“Any distillery in the United States should be a feather in the cap of the local community,” says Vice President and Head Distiller at Smooth Ambler Spirit Co. John Little. “We buy almost all of our grains locally. We support five families (or employees). Our waste goes to a local farmer. We are a tourist attraction for the area and we pay a ton of taxes…Really, this business is what small business in America is all about,” he says.
Little and his business partner, distillery president TAG Galyean, decided that they wanted to open a distillery in 2008. A year and a half later, after apprenticeships and research and long nights, they opened their 5,200-square-foot facility in Greenbrier County’s rolling Appalachian hills. “Where we live is a magnificent place,” Little says. “For the building, we really wanted the space to fit into the environment rather than being just another manufacturing building. I think the red barn look does that.”
Smooth Ambler Spirits Co. both fits and conserves its environment. They reuse cooling water for mashing and cleaning, donate spent grain to local cattle and pig farmers, recycle all of their cardboard and reuse it for packaging, and they don’t cool any of their production area. “We’re trying to be good stewards,” says Little.
They certainly are. They are also good stewards of exceptional spirits. Little uses a blend of local grains — 60% corn, 20% wheat and 20% malted barley — to make their Whitewater Vodka and as a base for the Greenbrier Gin. “We work really hard to source really great grains and to ferment and distill with great care. I’m not going to turn around and strip that flavor out of our Whitewater Vodka,” says Little. “We hear it all the time: ‘Vodka’s not supposed to have any flavor.’ My response: ‘If that was true, there’d only be one vodka.’”
Smooth Ambler also makes white whiskey, and they source their line of Old Scout bourbon outside of the distillery. “Our label practically says, ‘We don’t make this’,” says Little. Rather than deceive his customers about where the spirit came from with marketing, he’d rather put the truth right on the bottle. He says sales for Old Scout Straight Bourbon Whiskey have been great, and they’ll be launching a Very Old Scout and an Old Scout Rye this month.
“We started this adventure to be a source of great products. That objective has never changed,” says Little. “Most of the products we make…some we don’t…but we’ll always shoot you straight.”