Booze | August 11, 2021 8:05 am

Review: Smooth Ambler Wants to Reimagine Rye Whiskey (Even For Haters)

The West Virginia distillery’s new Contradiction defies easy categorization

A bottle of Contradiction rye on a disco ball. The rye is a new release from Smooth Ambler.
Smooth Ambler's Contradiction Rye is really four ryes in one
Smooth Ambler

What we’re drinking: Contradiction Rye and Contradiction Bourbon

Where it’s from: Smooth Ambler, a West Virginia distillery best known for their Old Scout expressions. The brand is not afraid to note that they both distill their own juice and source what they need. We’ll let them explain.

Why we’re drinking this: “In Contradiction, it’s always a mix of stuff we source and stuff we make,” says Smooth Ambler’s national ambassador Jonathan Wingo (and yes, I did ask if he was related to former ESPN-er Trey Wingo, and got a funny story about the sports reporter not responding to a tweet of his). “The idea is to blend something better than the sum of its parts.” 

As well, Contradiction marks the first release from SA that utilizes the distillery’s own rye. 

Explains Wingo: “We’re in the hills of West Virginia — it’s a really interesting climate for whiskey. Scotch fans would be familiar with it. But it’s so mild, so everything needs a long time to mature.” Ergo, the distillery’s desire with Contradiction to use both their own and sourced whiskey and to be transparent about it. 

How it tastes

Contradiction Rye, the new release, comes in at a whopping 105 proof. It’s a blend of four rye whiskies — two from Tennessee (51% rye and 70% rye), one from Indiana’s MGP (95% rye) and one homemade rye whiskey (88% rye) from Smooth Ambler. The idea here is to bring all the rye fans under one roof and convert whiskey drinkers who shy away from the category.

It’s a tall order, but Contradiction nails it. The higher proof works in its favor — there’s a bit less of a spice kick on the nose, but the rye comes in nicely on the palette, along with some toasted coconut and vanilla notes that you don’t often see in the category. The mouthfeel is unique; creamy, well-rounded and, on the finish, a nice lingering sensation. Interestingly, it got a little lost when I tried it in a 50-50 Manhattan — definitely make the rye the centerpiece of your drink.

A bottle of Contradiction bourbon and a glass of whiskey with a ball of ice
Both Contradiction bourbon and rye are about $40 … if you can find ’em
Smooth Ambler

Contradiction Bourbon is 92 proof and non-chill filtered and a marriage of SA’s own wheated bourbon and ryes procured from Indiana and Tennessee. Most of the whiskey is over nine years in age. The spiciness of the rye comes out on first taste along with some nuttiness, oak and a bit of cherry. It’s not my usual bourbon profile favorite, but I like the complexity and it stood up well in a variety of cocktails.

Fun fact: In what they’re calling a “subtle flex,” none of Contradiction whiskey is sourced from Kentucky. 

Where to buy it: It’ll probably be easier to find Contradiction Bourbon for now, but both the rye and bourbon are available nationwide for about $40.