Smooth Ambler Spirits, based in the USA’s wild and wonderful West Virginia, opened in 2008 and has worked up an enthusiastic and approving following with their range of spirits from whisky through to gin.
Like so many craft stories, Smooth Ambler was set up after the financial crash in 2008. It seems that one giant collapse on Wall Street lead to the creation of many artisan distilleries and Smooth Ambler were no different. Tinsley Azariah Galyean Jr. and John Little had talked previously about setting up and selling a product made in their resident state of West Virginia. However, it was only when they came face to face with financial hardship that John and Tag decided to act upon their musings, and make their words into a reality.
They set about building their 5,200 sq foot business barn in West Virginia, which is surrounded by high mountain valleys with fresh country air, easy access to mountain water and plenty of space to allow them to grow. Think big open countryside, all American landscape, big barn and in this case big gin.
Here they started producing their whiskey and also began distilling a more unusual hand crafted product in West Virginia, gin. By 2010 their products were finally being launched. It was mainly through taking a grassroots approach of getting locals to taste their products, that they ended up growing a vocal fan base. Over the 4 years since, Smooth Ambler have now grown from strength to strength and gone from selling to a small local audience to sending their products to an international crowd. With distribution in the UK and Europe you can expect big things to happen in the future.
Tag and John believe that the most important aspect of their distillery is for top quality ingredients to be used first and foremost, allowing the product to speak for itself. After all, as they say themselves, not everyone is going to like their product, but if they have used the best botanicals and grains, at least the quality will come through. Their second most important pillar by which they run their distillery, is to ensure precision within the distilling process. Using stills handmade in Kentucky, they keep only the hearts of the cut, distilling the gin four times in a hydro pot still, using various columns to refine the flavour.
The distilling process and rest of the production they take to create in each and every one of their spirits is handled by the team at Smooth Ambler. It is as complete a “grain-to-glass” approach as we have ever seen. They mill their grains on-site, distil it to create the base neutral grain spirit and then use the water from the local mountain to cut the spirits down. Bottling also happens on site, meaning that it is the same man who mills the grain and then, months later when the gin is ready, wipes the bottle down and places it into a box ready to be sold.
Each step is shepherded along with care and precision, looked after by people who know the product inside out. Whilst it must be noted that they do not grow their own grain at the moment, they do have hopes to grow it themselves at some point. In the meantime, they buy their corn from a nearby family farm, and their wheat from the best place they could find, which happens to be out of state. Their waste products go back to the farms to be used as cattle feed.
Smooth Ambler now produce a couple of gins, including a barrel-aged style. However, it is their original creation that has really captured our attention here at Gin Foundry. Named after the mountain valley county’s name in which it is born into, Greenbrier is made up of their home-grown Whitewater vodka blend of 60% corn, 20% wheat and 20% malted barley.
Smooth Ambler Greenbrier Gin has a mix of seven botanicals including juniper, coriander, cardamom, lemon peel, black peppercorns, orange and angelica. They actually debated about putting ginseng into their gin, but eventually concluded that the gin would have too much of a bitter twang.
On the nose, there is an aroma of warm citrus, especially the orange, working alongside the base note of a malty grain base. To taste, the juniper comes to the fore immediately. Orange touches again, with a lovely smooth and soft finish. It is from their gin that they really live up to their name of ‘Smooth’ Ambler.
Smooth Ambler Greenbrier Gin is bottled in very simply designed transparent glass containers. Their colours of red and black keep it from becoming too fussy and actually becomes a recurring theme that runs throughout most of their home-produced spirits bottles. The bold typeface and loud attention grabbing red label keeps it from being seen as too bland and is reminiscent of the old cowboy Western aesthetic – a nod back to the state’s heritage.
Tag and John wanted to create something with character and flavour and their gin does exactly that. It goes to prove how spending time and effort to craft and experiment with your neutral grain spirit and to take a grain to glass approach really does pay off. With a rating of 91/100 by American Craft Spirits, this gin really does not have much more to do to reach its potential and we expect it, along with the other Smooth Ambler gins, to become a more frequent sighting in bars across the world.
For more information about Smooth Ambler, visit their website: www.smoothambler.com
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