The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

July 24, 2011

Smooth Ambler Spirits debuts new Yearling Bourbon

MAXWELTON — Smooth Ambler Spirits continued its tradition of handcrafting small-batch spirits with the Saturday release of its latest product — Yearling Bourbon.

Aged in oak barrels, the bourbon joins Whitewater Vodka, Greenbrier Gin and Exceptional White Whiskey in the Smooth Ambler repertoire now found in restaurants and liquor stores in 12 states.

“West Virginia’s really very good for bourbon,” noted John Foster, director of sales for the Greenbrier County distillery.

“There’s a myth that bourbon should only be distilled in Kentucky, but you have to remember that in 1792, the bourbon region of Kentucky was Virginia, the same as West Virginia was,” Foster said.

“Kentucky’s secret is limestone and the hard water that flows over it; in Greenbrier County, we sit on the same swath of limestone, with the same hard water that Kentucky has.”

Founded in 2009 by a small group of local men, Smooth Ambler initially produced only white, unaged spirits, allowing the bourbon to age for two years prior to bottling.

“We’re brown spirits drinkers at heart,” Foster said of the Smooth Ambler team. “But you have to start with something, and for us that meant vodka, gin and white whiskey, which is just un-aged bourbon.”

With headquarters on Industrial Park Road adjacent to Greenbrier Valley Airport, Smooth Ambler is expanding in a controlled way, both in the marketplace and in the distillery facilities.

The latest addition to those facilities is a rickhouse, or “whiskey barrel room,” Foster explained. That new barn-like structure is filling up with carefully labeled oak barrels containing tomorrow’s aged spirits.

As for the marketplace, the company’s vice president and master distiller, John Little, said he wants the distillery to be “regionally significant” rather than unremarkably ubiquitous.

“I don’t want to be the 1 percent guy in 10 markets; I want to be the 5 percent or 10 percent guy in five markets,” Little said.

Noting the company uses grain from Ohio and North Carolina, along with the pure mountain water of West Virginia, Little said he and his partners in the operation want to remain true to the “West Virginia story.”

“The further from West Virginia we get, the less that local story means,” he said. “What does it matter to someone in Arizona if this bourbon is made with West Virginia water? But here, in this region, that means something.”

Renowned architect and designer Tag Galyean, who is also president of Smooth Ambler, commented, “We really want West Virginians to be very proud of this company and our products. You really can’t make spirits any better anywhere in the world.

“We buy the best raw ingredients, we have the best equipment — custom-made for us, and we take great care in the entire process. We have unique flavors and top-drawer quality.”

Foster added, “We’ve tasted our products and compared them to others in blind tastings to make sure we’re not brainwashing ourselves about the quality. We’re accomplishing what we set out to do — make an unimpeachable product.”

For more information on the spirits produced by Smooth Ambler and the restaurants and stores carrying the company’s products, go to smoothambler.com on the Web.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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