Smooth Ambler is a West Virginia distillery founded in 2009 that, like so many other upstart distilleries, initially turned to sourcing and relabelling whiskey while waiting for its own new-make spirit to age. Like High West, Smooth Ambler has chosen the route of creative blending to add value and individuality to these sourced whiskies. The Old Scout and Contradiction bottlings are both examples of this, and the website is very transparent about where these whiskies were (not) made, stopping just short of offering the actual distillery names.
Contradiction contains sourced bourbons similar to those that go into Old Scout which are blended with the wheated bourbon made at Smooth Ambler’s distilling facility in West Virginia, the same wheated bourbon that goes into Big Level. The sourced components are both straight bourbons: a high-rye (21%) MGP bourbon and a low-rye (8%) Tennessee-distilled bourbon (not a Tennessee whiskey!) from an unnamed distillery. As they say on the website, Contradiction is “a blend of whiskey we make with whiskey we do not.” Technically this is a four-grain bourbon: corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley, and we’re told that “most of” the components are 9 years of age.
The vatting is bottled without chill filtration at 46% ABV and retails for a very reasonable $30 ish. My bottle is from Batch 233. There is also a Contradiction Rye on the market.
Nose: Sourgrass, rough-hewn oak, and fruit punch aka tutti frutti. Cornbread, charcoal, and vaguely vegetal notes of cut grass and corn husks.
Palate: Silky body with a moderate tongue burn. Oak, brown sugar, bitter charcoal, and black cherry dominate the palate. Next, a reminder of that fruit-punch note from the aroma, now paired with bottled corn syrup.
Finish: Medium length. Cherry Coca-Cola, blackberries, and barrel char. Fades slowly with an added note of menthol and a little more bitterness from the char.
With Water: Several drops of water rejuvenate the sour notes and emphasize the fruit punch to the detriment of other aromas. The palate might be a touch sweeter, as is the finish. Water optional here, as it adds nothing new.
Overall: A very middle-of-the-road bourbon with no off-notes or concerns. The blackberry and black cherry notes are very nice, but they are offset by the “fruit punch” and vegetal notes that suggest excessive youth. I would not think twice about drinking this neat or in a cocktail, but I also would not go out of my way to find a bottle. In other words, it’s squarely worth the money.