SMOOTH AMBLER OLD SCOUT
Single Barrel #5943 bottled 10/13/17 by “Sarah”
MASH BILL – unstated MGP bourbon mash bill
PROOF – 111.8
AGE – 12 years
DISTILLERY – Smooth Ambler Spirits Co. (sourcing from MGP)
PRICE – $81
WORTH BUYING? – Yes, and I’m glad I waited 4 years to open it! A 12-year MGP cask strength SiB bourbon for $81 tastes even better in 2021 than it would have in 2017!
I opened this bottle on a night of MGP whiskeys, a recent palate comparison with actor and whiskey fan Michael Barret Austin. Our main subject that night was Remus Repeal Reserve Batch V, itself an MGP product blending 13-to-16-year barrels of their own bourbons. After comparing the Remus Repeal Reserve to a much younger cask strength single barrel of MGP’s George Remus bourbon, I thought this 2017 Smooth Ambler bottling would make an even more logical and interesting comparison to the well-aged Repeal Reserve.
Given its age and bottling date, the Old Scout SiB’s bourbon was distilled in 2005, the same year the oldest bourbons in the Remus Repeal Reserve Batch V were distilled. Same generation, different age. A true example of bourbon as “history in a bottle,” frozen in time until uncorked. This Old Scout SiB tasted much closer to the Remus Repeal Reserve Batch V than the George Remus SiB did, itself about 6 years old and much hotter at 125.1 proof.
A few days after Michael and my palate comparison, I tried the Old Scout again on its own. It was exquisitely refined, a very well aged bourbon with classic, mellow, antique bourbon aromas and flavors. Very like the Remus Repeal Reserve, as I said, though not due to careful blending. This Smooth Ambler single barrel release was simply the luck of the draw! A barrel that happened to age exceptionally well and stands on its own—exactly what one hopes from a whiskey single barrel of any variety.
As I mentioned already in the stats summation up top, I’m so glad I waited 4 years to open this. It wasn’t a plan. There was no strategy at work. It’s simply one of a few bottles that have languished in the bunker while others pulled more at my evolving interest. I’d picked the Old Scout up in the Fall 2017 on a lark, thinking then it was kinda pricey. 😂 Today the same thing would easily be priced at three digits, and the first digit might not be a 1! MGP’s own Remus Repeal Reserve brand sells for two digits. But so many non distiller producers are selling 12+ year old whiskeys sourced from MGP for much higher prices.
So there was some extra satisfaction to be had in knowing that in 2021 I was sipping at a relatively affordable well-aged single barrel of exceptional bourbon, released just prior to the steep swell in pricing that seemed to erupt geysser-like around 2018 and hasn’t lost momentum since. Despite my commitment earlier this year to bunkering fewer bottles, this Old Scout SiB makes a good argument for keeping at least some small selection of carefully curated bottles on hand for future openings.
All this considered, I thought the Old Scout SiB deserved its own tasting. These notes were taken about a week and half after uncorking, and three pours into the bottle, tasted in both a traditional Glencairn and antique tumbler.
COLOR – rich, dark, burnt russet-oranges
NOSE – lovely dusty oak, dark vibrant caramels, faint black cherry, dried crushed savory herbs, finely ground black pepper, clove, toasted cinnamon
TASTE – very like the nose, a brighter flare to everything, emphasizing the oak and cherry, the various herbs and spices blended nicely into the caramel, and now also chocolate and a kind of super deluxe graham cracker note
FINISH – oak, caramel, a bit of the cherry, the array of herbs, the graham cracker, some doughy breakfast pastry
OVERALL – just a lovely pour all around, rich and refined and relaxing like the kind of old wood and leather easy chairs they just don’t make anymore
This is good. In either glass. While the Glencairn condenses the flavors together, revealing their collective density, the antique tumbler spreads them out, brightening things a bit overall without dissipating the richness or range.
Unprecedented? Not at all. Uncommon? Certainly. The price point may be a thing of the past. But if this Old Scout single barrel’s cousin, Remus Repeal Reserve, is an indication, affordable experiences with well-aged MGP bourbons may continue to be available without one having to have forgotten them at the back of the bunker. Smooth Ambler’s own recent SiB releases have tended to hover around the 5 and 6 year age range. They may very well have already spent their stock of older sourced MGP. But MGP itself never will have!
Of course, never say never. But for now, the fact that we’re on Batch V of the annual Remus Repeal Reserve release and the price has remained pretty stable gives one hope that the future of enjoying well-aged MGP bourbon is bright—so long as one gets it from MGP. With Smooth Ambler’s current 5 and 6-year SiB releases going for $50 if you’re lucky, can you imagine what they’d charge for a 12-year now?
So my key take-aways are these… (1) Enjoy this bottle to the very last drop. (2) Keep tabs on MGP and Remus Repeal Reserve, and bunker a bottle of Batch V for uncorking four years from now. 😉 (3) Similarly, if I encounter other whiskeys that strike me as rare in their price-to-specs-to-experience ratio, it might be worth bunkering one for revisiting some years down the road.
Though I remain uninterested in the static largesse of bunkering, I can’t deny enjoying this 2017 Old Scout SiB in particular. The delay in uncorking it is definitely an aspect of my experience, even as I recognize its close similarities to the 2021 Remus Repeal Reserve.
It’s all a part of the journey.