We’ve recently written about a couple small batch and single barrel whiskeys, but now it’s time to switch it over to the blended category with Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon. One thing that really caught my eye is that Smooth Ambler distills their own whiskey up in the mountains of West Virginia, and who isn’t curious about what comes out of those West Virginia hills?
Well, we are, which is why we’re going to do a full review of Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon. We’ll discuss the history, taste, price, ABV, mashbill, and more. If you’re curious about any of this, just keep on reading.
Smooth Ambler History
Smooth Ambler was founded in 2009 by John Little, and like most new distilleries, they began by sourcing whiskey while they waited for construction to complete and for their whiskey to age. Their initial whiskey was called Smooth Ambler Old Scout, which is a wholly sourced whiskey from MGP, using their high rye mashbill.
Once Smooth Ambler’s Distillery was up and running in Maxwelton, West Virginia, they were finally able to produce their own whiskey, and after two years of aging, they were able to say they made a straight bourbon. They began by releasing their Contradiction series, which they refer to as ‘mingled’ whiskey, or blended. We’ll touch more on Smooth Ambler Contradiction in just a minute.
The other whiskey they released comes from the Founders’ Series which includes a cask strength straight bourbon and cask strength straight rye, both of which are 100% distilled at the Smooth Ambler Distillery.
Smooth Ambler was purchased by Pernod Ricard in 2016. While I’ll never blame any distillery for selling, or a spirits conglomerate for buying – that is a big part of the business – it makes their website seem a little corny. Multiple times SA’s company site mentions their “fiercely independent spirit”….
Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon Overview
- Spirit: Blend of Straight Bourbons
- Owned By: Pernod Ricard
- Distilled By: Smooth Ambler
- Aged: 2 (maybe 4) – 9 years
- ABV: 46%, 92 proof
- Mashbill: Blended 4 grain (corn, wheat, malted barley, rye)
- Price: $37-45
Smooth Ambler Contradiction is a blend of three distinct straight bourbons. The first is Smooth Ambler’s homemade bourbon, a 2 year whiskey from 71% corn, 21% wheat, and 8% malted barley. The second is from MGP (Indiana) with a 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley mashbill. Last, is a Tennessee bourbon (not Tennessee Whiskey) with 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley.
While each mash only contains three grains, all together it ends up as a four grain bourbon. I’ve seen numerous reports that Smooth Ambler Contradiction is a blend of bourbon aged 2 to 9 years, but there is no evidence of this on their website or the bottle. Because the bottle lacks an age-statement, it leads me to believe that SA’s in house whiskey may be 4 years while the MGP whiskey is 9 years.
Smooth Ambler Contradiction Price
Our last thing to discuss, before getting into our tasting, is price. Price can be very regional and store dependent. I purchased my bottle for $36.99 at Total Wine, but it seams that elsewhere the price can get up to $45 or more, so this may be a bottle you want to shop around for in order to get the best price.
Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon Tasting Notes
Now that we’ve covered most of the basics, it’s time to get to my favorite part… the tasting. Let’s see how West Virginia, Indiana, and Tennessee Bourbon all mingle together.
Nose: Leather, caramel, and just a touch of ethanol jump out at first. Additionally, there’s some apple and spice in there.
Palate: Oak and honey comes off in my first impression. After that we get cherry and cinnamon. I also get a touch of the wheat grain, but perhaps that’s a bit of the mouthfeel. Oily on the insides of my cheeks, but dry for the roof of my mouth.
Finish: Cinnamon, pepper, back to cinnamon, all with a charred oak and leather undertone.
I’m not sure if this is a complex whiskey or if each sip is different. Some sips I think ‘ooh this is decent stuff’, others I think ‘ehh not great’, so I really don’t know how I feel about this bourbon. Sometimes I pick up classical bourbon, sometimes it’s more rye, and others I feel I’m drinking a wheated whiskey. Yes, the mash has all of these, but each sip seems almost different.
I will say, I really enjoyed the mouthfeel. My cheeks and gums were oily while a charred leather dried the roof of my mouth.
Now that we’ve discusses the taste and price, we can talk about the value of SA Contradiction Bourbon. The price actually plays a large role here because the big variance in price. I’ve seen Contradiction priced anywhere from $34-55 (the average is much closer to $42 or so).
I got my bottle for $37 and I’m pleased with that. I can say good things about this whiskey at $37. If it were $50, I may not be a lenient.
I’d never say no to a glass of Contradiction Bourbon, and I’m certainly going to enjoy the rest of my bottle, but I’m probably not going to reach for it at the liquor store again. There are too many whiskies at the $40 price range that I enjoy more.
Smooth Ambler Contradiction Summary
Smooth Ambler has a lot of things going for it. I love when distilleries distill their own whiskey instead of just sourcing it, and they’re doing it out in Maxwelton, West Virginia. I think that’s cool. They also have some quality whiskey in Contradiction. Maybe it’s a bit of the MGP that I love, maybe it’s their own stuff, maybe it’s the whiskey from Tennessee – the flavors clash, I think, but the mouthfeel and quality of the spirit is pretty good stuff.
Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon is by no means something to avoid, perhaps not something to seek out or something to spend $40 on. However, if you see it at a bar, party, or in a 50ml bottle, I’d recommend giving it a shot to see how you like it.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve had a different experience with it!