DSR – WV – 001: Smooth Ambler Contradiction
Company/Distillery: Smooth Ambler Spirits & Midwest Grain Products (MGP)
Location: Maxwelton, West Virginia (Smooth Ambler) & Lawrenceburg, Indiana (MGP)
Mash Bill: 73% MGP Straight Bourbon (75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malt); 27% Smooth Ambler Wheated Straight Bourbon (71% corn, 21% wheat, 8% malt).
Age Statement: MGP is 9 years old; Smooth Ambler Spirits is 2 years old.
Proof/ABV: 100 Proof/50% ABV
Color: Aged Copper
Purchase Price: $49.99; Purchased on-line.
Bottle Label Information:
Front Label: “A Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskies”
Back Label: “Contradiction blends two whiskeys. One is a “wheater”, or wheated Bourbon, and the other is a Bourbon made with rye. We are very proud of our knack for bringing you great spirits we hand-make, and excellent spirits we hand-select, and Contradiction is the opportunity to enjoy in a single sip the convergence of those very two different efforts.”
“PATIENTLY CRAFTED APPALACHIAN SPIRITS”
“Expertly Blended from whiskeys distilled in both West Virginia and Indiana.”
“No elephants harmed in the making of this whiskey.”
“27% Straight Bourbon Whiskey 2 years old.”
“73% Straight Bourbon Whiskey 9 years old.”
Batch No: 30; Bottled November 22, 2016
Founded in 2009 by TAG Gaylen and John Little, Smooth Ambler Spirits is located in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in the small town of Maxwelton, West Virginia (Population 242). Smooth Ambler describes its operation as “utilizing the finest local grain, clean natural water, hard-earned expertise, and blessed with the optimal cadence of seasons for barrel-aging, we make our own whiskey in the heart of Appalachia, giving every step every ounce of our attention, and that commitment is evident in every sip.”
One of the unique things about Smooth Ambler is that they pride themselves on being real. No gimmicky marketing campaigns or back stories about their products. They are straight shooters about sourcing and take pride in their capabilities to select and blend exceptional whiskey. They are unashamed of blending their whiskey, which is seen by some as a scarlet letter in this industry. Check out their two “All Bourbon, No Bullshit” videos that explains, in their words, what sets them apart. You will not be disappointed!
Midwest Grain Products (MGP)
MGP was started by Clay L. Cray, Sr. in 1941. The distillery has grown to now include locations in Atchison, Kansas and Lawrenceburg, Indiana. MGP identifies itself as the “leading distiller of premium distilled spirits.” In addition, MGP “partner[s] with small startups and global brands alike to…create some of the finest whiskeys, ryes, bourbons, gins and vodkas in the world.”
Contradiction is a carefully blended selection of sourced bourbon whiskey with Smooth Ambler’s home-made wheat bourbon whiskey. The bottle used for this review is 100 proof/50% ABV. In 2018, after competing market research, Smooth Ambler realized that the higher proof of Contradiction was actually scaring off consumers. As a result, they decided to drop Contradiction down to 92 proof and reduce the price by about $10. Despite the drop in proof, Contradiction is now blended with whiskeys of 4-12 years versus the 2-9 years in the bottle we bought for review.
Tasting Date/Vessel: March 22, 2020 – Neat in Glencairn Glass
Christian: Very interesting nose. Immediately could sense raisins, vanilla, and cinnamon. Detected some slight hints of wood like cedar and and some ethanol. Addition of water helped tame the ethanol and really brings forward the smell of brown sugar and vanilla.
Mike: Hints of cedar, cinnamon and table sugar. A slight burn of modeling glue if you go in deep. Subtle hint of green bananas just waving it past my nose. A few drops of water brought out significant brown sugar notes.
Christian: Had a bit of an oily mouth feel. Sweetness on the front end with hints of caramel and leather. Drops of water really intensified the sweetness on the mouth bringing a light taste of honey to the forefront.
Mike: Very thin in my mouth and a brief shot of sweetness on the tongue, almost like dipping the tip of my tongue in honey, which then gave way quickly to a light peppery bite. The addition of water seemed to make the overall mouth sweeter, taking away the bite and very reminiscent of table sugar.
Christian: Looooong bold finish! Peppery rye spice really introduces itself at this point. As the finish dissipates, detected some floral notes. Even after the addition of water, this finish was still long and pronounced.
Mike: The finish was long and spicy hot for me but not an unpleasant burn, more warm and cozy. Water shortened the finish a tad and toned down the spiciness.
Christian: I found this expression of Smooth Ambler Contradiction to be quite pleasant. At 100 proof, it was not overwhelming or unpleasant in any way. It comes with a boldness that is pronounced but not over the top. The nose and mouth were sweet and appealing.
The addition of water just really amplified the experience. The ethanol nose was swept away bringing all the sweet goodness of vanilla and brown sugar to the front. Perhaps this is part of the reason they transitioned to the lower 92 proof currently on the market. I would have no problem keeping a bottle of Contradiction on my shelf to share with friends!
Rating: 3 Rickhouses
Mike: I purchased this bottle a few years ago and never got around to cracking it open. This was bottled at 100 proof. Smooth Ambler now bottles this at 92 proof.
I really enjoyed sipping this at 100 proof and I’m very curious how the 92 proof expression stands up to this one. As I mentioned above, a few drops of water seemed to make things sweeter and more subtle overall. Perhaps the intent of Smooth Ambler was to make Contradiction more approachable with the lower proof. MSRP is $49.99, which for me isn’t a deal breaker, considering the majority of this blend is aged 9 years. I would give slight pause now, since the proof is lower. Be on the lookout later for a review comparing 100 proof and 92 proof Contradiction!
Rating: 3 Rickhouses
Conclusion: Smooth Ambler Contradiction is a well balanced blend of 9 year rye bourbon whiskey and 2 year wheated bourbon. These two whiskeys blend very well together making for an enjoyable and tasty experience. The 100 proof we tried, priced at $49.99, seemed well within a reasonable price range. Smooth Ambler Spirits is transparent and unapologetic when it comes to Contradiction. We welcome this straight forward approach as they have nothing to hide. Smooth Ambler Contradiction is an excellent blended whiskey we recommend that you try and enjoy!
Special thanks to CEO/Head Distiller John Little for being willing to field our questions for this review. He did so while working to produce hand sanitizer for first responders during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis. We truly appreciate your time!