Tasting #11 Recap: Quality Bourbon

Last night we tried three bourbons. More often than not we try to have a theme for our evening, like rye whiskeys from Washington or single barrel bourbons. But last night, there was no theme except “kick ass bourbons.”

Know Your Whiskey

Rowan’s Creek

Rowan’s Creek bourbon is made by the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (also called Willet Distilling Company). The company was founded in 1935 and is located in Bardstown, Kentucky. They have a very long and confusing history of different family members producing whiskey for different bottlings. They even stopped producing whiskey for a time to make ethanol gasoline. To simplify things, most of the numerous brands they have on the shelf right now, including Rowan’s Creek, is made by someone else—many believe Heaven Hill. They started distilling full time again in October 2012, so it will be a while before their juice is being bottled.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel

Elmer T. Lee is one of the icons in the world of whiskey-making. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2013, just shy of his 94th birthday. Lee joined the George T. Stagg Distillery in 1949 (eventually renamed Buffalo Trace). He started as a plant manager and ended as the distillery’s master distiller before his retirement in 1985. Even after retirement he continued to help as a brand ambassador for Buffalo Trace. Lee was the first to release a single barrel bourbon on the market, Blanton’s Single Barrel, and shortly after his retirement, the distillery honored Lee by releasing a single barrel bourbon to honor his legacy. It’s won so many awards, I couldn’t list them all here. I encourage you to read more about this whiskey legend on the Buffalo Trace website.

Smooth Ambler Spirits Old Scout 10-year

Smooth Ambler Spirits was started in 2009 in Maxwelton, WV. So far, they distill one bourbon on site, called their “Yearling.” Their 6- and 7-year bourbons, as well as this 10-year, is sourced bourbon they buy from MGP/LDI. They call those three bourbons “Old Scout” to distinguish between what they distill themselves and what they source.

From what I’ve read, they plan to always use a combination of sourcing from someone else, and distilling their own. I appreciate they’re up front with this. With so many whiskey companies buying sourced whiskey, there’s no point in hiding it anymore.

Our Tasting Notes

Rowan's has a nose of brown sugar with a equally sweet palate. It is smooth and complex with notes of maple syrup and vanilla. Spice from the rye is evident in this bourbon, and adding a little water brings it out even more. 

Elmer T. Lee is also sweet and super smooth. A real easy-to-drink bourbon. The flavors linger on the palate evenly. There are notes of caramel and butterscotch and maybe a hint of blackberry, at the very least some sort of fruit. 

Smooth Ambler is very different from the other two. It is much more complex with a lot of spice up front, and flavors that changed at a rapid pace. There was more of a burn, though it was small, after a few seconds. Still sweet with a lot of wood.

The Collective Favorite

At the end of every evening we like to take a vote to see which whiskey is the "fan favorite." Elmer T. Lee and Smooth Ambler were close with Lee being the winner. Given that Smooth Ambler was close to double the price of the other two, the people that preferred Smooth Ambler were split on whether they'd like one bottle of that, or two bottles of the others. 

Thanks to all those that came out. If you'd like to join us at future tastings, sign up on our email list at seattlewhiskeycollective.com