Smooth Ambler Spirits and I have somewhat of a love hate relationship. The first bottle of theirs I tried, Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel, was one of a kind excellent in my mind – a solid cask strength MGP (Midwest Grain Products) bourbon. Even though this has disappeared from retailers’ shelves, occasionally I will find a bottle at really good restaurants, such as Social Southern Table in Lafayette, Louisiana. As Smooth Ambler was spinning up their own distilling and aging in West Virginia, they purchased some great barrels from MGP and attracted quite the following. Their first two home spun bottles, Yearling and Big Level, both wheated bourbons, had this awful yeast funk and I didn’t even review those. They may have gained some traction in some bourbon circles, but not with the folks I drink with, both in person and virtually. Contradiction, which is a blend of their MGP bourbon stock and their wheated bourbons, received poor reviews including from me. Then, in an effort to cash in on their Old Scout name, they put out an American Whiskey, bourbon which is aged in used cooperage, when compared to similar Barrell products, was not very good either. Reportedly, the American Whiskey product is now being phased out. But, now, starting last fall, Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon is now back for good, so to speak. They are buying barrels each year and last fall bottled bourbon that was barreled in 2014.
So, I recently acquired a bottle of the standard 99 proof release of Old Scout. I find it interesting it is 99 proof, as that is the same proof Widow Jane bottles some of its MGP bourbon. While this bourbon is non-aged stated, it is labeled as straight bourbon, so we know it is aged for at least four years. Based on the color, I think that is probably more like five years, but not much more than that. This costs between $40 and $50 nationally. The mashbill is 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley.
The color on this is a light amber; darker than most scotches but just a hair. On the swirl is a nice film with long legs. The nose is a pleasant bourbon smell, with some nice grain notes, a little vanilla, some rye spiciness. With the first sip, this has an silky and slightly syrupy mouthfeel. On the palate, candy corn sweetness, some vanilla and caramel on the front followed by waives of herbal tea, grassiness, and rye spiciness. On the finish, the rye spiciness continues on and on. This is a very rye heavy bourbon. It’s still five year old bourbon and a little more time in the barrels would certainly improve this whiskey as it has a hair of craft bitterness on the finish right before the rye overwhelms the palate, it is a solid high rye bourbon with an excellent mouthfeel. But it does have that juicy fruit gum thing going on when you chew it like certain Barrell releases with MGP bourbon in them. And I like that.
This is a Basil Hayden lover’s dream, in my mind. High proof but not over proof like Old Grand Dad 114 (one of my absolute favorites, but then again I love cask strength and high proof whiskey), and with no peanut funk from the Beam family wild yeast, I would pick this over Basil Hayden any day. It is a smooth whiskey as well. In fact, if you are a big Blanton’s fan and can’t find Blanton’s and can find this, blind taste test this with some Blanton’s you already have. You really might not be able to tell the difference, particularly if you swirl the Old Scout a little bit to add some air to it.
In any event, this bottle definitely has a place on my bar, as a solid high rye bourbon at a decent proof and a decent price tag. I am glad Smooth Ambler has taken steps to make sure the market is well supplied with this really good bourbon.