It’s hard to imagine a better place to build a bourbon distillery than Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Mountains rise on all sides and farmland stretches away over the rolling hills. Distant cows dot the landscape. Though it was founded in 2008, it would be easy to imagine that Smooth Ambler Spirits had occupied its spot near the Allegheny Mountains for a century. It just feels right.
We were lucky enough to procure a private tour, and even more fortunate to have the President and Founder of Smooth Ambler, TAG Galyean, as our guide. It’s clear from the beginning that TAG is a methodical man. He chooses his words carefully and makes sure to shake the hand of everyone in our group, though he’s candid enough to admit he probably won’t remember our names. He has the most fashionable black-frame glasses I’ve ever seen.
The methodical nature and attention to detail shows from the moment we step foot inside the building. There is an impressive spread of food for us and the tasting room has just the right amount of tasteful, cleanly designed merchandise. TAG and one of his distillers, Andrew Robinson, begin the important part of the visit - the tasting. More than just bourbon, Smooth Ambler also produces locally sourced vodka and gin. The gin, aged in bourbon barrels, is a definite hit in our group.
Back among the tanks for distillation and fermentation, TAG and Andrew are in their element as they describe their process from beginning to end. We can literally hear the mash fermenting, bubbling - the reactions so loud and violent that it’s amazing to realize that they’re occurring naturally. A large rubber tube runs out of the top of the fermentation tanks and into a 16 gallon bucket half-filled with water, with the bucket acting as a kind of filter for the gas created by the reactions. TAG takes the tube out of the bucket and allows each of us to catch a whiff - the smell is somehow both pleasant and repulsive.
Next, they take us outside to one of the warehouses where they store the bourbon as it’s being aged in the oak barrels. It’s a question of logistics that the average person likely never thinks about. After all, those barrels have to sit somewhere as they age. The smell in the warehouse is heavenly - oak with more than a hint of bourbon. It’s here that TAG tells us more about founding Smooth Ambler with his son-in-law. He reiterates the philosophy behind their product and brand. Put simply, they do things the right way - high quality ingredients, high standards, and nearly absurd attention to detail. Every bottle that goes out the door is inspected, corked, and signed by hand.
If this is starting to sound like ad copy, it’s only because it’s hard to spend time with people so committed to their craft - and to taste the impressive results of their efforts - and not walk away a fan. Sipping their bourbon at sunset with a mountain view also doesn’t hurt.