Recent Positively West Virginia guest, John Little, is the founder of Smooth Ambler Spirits. What began as a garage project has now become a leading brand in fine spirits. 

When John started looking for a business to start, he wasn’t envisioning the title of CEO displayed on his desk. Years ago, when John was simply looking for startup ideas, his uncle haphazardly mentioned that distilleries were the “next big thing,” and he was right. 

Today John’s “startup” is a smooth, award-winning, top-quality distillery in Maxwelton, West Virginia. Smooth Ambler has become a national household name and can be found in five different countries. John’s goal for the company’s growth is to move up to the top five American whiskey brands from their current place at 13th. 

Smooth Ambler Spirits is a special kind of company that still has some of that personal charm. The staff is kept small at just over 20 employees, most of which are from West Virginia. Their fine barrels are even made from a local West Virginia business, the Great Barrel Company. John explained that some of his greatest joy in this company is getting to help West Virginia grow through business and quality, unforgettable products. 

John said, “I’m proud every day. In fact, up until recently, we hand-signed every bottle that leaves this place.”

While Smooth Ambler is thriving now, it hasn’t been an easy journey for them. Distillery’s take time — and capital — to get going. The space and equipment are huge and costly, not to mention that whiskey takes years to become shelf-ready. John had to start producing revenue and branding through more straightforward spirits like vodka, gin and outsourced whiskeys from other brands. It took some real finesse to build Smooth Ambler into what it is today.

Part of what has made Smooth Ambler so popular is excellent branding. They have a story to tell, and they do so through digital marketing. Smooth Ambler began to get into homes by providing people with other great brands they could trust. When the time was right, they released their whiskey and already had a market of people who trusted the brand and knew to expect quality and class. 

John regrets some things despite how well Smooth Ambler is doing today. He said, “In hindsight, I wish we would have gambled a little more in the beginning.”

Stories like Smooth Ambler are all over the mountain state, but this one comes with a glass of genuine spirits made by talented, incredible West Virginians. If you’re itching to try some Smooth Ambler, you can check out their website at

Listen to John’s whole podcast here:


  • RECOMMENDED BOOK: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  • PIECE OF ADVICE:People overestimate what they can do in one year, and they underestimate what they can do in 10,” said John.