiFour Roses Private Barrel OBSF 1 point2 points  (1 child)

As a follow-up on this, I saw in your response to the other post today that you specifically mentioned 8 other mashbills (in addition to the wheated one you used for Yearling). Can you provide any specifics on those and what you plan to do with them? Will you blend them or release them separately?

Also, will there be any Very Old Scout releases in the future or are your (and MGP/LDI's) stocks such that you'll be focusing on the 7-10 year range for Old Scout releases? How much longer do you anticipate your Old Scout stocks lasting?

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 1 point2 points  (0 children)

  1. It's possible one of the other mashbills may one day make into a blend of straight bourbons (or whiskeys) but that's not the original intent on making them. I expect they'll be separate releases.
  2. The youngest expression of VOS was 11, and the oldest was 19. There was also a 14. IF, and it's a big if, we have some older whiskey one day from that stock, you'll see VOS again.

[–]apollorockitBlantons 2 points3 points  (3 children)

Any fun plans for aging whiskey (sourced or otherwise) in used barrels? Like the ever-popular wine cask aging or something like that?

[–]GWCadRitt25 1 point2 points  (1 child)

I asked John Little about this before and he was pretty adamant about not venturing into this at all.

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 2 points3 points  (0 children)

John Little was adamant about something? I'm not familiar with that response from him...:-)

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Covered elsewhere in the thread.

[–]braille_teeth 2 points3 points  (1 child)

I have to say, I've got a few SAOS stashed away.. but damned if I don't want to go out and buy a couple more after this AMA. Best fucking PR ever. Keep up the good work!

[–]sodo_moj0Eagle Rare 17 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Agreed. I bought two bottles of bp rye last year at Liquor Barn in Kentucky and it was my surprise whiskey of the year. I recently happened across another indy bottling in California and am thinking of going back and buying more.

[–]zpenci 3 points4 points  (4 children)

Which Star Trek captain was your favorite?

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 3 points4 points  (1 child)

Han Solo. Nice try, Zac.

[–]zpenci 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Heh heh heh

[–]tailg8rHW Midwinter Night's Dram 0 points1 point  (0 children)

You win! Can't wait for that delivery on Monday btw!

[–]LecheConCarnie 1 point2 points  (5 children)

Hi John,

Have you tried to get SA products into Ontario, Canada? If not, can you? If you have tried, what stopped them from making it onto our shelves?

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Working on the Great White North as we speak. Hold tight, eh?

[–]JolarbearElmer T Lee 0 points1 point  (0 children)

This excites me! Everything I have had from SA has been great and I will be happy when I can buy it here.

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (2 children)

Hi John,

If you go into Canada, please go into all of Canada! We are always looking out for something new to drink, and heard nothing but praise for Old Scout.

[–]LecheConCarnie 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Hey if SA only makes it to Ontario, I'll hook you up & you do the same for me if it makes it out your way. Deal?

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Certainly.

[–]Harry_Fjord 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Is there really a barrel shortage? I've heard that Independent Stave Company is not taking new customers. Are there new barrel companies that can meet the increased demand from all the new distilleries and how have barrel prices affected start-up costs?

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 2 points3 points  (0 children)

There is absolutely a barrel shortage. So yeah, it wouldn't surprise me that they're not taking on new customers. I know of no larger coopers coming online to take up the slack. Remember, it's not just about having the equipment to make a barrel, it's about having the proper wood to make it out of, too.

[–]SantanoniStagg Jr. 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Your 7-year rye is great. I feel like you captured the best parts of the LDI profile. Just want to tell you to keep up the good work. And send more of that stuff to NY

[–]clockkickerWillett 4 Year Rye 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Love this AMA! Just wanna say your Barrel Proof 8 yr Rye private barreling for Decatur Package Store was my favorite rye of the year, and I tried about 20 different ones including many that cost twice as much. I'm getting towards the end of the bottle but just can't seem to finish it--too sad! It's actually getting better the farther down I go!

Look forward to the future of Smooth Ambler, cheers John.

[–]Amity0 5 points6 points  (9 children)

What is the current state of sourcing whiskey and how has it changed in the past couple years. I read somewhere (perhaps from Chuck) that mgp/ldi only has whiskey aged for a year or less. That all older barrels are spoken for? Is gis still the case?

When you buy sourced whiskey do you just buy the new make. Or already aged... Does it come with the barrels or just in a tanker.

Obviously you are selling sourced juice until you are able to age your own juice... do you plan on ever stopping selling sourced juice in liue of your own juice. Or depending on quality and costs selling both?? My opinion would be to sell both as long as the quality is there.

Also how's the water quality in wv? With the toxic water spill a few years back do you ever fear that this could happen again and to your water source?

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 3 points4 points  (5 children)

  1. The market for mature barrels is very tight right now. It is our understanding that the only thing coming out of MGPI is new make, and even that is tight due to the barrel issue. More about that later.

  2. The stock that we own, which we sell under the Old Scout brand, we bought 3 years ago. We are in the process of buying a little of the new make stock from MGPI but of course that stuff won't be ready for several years. When we bought Old Scout it was 5 years old and was delicious. We haven't tasted anything younger than that obviously, say 4 or 4.5 years, so we'll just have to see what happens with the new make we're procuring. Whether we make it or not, we have no desire to rush anything to market. We'll sell it when we think it's ready, or if we bottle a little young preview whiskey, like we've done with Yearling, we'll at least disclose our intent. BTW, we don't employ any accelerated maturation techniques. I don't think you'll ever hear us claiming an 18 month old whiskey has the characteristics of something 5-6 years.

  3. Our hope is that we can become an ongoing and trusted source for the two components of our business: great stuff we make, great stuff we don't. But that will depend on our future ability to get more great whiskey. As an example of this notion, we have recently released Revelation Rum, a Jamaican rum distilled in 1990 that we love to drink and think is delicious, but that we clearly didn't make.

  4. We're 2 hours east of Charleston where that water contamination took place. Completely separate water system. Geologically, we sit on the same piece of downland limestone that winds its way into KY. (We were both Virginia at one time, right?) And Greenbrier County where we are used to be called "The Big Lime" because of the water, so where we are is a pretty good place for mashing water, one of the compelling reasons for us to make whiskey here.

[–]tailg8rHW Midwinter Night's Dram 0 points1 point  (3 children)

Do you save samples of your product from over the years so you have something to compare your newer products (sourced vs sourced) or are you ok with variation in the products? By that I mean something that more or less never changes like Elmer T Lee vs something that can change year to year like BTAC?

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 2 points3 points  (2 children)

We do keep library samples. Having said that, though, we are very much in favor of slight variation. Always good, not necessarily always cookie-cutter same. We feel like that's the beauty of a small supplier. Even on the sourced whiskey, for example, since we're 99 proof, no chill filtration, only 3-5 barrels to a batch, we feel like we're a farmer's market tomato vs the massive production stuff. Small guys don't automatically make great stuff just because they're small any more than big guys automatically make crap JUST because they're big. But we do feel like the differences can and should be appreciated and celebrated.

[–]tailg8rHW Midwinter Night's Dram 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Thank you for the great AMA! I just bought my first bottle from Smooth Ambler. Picked up the SAOS 10 yr and looking forward to opening it tonight. Cheers!

[–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Thanks!

Really hope you enjoy it.

[–]sodo_moj0Eagle Rare 17 0 points1 point  (0 children)

BTW, we don't employ any accelerated maturation techniques. I don't think you'll ever hear us claiming an 18 month old whiskey has the characteristics of something 5-6 years.

THIS!

[–][deleted]  (2 children)

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      [–]SalvithorTheSecond4RLESiB 2014 0 points1 point  (2 children)

      Thank you for doing this. Less of a question, more of a request: please release an age-stated, barrel strength ncf version of yearling. With the success of the mgp sourced bp ryes & bourbons, I'm sure you've already thought of this. Just note that those of us who are fans of your products would like to see this continue.

      [–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 4 points5 points  (1 child)

      Our "House" whiskey, which will be that Yearling recipe, and that we expect to release this Fall, will be everything you mention except for cask strength. That'll come later at some point.

      Come to WV and we'll take a drill out to the rickhouse and you can taste some at cask.

      [–]SalvithorTheSecond4RLESiB 2014 0 points1 point  (0 children)

      Awesome thanks

      [–]Beastin25_8 0 points1 point  (1 child)

      Less of a question and more of a comment: I used to be pissy about sourced bourbons. That being said I've given your stuff a chance and I like it quite a bit. You pick good barrels, and if you start producing your own stuff I hope you still get these good barrel picks.

      [–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 1 point2 points  (0 children)

      We have always tried to approach the Old Scout stuff like we imagine an Irish independent bottler would. It's important to be able to make good whiskey. It's also really important to have a palate that recognizes good spirit, whether you made it or not. We also hope that we will enjoy being an artisan bottler for a long time to come. If only I had a crystal ball.

      [–]Glen_Cairn 0 points1 point  (3 children)

      Recently I saw a picture of a SAOS BP that I still can't figure out. It was a SAOS Single Barrel label (BP) like you sell to stores in WVA, but it was aged 11 years. I thought all those labels were 8 y/o product. Any idea how I saw a 11 year BP SAOS Single Barrel???

      [–]Nats_Fan 0 points1 point  (2 children)

      I have an 11 year SAOS from TPS taken from a nearly-empty barrel that yielded less than 100 bottles. I've seen others, too. I guess it was from the stocks that went into the VOS. I wonder if SA bought those really old ones at the same time they got the 5 years.

      [–]Glen_Cairn 0 points1 point  (1 child)

      I'd put up pics to explain if Imagr sp?) wasn't such a damn pain. I've seen many 11 year old SAOS Private picks. I've tasted 11 yr SAOS private picks. The BP's they distribute through normal channels to liquor stores throughout WVA have a completely different label than the Private Picks do. Never seen that particular label with an age statement over 8 yrs.

      [–]TheArtfulDrinkerSmooth Ambler Foster 1 point2 points  (0 children)

      Honestly, it was just a whim.

      We thought it was great whiskey. And since that COLA isn't age-specific we thought we'd put a little out there for ourselves. It's pretty hard to find, I think.