John Little and John Foster of Smooth Ambler are good friends of the show. We’ve had them on before and they’ve been doing a lot of stuff recently to keep their audiences engaged. They have a new video series, divulge their plans for future whiskey production, and talk about their latest launch of their MGP based Old Scout. Tune in to hear their take on what’s happened to American Whiskey in the past 2 years.
- KDA Press Release: https://kybourbon.com/2-barrels-for-every-kentuckian-distillers-top-9-million-barrels-for-first-time-in-modern-era/
- This week’s Above the Char with Fred Minnick talks about blind tastings.
- Tell us about your video series on YouTube.
- What’s been happening in the past two years?
- When are you going to use the new make?
- What is the game plan for Rye?
- What’s the plan for the American Whiskey?
- Let’s talk about sourced whiskey.
- Do you see Big Level as always evolving?
- Do you consider yourselves a craft distiller?
- What impact has Smooth Ambler made in West Virginia?
- What’s the Whiskey Wagon?
- What benefits have you experienced from the Pernod Ricard deal?
- Where does the name Smooth Ambler come from?
We can play a game of like, which john is not wearing pants right now.
Neither of us are.
Welcome back, everybody. This is Episode 227 of bourbon pursuit. I’m one of your host Kenny. And we’ve got just a little bit of news to run through. And that’s because last week, I forgot to report that the Kentucky distillers Association came out with a new press release that was pretty impactful. And that’s that they are announcing that there are now two barrels for every Kentucky and aging in Kentucky last year by filling more than 2.1 million barrels of bourbon and aging 9.1 million total barrels of spirits. That is now the record of the highest inventory in the past 52 years that has been kept by the KDA. And this is the first time since 1967, that distilleries have failed more than 2 million barrels of bourbon
production has skyrocketed more than 350% since the turn of the century, triggering a $2.3 billion building boom expanding production and warehouse capabilities and growing the tourism experience that you have seen that is now significantly boosting Kentucky’s tourism profile. But distilling still remains one of the highest tax of all 532 industries in the state and distillers this year are paying a record $25 million and barrel taxes, which they say is discriminatory tax that is going to hamper growth and investment. You can read more about taxes and its impact even more with tariffs and safety and responsibility with the links to the press release in our show notes. After winning the 2019 World Series last month, Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman decided to celebrate with his favorite drink. Of course you know it bourbon. He had a group of friends that spent the weekend in Kentucky choosing their own personal selection of Woodford Reserve and
Zimmerman said he planned to celebrate the World Series by gifting a bottle of Woodford Reserve of his personal selection to all of his teammates and also is going to give them this friends as well as other people that came to Kentucky and also for other wedding gifts down the future. You can check out Woodford Reserve social media for the pictures from his visit where he got to hang out with who’s been on the show before assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall heaven Hill is unveiled a $17.5 million expansion at the bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown and this now includes new tasting rooms, interactive experiences, and much more. The expansion which is only phase one of a multi year multi million dollar project is marked by three new tasting rooms, the Fitzgerald room, the library, and the founders room, all which look out on the Kentucky countryside. There are now two exhibits featuring the story of the Man of Steel. He credits as the father of bourbon, Elijah Craig, and the larceny exhibit where you can learn more about Johnny Fitzgerald. Lastly, guests can get
More immerse themselves by doing it all new you do bourbon experience. And this allows you to be a quality control agent and heaven hill where you get to look at bourbon in the microscope, learn how to nose taste bourbon in bottle and label your own bourbon to take home. But there’s still more to come as they just added a roof top restaurant and bar that overlooks all the barrel warehouses. You can plan your trip now by booking your experience at heaven Hill calm. This past weekend, Ryan and Fred were invited to emcee the auction at the bourbon Crusaders barrel through hunger event. This is an annual event where the incredible single barrels and other older bottles get offered up for charity. And there’s a few special barrels that went up this year for auction. First is a nine year will that went for $55,000. Next is the oldest private selection of four roses bourbon ever, that one for $65,000 and a very unique single barrel of EH Taylor that we’ve know if you’re been around long enough
Never seen any more. It’s only happened a few times on rare occasion but that went for $75,000. There a few more barrels overall as well as other bottles, but this event in total, raised $375,000 for God’s Pantry and dare to care food banks. This event happens in Louisville every year so be on the lookout to purchase your tickets when 2020 rolls around. Now for today’s show, we’ve had the John’s a smooth Ambler on and you can catch those episodes back on 79 and one to four or you can go to bourbon pursuit calm, sort by distillery and click on smooth Ambler. We love having these guys on because they’re fun, light hearted and very transparent on how they operate. Definitely what we would call role models of the bourbon whiskey industry. Now here’s a quick message from Joe over barrel bourbon. And then you’ve got Fred Minnick with above the char.
Hi, this is Joe Beatrice from barrell craft spirits. Tasting whiskey straight from the barrel was truly a life changing moment for me in 2013
I launched barrell craft spirits so everyone could have the experience of tasting whiskey at cask strength. Live two spirits with barrell bourbon.
I’m Fred Minnick, and this is above the char. If you’ve been watching my YouTube channel, you know about my Pappy versus the field series. Well, I want to take that a little step further. What I’m doing is is I’m tasting these whiskeys blind up against Pappy Van Winkle, which is largely heralded by many to be an incredible iconic bourbon that people spend booze and money on. I have this belief that what you taste one day, you may not taste the next day. And that belief was proven true in the first two episodes of Pappy versus the field. And one week I picked Pappy Van Winkle to be my favorite out of the flight which had some heavy hitters in there like old forester birthday bourbon, and then the next week, I pick Pappy Van Winkle to be dead last now.
The week that I picked it dead last, it’s worth noting that I did come off a vacation. I had been traveling a lot, and I wasn’t really consuming a lot of bourbon. So my palate was, I would say more was fresher, cleaner, less hardened by, you know, bourbon tastings and days previous and the first time I had tasted the field. And so you have one piece of evidence that you do indeed taste differently every single day. And then in my comments section, a geneticists wrote me and said, You’re absolutely right, and that your taste buds are like fingerprints. So everybody has different taste buds, and I find this whole concept fascinating. Now, it’s worth pointing out that for years, I have written reviews and I have stated that I believe that you really shouldn’t, you shouldn’t give a score unless you’ve tasted it three times and that way you can
Really make sure and confirm those tasting notes. I’ve gotten busier. And it’s more difficult to tastings three times. And so you don’t see as many scores from me as you have in years past, but I want everybody to do this experiment on their own. Find a bottle of bourbon that you really enjoy, and you taste frequently. And I want you to taste it on three different days in three different weeks and just jot down your notes, tell me what you’re feeling what you’re tasting, etc, etc. I think what we might find here is we might find one of the great puzzles in not just bourbon, but really everything. Why is it one day you want a hamburger? And the next day you want to talk? Oh, why is it some days? I think the Big Mac is the most beautiful, delicious thing in the entire world. And there are other times that it makes me want to hurl, you know so I think we, as humans, we have this incredible fluctuation of what we want on a constant basis.
I want to nail it down for us in bourbon. I’m going to find out what days that I like certain Bourbons and what days I do not. And so this this experiment begins and I hope you will join me on this journey. So that’s this week’s above the char. If you want to follow me on this journey, make sure you’re subscribing to my YouTube channel. Just go to YouTube and search Fred Minnick. And if you have an idea for above the char hit me up on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Just look for Fred manic until next week. Cheers
Welcome back to another episode of bourbon pursuit the official podcast of bourbon getting here talking to some of the guests that we’ve actually had on the show before but we’re here wanting to get an update to kind of see what’s been happening because the last time we talked to the John’s of smooth Ambler we were kind of talking before the show started and I was looking back and, you know, we talked to Joe
Little it was back on episode 79 before we start even hitting that, that three digit count back in December of 2016. And we talked to john foster back for a few minutes, it was part of a series of interviews that were taking place at whiskey live that were in Louisville, back in July of 2017 is when that one was released. So, you know, coming here today is really an opportunity for us to kind of get an idea of like, what’s, what’s new, what’s happening, what’s been changing, you know, they got bought out, are they driving Porsches and Masada is everywhere nowadays, right? So it’s, it’s it’s going to be interesting to kind of see like, what the influx of capital and everything like that is really doing. We’ve known for a while that the MGP days of the old scout brand had been dwindling down and now they’re revamping and something new and so we’ll kind of get an idea of like, what the differences and where the go forward mentality is. We’ve got a lot of fun questions and a lot of good catch up to kind of see what’s been going on with with me
Ambler out on the West Virginia side of the side of the nation over here so I’m happy to do welcome back on the show we’ve got both of the John’s here so john little the CEO and head distiller and john foster the National Director of Sales and Marketing fellas, welcome back. Thanks for having us, man. It’s gonna be back. Yeah, that’d be back a lot of changes mere into since the last time we spoke. You know it i mean it’s it’s been crazy it’s it’s it’s finally I think it’s like finally happening. People start taking podcast a little more seriously. So it’s like I feel like I feel like we finally made it at this point. I don’t want to seem like I’m kissing up here but people say good podcast seriously. There you go. Yeah.
And so but you guys also you do something fun as well. You guys do your own kind of like video series that you post on Facebook and YouTube. You want to talk about that one a little bit? Yeah, that kind of started is really a couple things. It was it was
the idea of sorta
Talking to talking to people and talking to customers the way that john and i sort of normally shuck and jive when we’re together and to talk about
let people have a little insight into our brand and what we’re about in, in our personalities and kind of do something different. You know, it’s like, what what, what can we do that other people maybe are not doing or maybe, maybe won’t do, which is, you know, put themselves out there and answer these silly questions about you know, what would you rather be a ninja or a pirate or, you know, what’s the proper way of installing a roll of toilet paper? And you women have been we’ve been having fun with it. It’s got a huge, huge reaction. And, you know, we’ll we’ll get around to talking about whiskey eventually. But you guys are doing a pretty good job with that already. And we thought you know that that end of the spectrum is covered. So let’s, let’s answer the real hard pressing questions. Yeah.
Would you rather fight a horse sized duck or duck size horse? Right, exactly right?
things that are really going to be important, those are the topics we want to discuss
here around the distillery like that, that dumb shit comes up all the time, you know,
john and i walk in the bathroom, the toilet papers installed incorrectly. And so we have to have a big company meeting and review the proper way to install the toilet paper or, you know, like, just that kind of stuff comes up here all the time, and we just thought it’d be a little little slice of that and it that’ll keep going and just keep get better. It reminds me of just like, like Seinfeld a little bit, you know, you’re trying to find just like the humor in everyday life that you deal with and try to make it make it like the really the big topic of what it is. Yeah, well, you know, the most recent one that we did, involved, involved quite a bit of bad language that was bleeped out and of course, we
passed it through through our legal department, let them look at it. And at that point, I realized that it really didn’t matter to me whether they allowed us to do it or not. I was just satisfied that me and john had forced this billion dollar, you know, thousand dollar an hour legal team to sit down and watch, sit down and have to watch this thing and analyze it. were like, just that alone is worth the price of admission.
I mean, that’s, that’s awesome. Because we don’t have a legal team here. We just we basically sit there and we record we’re like, all right, is this gonna piss anybody off? Because
we understand there were enough podcast discussing, but you know, what makes what makes the, at least in my opinion, what makes a video interesting in the in our world is is not necessarily the discussion about the whiskey. It’s the discussion is the story that makes it interesting, right?
I think you can do a review of whiskey to a fairly short thing and it’s an ad All right, but the stories are what
I really enjoy whatever that is whether it’s a personal struggle or finding history about, you know, how, how a brand came to be or, or, or some history about how the whiskey came to be. And so that’s really what we did. And we felt like there was enough of that out there. And, of course, it was hard for, you know, for guys like us to have our own brand and to talk about just us all the time. So we decided just to do something that was a little entertaining, right? There was not so much stuff and so much about the whiskey. And there’s plenty of people already doing the story. So, you know, like, you guys, so we thought we would just do something a little bit funny. That was kind of a break from the norm and let people see inside about the silly stuff that we talked about here or, yes, it’s a good way to do it. And a lot of that is serious whiskey made by mostly serious people.
That you know, we’re we take our business very seriously. We take the quality we put in the bottle very, very seriously. We take it very seriously that that hopefully people enjoy what we do, but we sure as hell don’t take ourselves too seriously. Well, that’s good. I mean,
is really what this is all about, you know, the idea of when we started this podcast to was to was to really bring the personalities behind the brands. And and that’s something that you all have been doing for a long time, because you’ve got, you know, of course, you’ve got dedicated Facebook groups that are all about smooth Ambler. And you come on there and you’ll talk Exactly. I mean, you make you have fun with the community, right? The community that’s built around it. And you’re also very transparent in what you do. Whether that’s somebody that says something on one other form, you know, I know I’ve seen john in there, and we’ll go and correct them or anything like that and be like, no, this is exactly what’s happening. Right. And so what you’re doing is, is providing a good value to the customer base. And not only that is we think of a customer base, we think of like what the Facebook groups really are. And that’s like, it’s like the one percenters of bourbon. Right? Let’s be real. Yeah, right. Then we sure sure it’s an important 1% but you’re right. There’s for everybody that knows me and john and you and, and and knows every little thing about
Whatever we put the bottle there’s a bunch of people that don’t know any of that stuff. And it’s just a delicious whiskey that they like.
So let’s let’s kind of talk about the whiskey and the brand and kind of what’s been happening in the past like two years. Because we’ve had a few different releases, there was some drainage of the MTP stock. So kind of talk about really like, where, what the timeline of what’s been happening here in the past few years. We’ve been making whiskey for a long time, and we started sourcing old scout in 2011. And, you know, we never dreamed that the amount of whiskey that we own was something that we could actually sell. I’m going to be quite honest with you. When we first started sourcing whiskey it was, I was, I think the most we ever had at one time was about 3800 barrels. And I never imagined that we could sell 3800 barrels. Turns out, it was easier than we thought.
It happened quicker than we ever imagined. Do You Do you remember the cost that you paid for for those NG
barrels when you first started. Yeah, they were I mean, I think we had barrels as low as maybe, you know, $650 as high as we can haul money for them but even back then they were 950 bucks is probably a $900 average or something I think. I think I’ll work that out one time for Fred minute on story. thing was about 900 bucks was the average and higher prices than that to the crazy crazy ridiculously low prices, given what the prices of barrels go for now, and that’s a that’s another subject I once had an offer to buy 10,000 barrels and turned them down. The most costly mistake that we ever made that I ever made, and all of us a lot of money. In hindsight, thank thankfully my business partners only laugh about it and don’t feel bad.
pretty lucky about that. Yeah, I mean, that’s what we we all kind of see like the MGP priceless nowadays. And yeah, you can’t even get any h doc and the stuff that they do have. That’s only just a couple of years.
result. It’s outrageous. And so it’s it’s it’s very very hard I think for a lot of people to look at sourcing today is like the main part of their business too. Yeah you know so you’re right and it has crazy we’re we feel fortunate that years so our business was climbing you know like this and we were buying like this right there was it was it was climbing exponentially and we were buying a much much smaller pace and and that that really came to hurt us right we can we feel the thought we had some deals throughout the years to acquire more barrels wants the market got got hotter and all those things kind of fell through. And so really what happened isn’t about to that we were that’s why we never really slow the pace that much. We kind of went from was like two steps. We went from wide open to Okay, maybe we’ll slow it down a little bit too. We just cut it off. And the reality of it is that we never could just never found that that stop. So in about 2016 we pretty much stopped selling all of the old scout that was old scout
Everybody calls seven, but we never call it about that. We just call it old scout bourbon. And we had old scouts in. And then we had a old scout rye and pretty much all of them just stop. And then we transition to some whiskey that we had for a while, which is the old scout American was. And so the in terms of old Scout, we had a bunch of things right old Scott was never intended to do what it is done. I think when we first bought the barrels, we were we had bought the whiskey thinking that it was like antique shopping for whiskey. So we would go out and find some really cool barrels. Now very similar to kind of what what you guys have done with this thing. Are you going to find a barrel here in a barrel here, we were going to do it on a larger scale, but the idea was to about 40 years, 50 years at there and 100 a year and that’s kind of how we were going to go to market. And what happened is that it just it was really well received. And so we were trying to take advantage of a situation that we had fallen into amongst and and that’s kind of what started the the part of the old scout. Now we’re in a position that sort of
About that, that was in 2011 was when we first started doing the started selling old scout. And of course, we stopped selling and 16. So in about 14, we started buying whiskey at New make new make contracts, and we would buy it whenever we could afford it. And then over the years we’ve gotten some more steady purchases and then of course with the promoters transaction, we’ve entered into larger new make contracts as well as growing our own plan. So that’s why old scout is being reintroduced, is because in 14 we bought we, we bought old scout products as we make so the products that we’re buying are not spot purchase, we differentiate between a new made contract and product that’s already on the market. So you either have new made deals, you have spot purchase, and those are not spot purchase. These are products that we bought under contract as new money. Okay, so it’s the progress is happening, right? It’s there. So where do you kind of see the
I guess the tipping point of when you’re going to start bringing in some of your new make because I think that you had been doing that with big level and some other ones you were kind of introducing your own stuff, aren’t you? Not in contradiction? I think that was as well. Yeah. So so all scout bourbon, the old scout bourbon that we had for several years and and unfortunately eventually ran out of we just ran out of stocks that’s being relaunched and re released this fall at the same age at which we first bottled it and the same proof at which we first bottle it. So it’s five and a half years old, 99 proof and that’ll that’ll return to the marketplace of this fall and that of yours that that’s based on five years. That’s based on what john was saying. Whiskey we purchased in in 2014. Right, I got you now. Yeah, the American whiskey that we’ve had for a while will eventually be will eventually go away. The old scout the high rise
We’ll come back in a 99 proof. And we’ll also have a little bit of a custom pick a barrel program, also, as we used to do in the past, with that whiskey that will return later in later in the fall or early winter, this year as well. So on the on the sourced end of things, the old scouts coming back on the homemade stuff, a big level will will continue as not highly allocated, but at least partially allocated. It’s not as readily available as for example contradiction is and it’s getting a little older, you know, as as well, but that will continue this year. So really, all three of the families, as we talked about them are all going to continue to roll into into 2020. The old Scott Bourbons back contradiction continues to grow and be a healthy part of our
brand and as well as the homemade stuff and the level plus gift shop stuff. Yeah, absolutely. I mean and you mentioned the ryan there because there’s a lot of diehard rye folks out you know you know that you’ve you’ve got a you’ve got a big consumer base of these these Ramblers that that love to collect and love to the bodies and a lot of them have the those old rise that are on there so kind of talk about what the game plan is for that. So we come from first of all contradiction is the biggest focus of what we do. Like the fact that it is what we think it’s a delicious whiskey is now at a proof that’s in price that are easily accessible. So it used to be 100 proof in about $50 bottle. Now it’s 92 proof and it’s a $40 bottle. And we one of the reasons we like it is because it gives us the ability to scale up and we still have a small plant even compared to some of these whatever mid majors some of these new places right the riffs or rabbit holes of the world.
You know, we’re, we’re small compared to those guys. And so the contradiction gives us the ability to scale up.
We The first thing that we will bring back is in this will in a timeline sense. The first thing we’ll bring back as, as john said, the old scout and the old scout custom barrel pick. And then in about a year from now, we will add to the contradiction family. We already have contradiction, bourbon will add contradiction right into the portfolio, which will be a blend of some Bry made and replaces Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia. And we’re excited about that a lot of people I know have it tasted right out of Tennessee. So it is delicious. And of course another year of aging never hurts, right. So I think it’s ready to go now. But we’re going to wait a year so the old scout stuff gets good score sort of settled, and then we’ll bring back old scout an old scout right in the future but in a limited way as well. And of course will bring out some of our own right but most people know that we that we only make we did very
But we’ve been making a ride based bourbon and we’ve been making rye whiskey for a number of years. And we’ll we’ll start to bring that out. It’s still relatively young. It’s still about four years old now. little less than four years old. And it’s good, but I would rather I’m forced, I would rather wait wait for everything to be seven or eight years, all of it. Sometimes that’s not financially feasible. No, absolutely. It’s sometimes you just got to figure out like, how can we how can we squeeze this out just a little bit to buy us a little bit more time? You know? That’s right. And we’ve had that we’ve had a market in the past it’s been pretty extreme right bottles that are 65 to a couple hundred dollars. But the products that will be launching in the in the near future are much more about accessibility for us. So we really want to be in that kind of 40 to $60 range. Look, I know you you joked earlier about whether or not the deal made us drove miles or robberies and Porsches or, and the
reality of it is is no, we dropped out as your 2008 Nissan Maxima and I love it on the side of the road, I’ll cry a tear and go get another one
before pickup drive, right? I mean, neither one of us came out in the promo deal, right? And, and so we still go to work every day, just like just like we always have. And in fact, we were motivated to do more than do more than we ever have. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to touch on that little bit more here in a minute. But you also had talked about the American whiskey and maybe seeing that you say that’s going to start sun setting as well. It is you know,
you know, as we always thought it was really good. And in fact as a bourbon group out there that’s pretty well known and they did some blind taste on it was I think 13 other whiskeys and it came back to be in a blonde score it one hauling it straight bourbon. But it just doesn’t. It’s hard. It’s a hard sell. Right? If people who doesn’t say bourbon, it doesn’t say straight
bourbon the store doesn’t know where to put it, people aren’t sure what it is or sure of the provenance format. And so it’s just, it’s a hard sale. So for that, for that reason alone, it’s going to sunset. Yeah. And part of that reason be part of that challenge is
to be quite honest, if if the handful of people that had been doing American whiskey for eight or 10 years, whatever had been honest about what it was, and the groundwork had been laid for clarity, for American whiskey, I think it certainly wouldn’t unseat bourbon or BB in the same zone, but I think it would be more well respected than it is. problem was, you know, you had you had a handful of brands that had a quote unquote, American whiskey, and you didn’t know where it was from or what it was in the, you know, it was just sort of this mystery. You know, I remember in high school at the cafeteria was mystery meat like it was just whiskey like mystery whiskey or is it front row.
We can’t tell you what what’s the magic but what we can’t tell you that, you know, you gotta waterboard the rep to find out whether it’s even she’ll filter not the work was sort of laid out that it was a redheaded stepchild from its inception. And we tried to be the opposite of that with our American whiskey. We tried to tell everybody as much as we could about where it was from and the way that we treated and all that kind of stuff. And sadly because it is still in a barrel getting older you know, the best probably the best bottle will ever sell will be the last ball
Well, I mean, I guess there’s there’s two sides of this right? I think you you kind of I’m sure it was a tough call to sit there and say like yeah, like we can’t we can’t fight this uphill battle much longer. Right? Because you are right it with with how hot bourbon is. It’s hard to come in and try to bring in a new category. And think Yeah, like, let’s try to try to play this and try to capitalize on this because yeah, I mean, it’s it’s tough when people don’t see that that. Just that that seven letter word
Right there burger, right. And, and so when I when I think about this,
you know, if, you know you’d also mentioned
they’ll have the last bottle or whatever. It also kind of gives you an opportunity here to say, well, let’s just quit selling it will sit on these barrels for I don’t know how much you know how longer and maybe the time will come around and then we can capitalize on it because once you get something that’s a 10 1418 year old product, who knows from there, it might be something that people are going to go ape shit over at some point. It’s the you’re right and that’s the sad part about first of all that’s the sad part about selling any barrel that young Yeah, you really wanted to say a look out what about this five year old barrel taste like when it’s 14 years old. But it for even for our size business or especially for our size business. That’s a big gamble.
Right so we basically elected to what a little bit we have left to move all from and, in essence swap that for a high bourbon product in terms of in our, in our source category, right? We’re going to we’re going to say that and that we know what high ride did us and we’re going to use this money let’s use it to know what we know what basically was the the thing that got us here, which is the high Rialto and and you know when that person comes out this fall, you we all know somebody is going to taste it and they’re going to say yeah, you know, I like it but I don’t like it as much as that 14 year old cast drink single bear. Well, no shit.
Yeah, yeah, it’s it’s taste different than something that’s nine years older. Yeah, yeah, we got it. I think. You know, I think that was part of the things that maybe you were alluding to Robin when people were talking about old scouts select.
Being you know, not being as good as a 13 year old scout select is not being as good as 13 year old MG
P. Well, yeah, that’s right, right, there’s a reason that one is $175 at the gift shop 160 $5 all over the all over the country, right? It’s worth about 35% as much as the FTP juice, and there’s some skin, that’s kind of a joke. There’s some scarcity to it as well. But we also we jumped in with that the Tennessee stuff that we have is, you know, is really a pretty for the most part. So one time release, it was a spot purchase, he thought it was really good use. And so we brought that out this
you know, over the spring and summer as well. I think there’s, you know, we’ve been, you guys know what we’ve been doing too. So we know that going in and doing a Tennessee product was also going to be fighting a little bit of an uphill battle. But we also think there is the opportunity to help change the minds that are out there. You know, for the longest time people just in building their own people thought Kentucky was God, and then all of a sudden now you’ve got these MGD groups and now people think MGP is God. And so it’s I think there’s just going to be a circle and at some point
People are going to realize like, Oh, crap, there was all this high age, Tennessee stuff that was available. That was really good, too. And so we’re going to see this where I mean, and I’m sure that you all are kind of seeing it too is that if you have a demand and you have a market demand for something that is 910 1415 years old, it’s not available unless it’s coming from a different state. Right? None of that stuff is available anymore. And so if you’re looking for something that has that openness, that richness and complexity, some of that buttery tastes like, yeah, like, that’s all you’re only going to find it in one place now. That’s right. That’s right. You know, did it bother you when I came out? And people said, Well, you know, we just don’t drink Tennessee decided that, that upsetting the dog you pick a really, really good barrel and then people say, Oh, it’s just whatever because it’s from Tennessee. Of course. I mean, I think like I said, there’s the people have this. They have they have a blind think have blind thought about it. Most of them said
Most of them just haven’t tried it. They just don’t really know what a killer single barrel could be, especially at cash drink because a lot of the Tennessee stuff that is source there, it’s on the market. It’s not cash drink. It’s not a single barrel and you don’t really have that. Really that that background to sit there and say like, Oh, yeah, like now not going to do it. There’s too much Flintstones vitamins everywhere. But you know, one of the things that john and I laugh about quite a bit, or at least, chuckle about and find a little bit funny, which is the first time we sent old scout raw out for a really good review. It was crushed. Seven years old 99 prove MGP ry. We stand alongside the 99 proof bourbon and the old scouts in and they were all sort of the two Bourbons were kind of mediocre and the ride was crushed. And I can tell you that if I had a chance to buy 10,000 barrels of old scout rye, I wouldn’t leave this conversation right now. And
know for the money because that’s how much you 40,000 I don’t find to the money for it’s just it was in such high demand. And so I think you have to remember that negative review are burdens that burden folks who are as you know, we we call them the whiskey nerds and that’s a badge of honor. That’s not anything that’s that’s a sort of, we’re trying to diminish them. But they are they are emotionally involved in the brands and they get serious about their whiskey and they have very strong opinions and thankfully they’re here because that’s what grew our business but you know, there’s a whole world out there there’s the boat are right at seven years old and would still buy it if we had seven year olds. You know, I’m not I’m not a student of this I’m probably going to get the timeline completely fucked up. But it reminds me a little bit of, you know, the the MTP and now Tennessee and then little guys like us all over the US.
Where the cream is going to rise to the top with you and not just on bourbon but on some of the the American single malt. So been 50 years ago, good wine only came from a couple of places and it wasn’t California. And it wasn’t Chile, and it wasn’t Central Virginia. Now, go Go tell somebody in California, California can’t use good wine. Right? But in the 70s somebody in France would have told you you’re out of your mind to think that any quality wine will ever come out of California. So I you know, maybe that’ll happen with them. Maybe that’ll happen with these Bourbons and rise and the single malts and, and as that cream rises to the top, you know, nothing against nothing against Kentucky. We love Kentucky we wouldn’t do we do without an affinity for what they’ve done with that spirit. But I think the tide will eventually turn when people more people will accept it. You can have a kick ass ride from Maine and you can have an amazing vodka from Pennsylvania. You
La. I hope that happens. I will say this I think the difference is right is that within your scenario that looking for better to craft beer when craft beer came out the beer guys weren’t making necessarily great beer in the craft beer guys were the Kentucky distilleries aren’t making bad whiskey. They’re making great whiskey. And so the craft distillers have work to do. And as our as this industry as a craft distilling industry evolves and becomes more mature, whiskey is going to get better. I know the whiskey we make today is better than the whiskey we made four years or six years ago, eight years ago. If you’re not getting better today than you were six months ago, you should stop doing what you do and go do something else. And that’s that’s where we feel right. So some big level, a big level has a love it or hate it relationship.
And we wouldn’t put it out if we weren’t proud of it. But I can tell you this the big level we made four years ago, and two years ago, and six months ago, continued to get better and it got
by a long shot because we got better, we also run a different still right? But we got better, we got better at everything we do selecting grains and fermentation, distillation, distillation, style, aging, longer aging, whatever that is. So that’s our goal is Johnson really early on our goal is to be really, really serious about what we’ve done and we’ve taken every step we’ve been obsessive about our productions of getting better. That’s what that’s what hurts your feelings a little bit when somebody tries something and they’re just like, yeah, it’s a drain pour. You know, I couldn’t even drink it with a could even drink with Coke, you know, whatever. Like, I get it. I mean, and just because we like it doesn’t mean anybody else has to. I completely understand that. But it’s, it’s as though you didn’t think we tasted that whiskey 100 times before we put it in a bottle. It we just went out and blindly just chose some barrels and didn’t pay any attention to how they tasted and put them I mean, not at all. Like we panel everything and no
anybody’s gonna like it. That’s okay. But, you know, trust me, if you don’t like it, that’s okay. But that because we didn’t like it, because we don’t bottle anything. We know what I mean. So I guess you kind of talked about that because big level was sort of that like hit or miss with a lot of the community. Right. And I know john, you mentioned that it’s even kind of getting on location in some states and stuff like that. So do you see big level as kind of always evolving or transforming with releases as it comes out?
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So do you see big level as kind of
always evolving or transforming with releases as it comes out? Absolutely. Well, maybe not always evolving, but over the short period. I think in a couple of years, it’ll reach its you know, where, where it wants to live in age and discipline and everything else. So I wouldn’t say it always has got involved. But yeah, I mean, if the first big level you ever had was batch three, and now we’re on batch 50
Give it a shot you I think you’d be really surprised at the change. And you know, it’s it’s not that we have this
badge of honor that it’s improved now over maybe the first couple of batches. That’s just a natural progression of our business as john said, you can’t do something over and over and over again without getting getting better at it and, and I’m not ashamed the batch one big level, no matter how much anybody may or may not have liked it. We tasted it. We’re in love with it. We made it with our bare hands. And I’m not ashamed of it, just because a later batch is better.
Absolutely. And so there was something that you still talked about a little talking about craft. I mean, do you really guys still consider yourself a craft distiller? I mean, because you guys are pretty big now. Yes, of course. I’m not sure. I’m not sure what the definition of craft is.
Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s like a minimum or volume or anything anymore. Yeah.
I think my first of all make it a habit to never talk poorly about anybody but
this is not talking poorly but I usually don’t talk about other brands with me as Buffalo Trace craft is four roses craft, yeah, who’s making better product and some of these other brands right. So I think that they’re really good at their craft right.
There a lot of brands like that. But if you look at the way that we used to think of craft distilling as being some small plant think all of the whiskey that we have on the market right now is definitely sorry, all the whiskey that we made is on the market right now is definitely craft was right. It’s whiskey that was made, you know, loading bags of grain, 50 pound bags of grain and us still and turn it vows by hand and, you know, the sort of more hands on really handmade product, right? There’s this definition of like, what is handmade, these were really made really handmade, we still do a lot of hands on stuff, but it was a lot of labor and a lot of love. And you know, if it didn’t work, john and i don’t just go get other jobs.
We move, you know, there’s not a lot in West Virginia. So we’re putting a lot of risk. That seems very seems much like a craft to me. We have certainly evolved. I don’t even know what our term is. Now. We’re not even a mid major, maybe we’re, I like to say that we’re a large craft distillery. So that’s kind of the way I think about it. So it’s a hard term that we don’t really use it anymore. It’s also been talking here, we don’t use it any sort of publication. I don’t think we use on our website and yeah, I mean, nobody knows what it means. And as you know, there’s so much BS in the market with market fluff right now, which is, which was the whole other problem that we have, right. We don’t have a more our marketing story as we don’t have a marketing story.
Yeah, um, yeah, we, I usually refer to us as a small producer, which I mean, you have to we don’t use the word craft a whole lot of craft distillery a lot. And that’s the distinction right, there’s a quote unquote craft distillery and then there is the craft of making great whiskey and
Buffalo Trace and heaven Hill are good at the craft of making really great whiskey we think we are too. But sometimes you have to say craft distiller because other people expect you to, or you’re introduced as, Oh, Johnny foster from craft distillery, but I really think of us as it’s just a small, small small producers by the way. Yeah. So there’s a you also mentioned West Virginia I think we kind of talked about at the top of here that you know, that’s where you all are based kind of talk about what you know, over the past few years, kind of what smooth and was done for the area done for the community and stuff like that, too.
is interesting. We, I missed a meeting at the CDB today. I double booked myself for a 10am the convention Visitors Bureau year and one of the one of the things I was going to talk about, so I wrote some notes on that, or vows. It’s interesting that you vows doing that for us Valley runs our tasting tasting room. Yeah, well, I think, Well, I know we’re is proud of the impact that we’ve made in our small community.
As we are of the whiskey that we put out and at the end of the day, in any business you want to do, you’d like to make someone’s life better. And whether that’s with your podcast with whiskey that you guys go out and source or, or what we do the the goal that you’re making you’re improving someone else’s life is something that you should always take with great pride and honor. And so we know we started with three employees, john and i and and one other person and we now have 23 employees, and those they pay we pay them way more than anything in the geographic norm. They get free vision and dental and that’s how they subsidize medical care and they start with three weeks of paid vacation. And it doesn’t seem like maybe doesn’t seem like the world but we feel like we’re doing a really good job. Our employees love what they do here. We treat them well. We just took a group of salespeople. They come in remember visiting here we took them whitewater
rafting and got sporting clays. And so we bring some of our employees to go along with those. Those things, I think we have something that’s pretty magical. When when promote comes over, we bring the sales people in here and we’re getting hotel rooms or we’re spending money at bars and restaurants or say going to shoot sporting clays or spending money at the rafting companies that in essence, which is some agritourism
and the visitors right, so we have Graham Larry, and so there’s gonna be 175 people from out of town, they’re going to come in here and stay to room nights. And that’s a big impact in a town of 35 people that they’re going to this will be 350 room nights over two days spent here. And and that’s a big impact for us, or for our community. And so those things where it’s really super brought up and, and somebody Anna yesterday, so may that. Thank you for making me. Thank you for having some for having something for us to be proud of. And I said what are you talking about? And she says, You know when I go somewhere
I tell people that oh we have the distillery smooth Ambler in our backyard they go oh, we love some of them. And so they feel proud that they’re from this little bitty town in rural West Virginia and they have something that is export across the world and is a really good product and that people can be proud of and that doesn’t motivate you to be better every day.
We’ve also you know, when opportunities arise, to try and raise money for good causes. We’ve done that I mean, we had a terrible flood here in West Virginia as you may remember, a three years ago and we pulled out all the stops to raise some money for that. We had a live bottle auction in Kentucky. I think it’s one of the one of the only places you do that legally anyway. In in Northern Kentucky, couple of years ago raised a bunch of money that we would 20 grand that we that we gave to an organization called Team Rubicon that deploys experienced first responders.
former military personnel in disaster situations,
the smooth Ramblers got together and raise some money for Val so that she could start a local dog rescue business which is her, which is her passion.
We helped out a friend of ours who used to sell used to be one of our reps with a different distributor and we moved away from from that with the porno thing. But you know, her brother was was having some medical issues and we saw an opportunity to try and, and and use some of our leverage helpers like we really believe in in giving back and doing everything that we can to help our community far and wide. Sometimes that community is here in West Virginia and sometimes that community is anywhere we could affect some change in and help people out if we are also in the middle of rural West Virginia and there’s not a lot of diversity here. So we’re proud of the fact that there are four or five members of our 23 person crew here that are in same sex relations.
Right, you want to be welcoming to everyone. And we we’ve been really bad about not talking about those things, the money we raised for flood relief twice the other community things that we’ve done that patients, we make charities in West Virginia, we’ve been we’ve been we’ve done a really bad job of doing that because we felt like we were pandering to people and we never want to feel like we’re doing it just for the business. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. That’s a good way to put it. It’s good to see that you all are advocating a lot of diversity because I think that’s something that this industry is really lacking and and there’s a lot of push forward as well. So it’s great to see you all being on the front lines of that too. But there was one thing that you all talked about that I kind of want to do with you all and I’m going to go whitewater rafting with the John’s maybe that’ll be fun. Come on there we we love that. We do it again in two weeks. We got we got a crew from Texas coming in. I’m not kidding. Yeah, that we have people when people come here they go oh, this is they’re amazing. I’ve been on 35 of these or I’ve been on the street
trips for 35 years is the best we do. And I tell them, this is what we do for for us, I want to tell them that we’re treating them special, but the reality is we’re not we just treat them like we would treat our friends, if we have the money personally to go do those.
That’s kind of what we do, you know, that talking.
That’s not talking about any other specific brand. But I one of the reps told us when they were here, like, you know, we get on the trips, and sometimes it’s overseas, and sometimes it’s here, whatever. And he, he was just, he’s like, I really appreciate the time that you and john spent with us, because normally we go and we get if there’s a founder some of those big brands, you know, the founders have been dead for a long, long time. But if they’re around, you know, he was like, they might come down from their mansion in their body for a little while and like, hang out with you at a dinner and then leave. He’s like you and john are like driving us around and cooking burgers and like, you know, we don’t we never experienced that before. We just
treat everybody like like family here because it will say this for real reason, but I like shooting sporting clays. I like going whitewater rafting. Yeah.
It’s not laying bricks. Yeah, we’re not digging ditches. Yeah. And let’s consider how lucky we are. But it’s also not a it’s also not just a marketing ploy, but it’s who it’s who we are. It’s out it’s how we roll so it comes very naturally and again, at the at the end of the day, it’s like well what what can we do that that maybe somebody else can’t or won’t do and you know, we can buy we can buy 10 million smooth Ambler cocktail shakers and we can carpet bomb all of our significant markets with those but that’s something that’s really easy for somebody else to do and very common for somebody else to do we we just try and always when we can put up a personal touch on Yeah, just have a good party at the Johnson hopefully get a good TripAdvisor review after it. Well, and then yeah, so listen, we drive your ass around five stars, five stars.
You know, that says your Uber rating john Tesh?
But you know, that’s what that’s what the the whiskey wagon is all about. I mean that that the whole impetus for the whole idea is, let’s take, you know, the way we would treat somebody in my backyard or over John’s house or here at the distillery on the road, and that is Turn up the music and lay out some whiskey and put out the corbel. I mean, that’s, that’s not just a marketing affectations. Hey, we think this is a good idea to sell some whiskey. I mean, I should hope it sells some whiskey because that’s what my job is. But it’s also who we are. And that’s what we do. Yeah, talk about that for a second too, because I remember seeing pictures of the whiskey wagon, but for our listeners who may not have heard of it, go ahead and kind of explain what it is. So it’s a it’s a mobile tasting room, in essence. You know, we saw a lot of those wagons, people pulled around these air streams and they were more like food trucks right. So bartender sits inside customers outside.
You serve to the customer and they leave. The whiskey wagon is a is a box trailer a big box trailer that it’s got a stage trailer and the doors, the sides of the trailer open up become floors. It comes pretty big when you open it up. It’s about 31 feet long by 16 feet once open and it has a guardrail around it and so the idea is that people come up into the vessel and hang out so it’s just like well it says much like our tasting room is that box trailer can be so that’s red walls which are in our trailer or in our tasting room rather it’s real cabinetry real bar, you know saying that people can work in two coolers so we can keep stuff for cocktails or bottles of water in their speakers air conditioning. It’s It’s It’s amazing and the reception has been amazing. We’re we’re doing crazy numbers we go to these festivals these beer bourbon barbecue festivals and showcase their we’re going to want to knock it gets all the way to Knoxville right now john leaves here in one hour.
goes to Knoxville this weekend, and will have 1200 to 1800 people visited during a six hour span. It’s absolutely getting crushed and we we love that, you know that start down fo one of the first of all Kentucky makes a lot of great whiskey as I alluded to earlier. But it also has a really good location, other places that people come to kind of in the middle of nowhere. So if you’re here you’ve made you’ve made a real effort to get here. If you can’t come to us, we’re going to come to you and that’s what the whiskey wagons purposes it’s basically like a you see the one of the some of the Transformers movies. Yeah, like a transformer. If they were like a redneck transformer that like Hank Williams Jr. and whiskey a lot. That’s what this thing is.
That sounds pretty awesome. I’m on board with that.
So we’re going to kind of start wrapping it up real quick. But I you know, we talked about the porno deal a little bit and I’m sure not sure you get into specifics, but kind of talk about really, what more the benefits that
It really drive for you all. Is there kind of like a sense of relief a little bit that, you know, it’s not completely just bootstrapped on you anymore, like kind of talk about what that means to you? Well, certainly from a financial standpoint, there’s a sense of relief, right, as though as I talked about earlier, this didn’t work, john and i move. Well, now we have a little bit more financial security. Certainly the business does, right has more financial security. They have been really wonderful to us. But that doesn’t mean it’s been it’s always been right. It’s always been wonderful, smooth sailing. It’s, it’s just integrating a small business into a corporate situation is not always easy. But as a friend told me, a friend who’d been in the business a very long time a former master distiller, they were as much like a family business as a corporation can be, and I believe that to be true. The things that they help us with are endless. You’re talking about the ability to access everyone from audio
Ours distillers, to folks at Hiram Walker about production details, everything from grain receipts to bottling they know about it, they’ve been through it, they, they and we actually send samples here three times a week to them and they test them on some other equipment that we don’t have, which is a really wonderful thing to have from a production standpoint. So we’re better by a long shot than the way we used to be because of that. And because we now have a an operations manager, because we can afford to have those things. We’re better at our legal stuff by long shot because they have a legal team and by human resources and helping us to put together these wonderful manuals and diversity policies and and help us to not just to put them together but to live them even better. So the whole deal for us has been absolutely wonderful. From the sales side, they have a really large distribution footprint and they have a ton of help and there are jobs job is is to find out how a small business is an
Actually a strategically significant to their district distribution partners or, or to them as well. And so that’s what that’s what our task is or our job is to find our place and then to grow that become more important in their system. And that that that’s the challenge but that’s not unique to pronounce that when I say there’s not something it’s not unique because there’s an Oprah knows wonderful, that’s the that’s the the issue that any small business faces when they try to go when they try to grow and they try to get bigger and and the bigger is not just about money for us the bigger again is about opportunity. We want to share the whiskey with more people we want our employees to have better lives and we want them to go vacation more often and have nice cars and whatever that is that makes people happy in the world. And so all of that comes with with the deal and you first started I know you didn’t mean it but when you say we got bought out
and it is I guess that’s one of the terms but we like to think of it as a buy in. Right they own the majority of the business but they don’t own all of it and and we are partners with them. Stay
So that’s kind of the way we think of our business. It’s sort of you know, whenever those acquisitions take place, particularly in the in the craft beer world, I mean, those guys are and their sir fear when their favorite brewery gets bought out by AB or one of these bigger companies. But the but even I think in the whiskey world, the for people like us the temptation is to think, Oh, well, you know, so now they’re going to start, they’re going to fit me in job with mind control chips, and you probably, I probably need one or start forcing stuff down our throat and you know, you’re going to do this, you’re going to do that. And I can tell you, I’m sure john agrees with me from a production standpoint, and certainly from the sales and marketing standpoint.
It’s been like the opposite of the movie Field of Dreams instead of building and they will come. They had been very much like we come to them with a good idea and they’ll help us build it. And I don’t know what else you can ask for from a corporate partner beyond that.
Absolutely, and I guess, john or Foster, should I say, I gotta, I gotta make sure I’d say this right? Because you’ll probably be like, Huh, what, who’s this directed to? But so Foster, you know, little said something about, like how they helped you with distribution? I mean, that was kind of like been that was kind of like your deal for a while, right? I mean, how how was that like kind of really benefited you? Well, I mean, their network is vast and varied. And so it’s a little bit of a challenge to because the relationships that they have inside of their distributors can work a couple of different ways. And that that’s a has been a difficult navigation, just understanding it and understanding what’s important to each sort of layer in that relationship. And sometimes you have teams that are completely dedicated to promote products. Sometimes you have teams that are full book, sometimes you have both sometimes you have combinations of both and
Think as john said that, that layer and understanding how to drill deep into those things. And as john says, and we’ve said for years to figure out how to become strategically or financially important to to those reps,
everybody’s got that problem. That’s not a, I’m not taking on PR No, when I say that, that’s been a bit of a challenge. But everybody’s everybody’s got that issue. Because your average street rep at at a at a distributor, or your average manager or your average manager, even inside of PR know, they have some big brands that they’re really responsible for making sure continue to be healthy. And so the challenge for all of the small producers like us is how to live in that world and navigate those waters in a way that produce results. And that when we say strategic or financial, the two ways that that can happen is you use a small, esoteric brand to leverage this kind of get in the door.
Get in front of a buyer or get in front of a buying group that you might otherwise, you know, have trouble getting into with one of the commodity items. Or the other thing is to really start to see some critical mass and sales. I mean, man, I can tell you as somebody who was in sales for a long, long time 100% commission when your brand starts to show up on somebody’s commission report, they start to pay attention
and and that’s the most powerful thing we can try the real us fantastic so let’s go ahead and we’ll kind of wrap this up because there’s always one thing that if you’d listened back on episode 79 I know I had asked it when we talked to john little but kind of for our newer listeners tell them where the name smooth sampler comes from. A smooth Ambler is a enabled as a game. A horse is typically born with a gate on a gimbal and it is between a walk in a run. And that spoke to us about the area in which we live.
It’s people think we’re a bunch of maybe a lot of people think maybe we’re a bunch of, you know, a bunch of country folks.
And we’re certainly not New York City. We know that right? But we, we live in this really wonderful place in West Virginia, this really wonderful community Greenbrier County and Lewisburg, West Virginia. And it’s just got a really nice pace of life. It’s an anvil. And we like to think that that’s the same way we run our business in the same way that our whiskey tasting. So that’s where that’s where some of them are came from. There we go. Well, john, thank you once again, for coming back on the show. It was good to kind of get this this catch up of what’s been going on with you because there’s been a lot of changes to really kind of follow along and get those updates and help maybe in a year. We’ll do it again. Man, thanks for having us. We really appreciate it. Are you gonna you gonna be at the hometown rising and bourbon and beyond? I guess, or no, I will be there bourbon beyond Sure. We’ll get we’ll see you there. Thanks. Thanks for what you do. You got it and also want to give a opportunity to plug if people want to come visit you. I mean, of course, you probably pull it up on
Google Maps but kind of give a shout out to how they can learn more about you and where they can find you.
It’s just smooth amber calm it’s facebook.com slash smooth Ambler and on Instagram at smooth Ambler we’re getting ready to turn up all those things and really work on a digital marketing campaign so hopefully people will have less less work to find what we’re doing. There you go perfect. So make sure you follow those guys follow us bourbon pursuit Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you like what you hear you and be a part of these podcasts you want to help support us, right either write a review or you can do it financially through patreon. com slash bourbon pursuit. If you have any other show suggestions, ideas, people you want to hear from like these great guys, send us an email team at bourbon pursuit calm. So John’s thank you once again for joining and we’ll see everybody next week.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai