Smooth Ambler – Old Scout – 8 Year Old – Cask Strength – San Francisco Wine Trading Company Selection – Single Barrel Straight Bourbon – Barrel # 656 | 52.7% (105.4 Proof) $49.98 (link)
Color/Appearance: Deeply and richly amber. Cherry wood finely polished. I have recently acquired a few different bottles of these Smooth Ambler single barrels. It is a great way to explore just how much influence the barrel can have. I hope for my sake there are some clear differences or I will be in some serious trouble trying to write the reviews. I don’t have any real information about the mashbill but I believe they are all similar and use one of the available MGP formulas. It is nice that Smooth Ambler is so upfront and honest about the sourced nature of this whiskey. The fact that this bottle is distilled by MGP does not bother me in the least, as they are capable of making some great whiskey over there. Also Smooth Ambler is already releasing some whisky distilled and aged themselves, which I hope to try soon. I wonder how many more years they will continue to buy stock from Indiana. I have heard recently that Smooth Ambler has stopped this barrel selection program. (*See new info below.) I do hope that they reconsider this move. They mentioned being overwhelmed with the process of moving around so many samples, keeping tabs on the choices, and all of the logistics around the process. I for one, find that the program keeps them in high esteem with the whisky loving community and serves a serious and rather unmet need. There are not enough of these barrel selection programs, where stores and individuals can buy a barrel for themselves, it would be a shame to loose one of the few who remain. For us whiskey fans it is a great opportunity to dive into a nuances of different barrels and even though I have a number of these, if I was to find another in a store tomorrow I would certainly buy that one too.
Nose: Maple syrup, brown sugar, dried orange peel, and cinnamon atop a freshly baked roll. Light pine, juniper, and oak planks. Rich and inviting with just enough structure to keep it from getting cloying. This is a great nose for me, dark and sexy. Every time I pour a glass of this it brings me to a warm bakery in the early morning where the aroma of baking goods just makes you happy.
Palate: Soft entry and a mellow attack for a cask strength bourbon. The sweetness from the nose carries over here with the baked pastry shop elements all represented. Pine, a little pickle juice, and touches of younger oak prevent all out dominance but it is very very nice. It’s deep, dark, thick, and cooked down tasting. It coats the mouth with a warm caramel corn like sweetness. The more I drink this, the more I am left wondering about the mashbill. This barrel is almost sweet enough to make me think it could be a wheated bourbon but there are still some spicy notes that leave a lot of doubt. Plus if something is an eight year old cask strength wheated bourbon people would be hyping that angle heavily.
Finish: Medium in length with drying oak and char being exposed as the veil of sweetness fades. Some medicinal and herbal background notes exert themselves. Bayleaf, fennel and crushed black and red pepper. Just enough dryness to demand another sip.
Overall: A great and crowd pleasing selection from the San Fransisco Wine Trading Company. Very light on the oak with rich and dark sweetness pulling you in. It is a cask-strength bourbon that drinks as if it’s lower proof and one that I find myself reaching for often. There are some very small off notes holding it back and it does seem to lack some vibrancy but these just end up feeling like this particular whiskies style. It’s far too nice to whack you right in the kisser. Go ahead pour some more and order up another bottle before this limited release is all but a memory.
* In an exchange on Twitter I learned from Smooth Ambler that their barrel program is back in operation. This is great news! Also there was recently an AMA on Reddit r/bourbon featuring Smooth Ambler’s John Foster, this question and answer session contains some great information about this distillery and the projects they have going on. (Link)