Everyone thinks their grandma makes the best chicken and dumplings. But they’re wrong. I know this, because my grandma made the best chicken and dumplings. Mine are a poor imitation, but they do alright as a compliment to a decent bourbon, which tonight was going to be the Big Level from Smooth Ambler.
For tonight’s dram I wanted something a little bit sweeter. Chicken and dumplings are comfort food, and that means they’re easy going. Anything with a lot of spice, or a lot of heat, or a lot of complex delicate notes would just be outside of the wheel house for what we’re going for here. To hit these spots I decided a wheater was a safe choice.
As I was perusing the bunker for the dram of the evening, I came across the Big Level. This is a new offering from Smooth Ambler and their second mash bill with a large wheat content, after the wheated release they put out last year. Their Contradiction has wheat in the bourbon component of the blend. I’m typically a Smooth Ambler fan so this seemed like a nice, safe choice.
This was my third sit down with the Big Level. My first was when I bought it on a distillery visit in June, shortly after it’s launch. I remembered enjoying it there and I was certainly intrigued by the novelty. The second is when I sat down with Phil to review it next to a distillery only 107 proof version of the Old Scout. At the time it was hard to find much to say about it. It seemed particularly delicate at the time. The result was a thin review. We may get around to posting it, we may revisit it before we do. In any case, it seemed that a third visit with a comparison to some imitation comfort food was in order.
I’ve got a theory about everyone’s grandma’s chicken and dumplings, and if you bear with me I think it might apply to bourbon as well. The secret to why their dumplings, and especially their bread, are always so much better than yours is yeast. Not the “make your bread rise” stuff you buy in the store and dump in, but wild, living, evolving yeast that lives right there in the air in their kitchen.
Over time, if someone who knows what their doing bakes enough in the same place, the air becomes saturated with these wild yeast colonies. Typically, these are the people that can bake, or in this case make dumplings, way better than you ever could. The reason is this yeast. It gets in everything, seasons it, smooths out the edges, fluffs up the flat parts, and just generally makes everything better. There’s more room for error because there’s this great ambient base built up that will saturate just about everything that comes out of the kitchen. You’ll never be able to describe exactly what it is, but it’s going to be real damn hard for you to ever make anything as good.
Smooth Ambler does a lot of things the right way, and there are things to like with this whiskey, but I feel like it suffers from a lack of Grandma’s Kitchen. The nose is sweet, and smells like some of grandma’s cakes, but there’s a hint of raw alcohol that just won’t go away. The taste doesn’t lean heavy into the wheat mashbill, but it hits the standard bourbon notes with oak, vanilla and spice. However, it’s a little bit hot, and a little bit thin. There’s just a few sharp edges and a few flat spots that need to be evened out to take this drink to the next level.
That being said, it’s sure as shit better than my chicken and dumplings. Give it a try if you see it, tell me what you think.
Distiller: Smooth Ambler
Bourbon: Big Level
Age: 5+ Years
Mashbill: 71% Corn, 21% Wheat, 8% Malted Barley
Nose: Cake, Honey, Ethanol
Taste: Thin, Spice, Oak, Vanilla,