Smooth Ambler DistillerySmooth Ambler Distillery

Founded in 2010
John Little of Smooth Ambler Spirits set out with his father-in-law, to make something his adopted state of West Virginia would be proud of.

In 2009, that dream became a reality when they opened up their distillery in the tiny town of Maxwellton — which sits in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains not close to anywhere.

The new Appalachian roots, and a deep local identification with the moonshiners who have lived in the area for generations, inspire everything that they do. They have a single, small batch still.

But sales have done well and they are up to approximately 80 barrels per month, produced across two shifts. In-house they produce two Whiskeys, two Gins, a Rum, and a Vodka.

They also market the “Old Scout” brand of limited edition, blended Whiskeys which are collected from other sources.

Distillery Details

  • Country
    United States
  • Established
  • Owner
  • Visitor Center
  • Status
  • Address
    745 Industrial Park Rd, Maxwelton, WV 24957
  • Phone
    (304) 497-3123
  • Website
Dog Dogson
Dog Dogson's
The name Smooth Ambler fits the laid-back, easy-going style of the the locals who take their time, but always get where they’re going in style.
Video from Smooth Ambler
Video transcription
John: So I'm John Little. I'm one of the founders and the head distiller at Smooth Ambler Spirits. We're gonna give you a little run down here of how we make our spirits.

The first step in the production process is the mashing. Just like a chef would want the best available ingredients to make a wonderful meal, we think it's really important to get the best grains that we can find. So we mostly use one family farm down the road who grows non-GMO grains. They're organically raised. And we know that he can provide the consistency and the quality that we're looking for to make an excellent product.

So here we take all of the grains that we've sourced. We add those into the mill. The mill turns those into a grist or like a flour. And then we add that into the mash tank. We add a little bit of water and some heat. And we break down all of those starches.

Once we've broken down all of those starches, we add our malt. The enzyme in the malt will convert the starch into sugar. And then once we have that sugar base, we'll pump that over into the fermentation room where we'll then add yeast.

So now we're standing in the fermentation room. So once we've turned starch into sugar in the mash process, we pump that slurry over into the fermentation room, and we pitch our yeast, which is really a fancy term for throwing it in there.

The yeast will consume all of the available sugars and turn that really into two main things, carbon dioxide and alcohol. And what you hear behind me is the CO2 gassing all from our fermentation. So once that has stopped, we also know that it stopped making alcohol, and it's time to move to the distillation process.

So now we're standing in the heart of the beast, the distillation equipment. So once we've created Beer in the fermentation room, we'll move that Beer over to our Beer well. After it's in the Beer well, we will pump it through our column, where we'll strip the alcohol from the mash. That alcohol will then go into our doubler, where we'll double-distill it and turn that into White Dog, unfinished Bourbon.

If we're making Vodka or Gin, we'll take that base, that stripped spirit. We'll run it through our pot still, twice more for Vodka. And then if we're making Gin, we'll create a clear spirit, and then we'll also infuse that spirit to make the Gin product.

One of the things that we do that's really important is taking cuts. The heads and the tails are the impurities in the spirit that we pull out. And the hearts are what we keep and re-distill or that we send [inaudible 00:02:32] to the bottle.

At the end of the day, once we run through the column and through the doubler, we end up with about 140 to 142 proof. We'll dilute that spirit down to about 120 proof. And then we use new charred oak barrels. They are charred to our specifications. And we'll enter the 120-proof spirit into the barrel, take that to the rick house. And then we'll wait 5, 6, 10 years before that product is finished.

So we are in one of our barrel warehouses, otherwise known as the rick house. This is a building that is not temperature regulated. And so as the daytime comes and we get this really hot temperatures, the alcohol expands and pushes out into the wood. And then at night when it cools down, the alcohol comes back out of the wood and brings some air with it. And that interchange of the alcohol going in and out of the wood and the air coming in and out of the barrel will create specific aging profiles, sort of the terroir of the Greenbrier County. And for the most part, except for a few small items, we'll age spirits for a minimum of five years. We're hoping we'll also have some at 10, 12, 15 years down the road as well.

Now, we're in the bottling room, which is one of the most important things that we do here at the distillery. So after we've prepared a batch in the production room, we'll bring it in here to the bottling room. We used to hand-bottle everything. But now, as we've grown, we've expanded some of our equipment to give us some more capabilities.

So basically, it goes to the bottling line here. And the most important thing we do at the end is we still hands-sign and hand-date every bottle that leaves the facility here. It really gives us an opportunity to put our hands on every bottle and check the label and the glass. And, really, this is the last time somebody touches the product before it goes into a case. And so when you see somebody who's hand-signing and hand-dating one of our bottles, we want you to know that not only did we take a lot of great steps to make the product great, but somebody sat down here and physically inspected every single bottle before it went to a case and to make sure it's good when it leaves our facility.

Speaker 2: So, ultimately, you know, at the end of the day, what we're about is providing really great classic cocktail spirits, Vodka, the Gin, the American Whiskey. And more often than not, we're gonna make that grain to glass here in West Virginia, from West Virginia grain, West Virginia water. But occasionally, that's gonna be a merchant-bottled product. That's gonna be one of the Whiskeys we sourced [inaudible 00:04:59] Rum that we have.

And, you know, as a company, we see no reason not to do both of those things and really celebrate both arms of the business for a completely different reason. We're enormously proud obviously of what we make here from scratch. We're also enormously proud of our palates to be able to go out and source and choose really delicious spirit and bring it to market in a very transparent and very straightforward way.

John: And so as much about producing a really quality spirit, it's about supporting small business and creating small business that helps our community. And we talked about that really early on in our business, which was that we had a lot of really wonderful people here who had a lot of really interesting ways of getting things done, that sort of West Virginia, getting it done, entrepreneurial spirit, which we coined sort of...a term "Appalachian know-how."

And so those things became important to us, a great place to live and a great place to have a business. And you've got these wonderful people who have this Appalachian know-how. And so how do you create something for them? And so as we doubled our business every year we've been open, we've been able to hire more people and used more grain. We're creating opportunities for people that they didn't have five or six years ago. And this is a small business. I don't know any businesses any more small business America than making something now with a bunch of grain and bunch of barrels and a bunch of really smart people and wonderful people and waiting five years and selling. The Whiskey business, I mean, that's American, man.

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