"We do want to use botanicals that are native to West Virginia. You don't see a lot of lemon or lime trees around here."
He said there should be about eight ingredients in Ambler Greenbrier Gin. The distillers will put a cheesecloth vessel at the top of the kettle with their secret botanicals. As the vapor moves up through the still, it will hit the cheesecloth and be infused with flavors.
"Gin is nothing more than a vodka tea," Foster said. "You're taking a neutral spirit and infusing some product in there."
The men also are aging their first batch of whiskey, which should be ready to bottle and sell in 400 days. Traditionally, whiskey ages about 40 days per gallon of storage. Some of the bigger distillers use 53-gallon barrels, which take almost six years to mature.
"We need to make an impact much sooner to keep people interested in our product," Little said. They're using smaller barrels -- 10, 15 and 30 gallons -- to give the whiskey more surface area, helping it age faster.
Making the cut
When bottling clear liquors, only the middle of the distillation run (called the hearts) is bottled.
"You wouldn't think there is a difference, but there is a clear beginning, middle and end. The beginning is called the heads. It's what comes out right as the distillation process starts and it's very thin in character," Foster said.
"Conversely the end of it, called the tails, has too much of that stuff. It's sort of like the dregs of a pot of coffee. It's just too much and it's overbearing," he said.
"Taste is the biggest signifier when we are ready to start saving a bottle," he said. "We are tasting it five, six times a day."
A smell of the Whitewater Vodka has hints of banana and butterscotch, but the amblers don't add any flavoring.
"What you smell . . . that's the flavor of the grain. The goal of our process is to leave the flavors of the grain in there. We don't want to homogenize it," Little said. "Add nothing. Take out very little."
"We like to say we make a bourbon people's vodka. We don't try to take any of those characters out," Foster said.
Such a unique West Virginia product needed a unique, local name, which is how Whitewater Vodka was born.
"We use Greenbrier River water for our product and the Greenbrier feeds the New, and the New is whitewater rafting in West Virginia," Foster said. "Our vodka has that sort of crisp, fun, exciting taste -- all of those things you think about when you think about rafting."
Spreading their wings
Little had the idea to start the small distillery after his father-in-law, architect Tag Galyean, approached him with the idea.
"He said, "You could do this in your garage,'" Little said. "Well, it's a lot bigger than that now."
Smooth Ambler Spirits broke ground on the distillery, which Galyean designed, in August 2009. The doors officially opened for distilling and tasting on April 7.
The $2 million business is the fourth distillery in West Virginia, but according to Little and Foster, it's by far the largest -- and the only one that aspires to sell its products on a large scale.
Smooth Ambler products are available for purchase at The Liquor Company on Patrick Street and at a variety of Charleston bars, including Bar 101, the Bridge Road Bistro and Bluegrass Kitchen. The distillers hope to have their products in Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina soon.
Although they hope to expand their business, it's the reaction of the people at home that gives Little and Foster the biggest sense of pride.
"We make some of the best spirits in the world in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We do it truly by hand, carefully and slowly, and to an exacting degree," Foster said. "Without ego, I can say we make spirits as purely and expertly as they can be made anywhere, at any price, with any equipment, by anyone - right here in West Virginia."
For information or to take a tour of the distillery, visit www.smoothambler.com or call 304-497-3123.
Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathr...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.