Review: Smooth Ambler Founders’ Cask Strength Series – Bourbon 2022 and Rye 2021
Smooth Ambler is one of the OG craft distilleries, and like many it started with sourced stock while it got its own in-house production up and running. The company is one of the few that has successfully finished that transition in total, and while it still offers sourced products — they call them “procured whiskeys” — it also has products made from 100% in-house production available.
Case in point is the pair of “Founders’ Cask Strength” releases both of which are produced at Smooth Ambler’s West Virginia distillery in total. These are both annual releases produced in limited quantities. Note the rye is from the 2021 release, not 2022.
Smooth Ambler Founders’ Cask Strength Series Bourbon 2022 Batch 1 6 Years Old – From a mash of 71% corn, 21% rye, and 8% malted barley. Racy and peppery, this whiskey offers a showcase of baking spice and well-integrated wood on the nose, folding in modest notes of black pepper and touches of greenery. It’s quite a blazer on the palate, where a fairly heavy popcorn and peanut element dominates. The overall impression is surprisingly youthful. A healthy slug of water is instructive in getting things into more manageable shape, though it does seem to mute the flavor a bit. Hints of fresh cherry and some mint emerge with time in glass, but the finish returns to peanut shells and a light touch of lumberyard. 123.6 proof.
Smooth Ambler Founders’ Cask Strength Series Rye 2021 Batch 3 5 Years Old – 88% rye and 12% malted barley. Herbal and grassy on the nose, but not overblown, this rye features a suitably green and pungent aroma, backed up with elements of creosote and white pepper. Similar notes dominate the palate, which is aggressive with grassy elements, notes of burnt underbrush, and toasty barrel char character. Some sweetness creeps in late in the game, but the more savory, pepper-driven elements really dominate through and through. The midpalate is particularly driven by spicy pizza peppers, paprika, and cayenne, before a grassy, lightly woody finish emerges. As with the bourbon, it presents as a surprisingly young, straightforward rye — perfectly approachable (at least with some water) but not otherwise overly distinctive. 122.6 proof.