The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2011

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Page 26 of 128

West Virginia Is Back W hen it comes to American whiskey history, West Virginia is one of the states that often gets left out of the conversation. But the Mountain State is actually The Smooth Ambler crew (left to right): TAG Galyean, President; John Little, VP, Head Distiller; John Foster, Distiller, Director of Sales and Marketing. fi lled with illicit whiskey-making stories—none probably more renowned than the whiskey taxation of the 1870s, instituted almost 100 years after the Whiskey Rebellion to help pay the debt from the Civil War. President Rutherford B. Hayes grew tired of whiskey-making tax cheats and made it a priority to root out Appalachian moonshiners. Spies, disguised as cattle and timber merchants, would stage ambushes and killed many whiskey makers. This effort crippled West Virginia's moonshining. By the turn of the 20th century, West Virginia whiskey-making went to the way of peaceful farmers distill- ing in their barns, while Kentucky and Tennessee owned the legitimate whiskey market, and the state put its focus into coal. Today, a handful of West Virginia whiskey-makers are bringing their somewhat forgotten whiskey heritage back to life. Leading that charge is Smooth Ambler, a microdistillery making white whiskey and 14-month-aged bourbon, Tasting Notes A nose full of grain, corn, red winter wheat and barley, with slight hints of citrus and fl oral notes. Very hot right off the top—it's 100 proof—followed by a nice citrus palate with hints of pear. It reminds me of an Argentinean grappa. 26 / the tasting panel / october 201 1 SMALL BATCH SMOOTH AMBLER BRINGS BACK MOUNTAIN STATE WHISKEY HERITAGE as well as vodka and gin. They have the full support, too, of their fellow West Virginians. For example, while tearing off a highway toll receipt for John Foster, the distillery's VP of Sales, who was driving the "Smooth Ambler mobile," a toll booth attendant actually asked him for a bottle. "I've got plenty of samples," Foster jokingly said, "but don't tell the commissioner I gave you a bottle through the window." Foster says that's the difference between going through a toll in West Virginia and Washington, D.C.—a little taste of whiskey is always on the mind. Now in 14 states, Smooth Ambler's Exceptional White Whiskey comes at 100 proof and is double-distilled. The mashbill is only 60 percent corn, whereas many white whiskies are in the 70-percent range. The next highest grain in the mix is wheat, and there's just enough barley to be dangerous. The water is sourced from fl owing mountain streams that sit on the same kind of limestone rock that has made Kentucky famous. Limestone naturally fi lters iron and impurities. That's not Smooth Ambler's only similarity to Kentucky. Smooth Ambler made one batch of bourbon with this white whiskey by aging it in charred American oak barrels, and it sold out within four hours. At $28.95 a bottle—and in a time when mixologists are looking to dif- ferentiate their cocktail menus—Smooth Ambler Exceptional White Whiskey delivers a fl exible replacement for vodka and is certainly better than traditional moonshine. I found the whiskey to be receptive to mixing with herbs, especially basil, and citrus. A tribute to West Virginia whiskey makers of the past, Smooth Ambler Exceptional White Whiskey deserves a spot on the bar. PHOTO: CHRISTINA ENTENMANN.

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