Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bourbon Legends: Doug Dog Philips Part 2

This is the continuation of Monday's piece on Doug Dog Philips.

A lot has changed since Doug bottled the original green and black ink ryes in 2006.  For one, Doug left California.  Seven years ago, Doug decided he wanted to be closer to where they make the whiskey; he considered moving to Scotland but settled on Kentucky.  Now he lives not far from the Maker's Mark distillery in Loretto where he generously hosts friends on his porch.  He continues working as a glass worker, including doing some work on distilleries throughout Kentucky.

But the whiskey world has changed too.  Willett, which had been Doug's source for all of his barrels, discontinued its private barrel program. After being impressed with the barrel of Smooth Ambler Old Scout bottled for Kenwood Liquors, Doug contacted them about doing a private barrel for him.

Old Scout is Smooth Ambler's brand for its sourced whiskey from MGP in Indiana. Doug liked the idea of trying some Indiana bourbon which he finds to be a different animal than Kentucky bourbon, lighter and more refreshing with finesse and complexity but still with those dark, brooding qualities that he favors.

Doug picked an eight year old from Smooth Ambler that he felt had that same room-filling aroma that has characterized his favorite picks.  He liked this one because it had a comfortable entry but then grew warmer and into a very long finish.  In that way, he admits, it's a bit out of balance, but he likes a whiskey that improves as you go.  Instead of 10 points each for the nose, palate and finish, he prefers a progression of 8 points on the nose, 9 on the palate and 10 on the finish.  He also likes a whiskey that starts sweet and finishes dry because it keeps you going back to renew that sweetness on the next sip.

Doug kindly sent me a sample of his new Smooth Ambler bourbon, titled DougDogz and emblazoned with green ink in a tribute to his original "green ink" whiskey.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 8yo ("DougDogz"), Barrel 900, distilled 4/21/06, 122 bottles, 61.9% abv

The nose has lots of sweet candy, like caramel covered candy corn, with some strong oak notes mixed in. The palate maintains all of that candy and more with a good measure of oak. Toward the end, it develops spicy and savory notes. It's meaty! The finish is long and rich with a little bit of everything all mixed together - sweet, spicy and even some umami. With a few drops of water, the nose becomes less sweet and much more spicy, but the palate sacrifices some of its complexity.

True to Doug Dog tradition, this is a big, bold and unique whiskey, and as he suggested, it moves from sweet on the first sip to a long, dry finish. It's delicious, and tasting blind, I never would have guessed that it was only eight years old; it tastes much older.  Like the Van Blankle, this isn't something that will be available to anyone who doesn't know Doug, but it sure is good.

I've had a number of Doug's other bottlings, both bourbon and rye, and I've definitely liked some more than others.  I join the chorus of praise for that first green ink rye, which was one of the best whiskeys I've ever had (I never got to try the "black ink" rye).  Most of his Willett bourbons have been quite good, but they are very oak forward, and one was just too woody for me (and I have a high tolerance for oak).

The Smooth Ambler certainly isn't at the level of the original rye (despite the green ink), but it is of comparable quality to Doug's better Willett bourbons.  That being said, my tastes in bourbon tend to align with Doug's love of big, bold, oak monsters, and all of those whiskeys are distinctively Doug Philips in that way, products of the bourbon legend who started out as a bonsai enthusiast.

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