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Review: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon

Smooth Ambler is a relative newcomer to your liquor store shelf with a Vodka, Gin, and a White Whiskey that they make out of their Maxwelton, WV distillery. Smooth Ambler does all of their milling (grinding the grains) onsite for their products and distills these spirits from start to scratch. Proprietor, John Little, was interested in putting out a bourbon whiskey that had enough age and complexity to warrant releasing it to the public. There’s just no hurrying aged whiskey folks – many do so with results that taste as rushed as the process. John was apparently interested in avoiding that, hence the release of a sourced (purchased) bourbon with Smooth Ambler Old Scout Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Smooth Ambler is very up front with the fact that they purchased the whiskey from another distillery. While it’s not named on the bottle, Little mentions in a recent StraightBourbon.com post that the product was indeed sourced in Indiana. With a mashbill (grain recipe) of 36% rye that matches up with one of Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana’s (LDI) stock bourbon recipes, I think it’s safe to say this is LDI juice.

Enough with the specs, let’s get into a tasting of this one……….

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon, 49.5% abv (99 Proof), $32/bottle

Color: Pale Amber

Nose: A bright mix of soft cinnamon candy, spearmint, eucalyptus, sweet almond extract, juicy fruit gum, and punchy rye and oak. Blindfolded I’d guess this was a straight rye whiskey.

Palate: The entry is caramel and honey, spiked with crisp mint, clove, and juicy rye. Corn makes a brief appearance before the mid-palate dries things up and gains some resinous grip through to the finish.

Finish: Warm and spicy with big cinnamon, splintered oak, toasty flavors, and corn.

Overall: What I like about Old Scout is I think Smooth Ambler got the details right. First off this is 5 years and 10 month old – just 2 months shy of 6 years at bottling. Certainly not “OLD”, but it has some decent age to it. Second, it’s non-chill filtered, and non-carbon filtered and bottled at a respectable 99 proof. That last part I enjoy because it gives the drinker the flexibility to add water as needed. The result is a well executed high-rye bourbon. The aromas and flavors are clearly influenced greatly by the rye, maybe a bit more than I’d ideally wish for, but it’s anchored with sweetness and balanced oak. The price point makes it a solid value as well.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)

Review: 2011 William Larue Weller Bourbon

It’s perhaps the most highly anticipated release of the year in American Whiskey. Each Fall the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) releases a line up of five whiskeys; George T. Stagg Bourbon, Eagle Rare 17 Bourbon, Sazerac 18 Rye Whiskey, Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey, and the subject of this review, William Larue Weller. Supply and demand are clearly good for business because these whiskeys can be tough to come by. Some might suggest you have to have compromising pictures of your local spirit merchant to even get a bottle or two. I say just make friends and/or be a great customer and that usually helps.

William Larue Weller is made from a wheated bourbon mashbill (grain recipe) that contains no rye grain. It’s a similar (likely exactly the same) recipe as used in Pappy Van Winkle.

2011 William Larue Weller Bourbon, 66.75% abv (133.5 Proof), $80/bottle

Color: Mahogany, deep amber

Nose: Dark dried fruits (dates, raisins), Fruitcake, toasted almonds, cocoa, and creamy cafe au lait. This is one where a splash of water releases beautiful roasted notes of coffee beans and saddle leather.

Palate: Dark and sultry. Toffee, roasted and caramelized nuts (slightly burned?), candied fruits, black coffee, bitter dark chocolate, and clove. The balance of sweet, rich, spicy, and bitter is just outstanding.

Finish: Chocolate caramels, concentrated berry syrup, toasted oak and vanilla.

Overall: Clearly one of the three best whiskeys I’ve sipped this year thus far, but I do hate the fact that this stuff is so damn tough to get. I can’t believe they don’t have more of this to get to the public. Keep searching though because this is without question an Epic whiskey. It’s the best William Larue Weller of the last 2-3 years for sure, and based on the three I’ve tasted from the collection this year (Stagg and Handy), it’s the best so far in my opinion.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.6 (Epic/Classic)

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am very thankful for the opportunity to have a place to spout on about something I love very much. Even more so, I’m thankful to have great folks that visit often and contribute. I honestly cannot describe how much fun I have interacting with all of you. The fact that you take time to stop by and hear me out is a blessing for me.

I wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving, and hope it will be filled with great family, friends, fantastic food, and of course great whiskey.

This holiday I have a boatload of family coming into town, like every year. It’s my favorite holiday for that very reason. I love to cook and so this holiday just fits right in. Each year we make 3 turkeys (one fried, one roasted, and one smoked) with some of the best sides (or fixins as we say in the south) you’ll ever eat. This year, after the dust settles on a meal that takes 2 days to prepare and 30-45 minutes to eat, I’ll pull all the willing participants into my dining room and we’ll make our way through my liquor cabinet. I’ve got some special ones in store for them – an older Pappy 15s, a 2009 Stagg, the 2011 Parker’s Heritage Collection, and probably a few gems from across the pond as well.

Whiskey, like a lot of things, is best when shared with people. It was meant to be enjoyed any time of course, but it just always seems to taste better with others. Share a bottle with someone this Thanksgiving and you’ll be glad you did. Also, I would love to hear what you’ll be sipping this week – please let us all know!

Great King Street Artist’s Series Blended Scotch

I was thrilled to hear John Glaser talk about his company’s (Compass Box Whiskey Co.) new mission at this past April’s WhiskyFest in Chicago, IL. As the event winded down, I spoke with John for what seemed like 10 minutes about whiskey, blending, and his focus on the best oak he can find (he flew in that day from Independent Stave Co.’s Ozark, MO facility). The discussion however quickly came back to pure, simple, whiskey enjoyment, something John is clearly passionate about.

Glaser and his band of creatives put the subject of Blended Scotch on their backs this past June with the UK release of Great King Street (it was released in the US in late September). I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a bottle and I hoped it would do justice to such a mission. At $40 retail it includes a significantly higher percentage of single malt whiskey than most blends.

So, pardon me, my American Whiskey loving friends, as I am compelled to jump across the pond into the world of Blended Scotch for a brief moment.

Great King Street Artist’s Blend (Blended Scotch), 43% abv (86 Proof), $40/bottle

Color: Chardonnay

Nose: Roasted pear and golden delicious apple – honey-sweet, juicy fruit. Vanilla and lemon custard, lush malt, and confectioners sugar. The nose is so buttery soft and round.

Palate: Beautifully rich mouth feel like over-oaked, velvety chardonnay. Baked orchard fruits, pressed cider, vanilla cream, cinnamon stick, and nutty toasted oak.

Finish: All vanilla, oak, and fruit. There’s a faint hint of cocoa and toasted nuts that adds interest to an otherwise brief finish.

Overall: If you ask me, this is an example of how the grain spirits can dress down such rich and velvety malt (and frankly make it better). Is this whiskey nirvana? Nope, it wasn’t intended to be. Is it utterly delicious, rich, and fruity blended scotch that is so effortlessly drinkable you will not want to put it down? Without question!

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)

Sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to present it a little differently. John Glaser and Compass Box have done just that and I’m damn glad they did. The only thing I’d correct is the (implied) intended use. Great King Street’s website and the guys from Compass Box themselves are big on the old classic scotch and soda cocktail (measure of blended scotch, measure of good quality soda water, and ice). Ehhh, I much more preferred this neat and uncut or with just a cube or two of ice and maybe a splash of water. It’s just too velvety and beautiful to blast apart with soda water.

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2011

This years 2011 Limited Edition Single Barrel from Four Roses is another great reminder of why Four Roses is one the more exciting distilleries in the country. No other distillery works with more recipes (10 to date). This years release is their high-rye (60% corn/35% rye) “B” bourbon mashbill with their floral “Q” yeast. And while not overbearing, the floral fragrance is very apparent. Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, noted that he smelled a big bouquet of red roses when he first nosed this bourbon right from the barrel.

Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2011 Bourbon, 55.4% abv (110.8 Proof), $70/bottle

Color: Deep Copper

Nose: Maple syrup, baked orchard fruit, mashed berries, and brown sugar play sweet foil to big vanilla, toasted barrel, and floral fragrance. The spice lies below the surface.

Palate: Viscous stuff with an array of sweet maple syrup, jellied orange and berries, ground hot spices (white pepper, mint, and cinnamon), leather, and ever present bitter floral flavors. The sweetness hits first but doesn’t last long before the spice takes over.

Finish: Dries rapidly with a wicked mix of red sour fruits, stale pancake syrup, spicy oak essence, and bitters.

Overall: This one is fun and totally unique indeed. The OBSQ recipe with it’s mix of spicy high rye mashbill and the floral “Q” yeast strain yields a finished bourbon that isn’t overly sweet, adds a pop of floral fragrance and flavor, and also has enough of that signature Four Roses fruit and spice. This isn’t as good as other limited edition single barrels and limited edition small batches from Four Roses, but it’s still excellent stuff. It also underscores what different combination of mashbill and yeast strain can do to the final product.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)

Templeton Rye Whiskey Review

Many noted whiskey writers and historians (Chuck Cowdery for example) have been “out in front” taking on certain claims from various distilleries and craft whiskey operations across the country. And in some cases, even the industry giants aren’t left out as targets.

The main reason for this is that the “truth” on many whiskey brand labels is “bent” a little. And while some of the minutia that gets tossed around is a bit silly in my opinion, I think we all know how the “marketing guys” can quickly turn a mole hill into a mountain. That’s how some guy minimally associated with a particular distillery centuries ago suddenly “invented bourbon” or whatever the claim may be.

It is also worth noting with so many bourbon and American Whiskey brands on the market and only a handful of large production distilleries, much of the stuff you see on the shelves is made by only a few distilleries. This is not necessarily the case for some of the new upstart craft (or whatever you want to call them today) distilleries, but in the bourbon aisle alone most of the stuff is made by about 7-8 distilleries.

And why is that important? Well, the subject of this review has been the subject of much media drama around it’s story and the production of its product. Templeton Rye is a Templeton, Iowa based distillery. We can comfortably call it a distillery because the operation that exists in Templeton is now distilling, just not the the whiskey in their flagship Templeton Rye bottle. The distillery that is producing it is Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. LDI produces whiskey for a number of very popular brands like High West, Redemption, Bulleit, and many others. Earlier this year I wrote about LDI as a part of a post I did on Four Roses.

The Templeton Rye Story
Templeton President, Scott Bush, lives in Chicago, IL but has family ties in Iowa. Bush grew up hearing stories from family members about a rye whiskey his great-grandfather was associated with. The whiskey was allegedly produced in Templeton, Iowa during prohibition. The company’s website, and Bush himself, also claim that the whiskey, like a viral video, made its way all over the country during that period. It eventually found it’s way east where Templeton claims it became Al Capone’s whiskey of choice. Soon after it was nicknamed “The Good Stuff” by those that knew it well.

Bush decided he wanted to bring whiskey production back to Templeton, Iowa. He set out to find folks that had a connection with the prohibition-era product. Soon he partnered up with Meryl Kherkoff, whose father helped make the whiskey during that time. Bush claims that Kherkoff provided him with the recipe. Rather than create it on their own, Templeton decided to contract the whiskey making to LDI.

Templeton confirms that the whiskey is greater than 90% rye grain with the remainder being malted barley. Interestingly LDI has a stock rye whiskey mashbill that is 95% rye. This is the juice that Bulleit, Redemption, and many others use in their products. It’s likely to me that Templeton Rye Whiskey is 95% rye based on this but that is only an assumption on my part. For the record, other stories have emerged on this subject where claims were made the original prohibition-era whiskey had a higher percentage of corn. If true that would further dispute the claim that the recipe today is the same.

Whether or not the above history of the product is true I don’t think we’ll ever be able to confirm. The story is certainly fun though. I bring up the fact that it’s unconfirmed firstly because it isn’t conformed. Secondly, and most importantly not to slight Templeton, but rather to challenge you to not get roped into the branding and marketing of certain products. In most cases, provided it’s not illegal, whiskey marketers can claim whatever the hell they want to. And they do.

The good news for consumers is there are new distilleries starting up every day that are learning that it’s not okay to fool us. That’s no way to build brand loyalty. Many existing distilleries are learning this fact also, but maybe not as soon as some would like. We all have to understand that some of this stuff is hard to prove.

When that’s the case I let the juice in the bottle do the talking. This latest review is from a sample of Templeton’s most recent release.

Templeton Rye Whiskey, 40% abv (80 Proof), $40
Templeton Rye’s nose is a balance of sweet and spicy flavors with aromas of caramelized banana, vanilla, cinnamon candy (red hots), bracing rye, and wintergreen. Oak is subtle and not overly pronounced. On the palate, a honey-sweet entry moves quickly to dry rye grain, chili flake, and black pepper. The sweet core of this whiskey keeps it from ever getting too fiery on the tongue. In fact it’s quite mellow (more than likely due to the low proof). I would love to see this maybe closer to 90-95 proof because I feel it might give it a bit more spark. Regardless, there’s a lot of great flavor here. The finish is crisp mint, honey, cinnamon spice, and dries up quickly. Whatever you think about the story or the recipe or the fact they don’t distill it, Templeton is bottling a very good rye whiskey.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.4 Very Good/Excellent)