How about another bourbon for today? But we’re not going to taste a Kentucky bourbon, or even a Tennessee whiskey! Today’s whiskey is the Bowman Brothers, Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey ….. *distilled and bottled by the A. Smith Bowman distillery in Fredericksburg, VA.
Yes, Virginia there is whiskey in Virginia!
And believe it or not, distilling whiskey is not new to Virginia. Most notably, George Washington, our first president, became a whiskey producer in 1797 when he and his farm manager, James Anderson, purchased two stills and set up a small whiskey distilling operation at Mount Vernon. Successfully producing six hundred gallons the first year, which were sold for a good profit, Washington was encouraged enough that in 1798 he built a new, expanded facility containing five copper pot stills. A year later, Washington’s new distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons, making it the largest whiskey distillery in America at the time.
But enough Presidential history, let’s get back to today’s whiskey. The Bowman Brothers, Virginia Straight Bourbon is *technically distilled by the A. Smith Bowman Distillery. I say “technically” because A. Smith Bowman has a rather unique process. Bowman doesn’t actually make their own mash nor do they do the initial distilling. Bowman purchases twice-distilled spirit from the Buffalo Trace Distillery and then re-distills the spirit a third time before putting it into casks and maturing it at their Fredericksburg site. As it turns out, both Buffalo Trace and Bowman are owned by Sazerac, so there is a family connection as well as the business connection.
About the A. Smith Bowman Distillery
John J Bowman settled in Kentucky in 1770’s. In 1927, John J’s great-great-nephew Abraham Smith Bowman bought the Sunset Hills estate farm, setting up a dairy and a granary. The farm was very successful and as happened on so many Scottish farms, Bowman looked for alternative uses for the excess grain from his fields. When Prohibition was repealed in the state of Virginia, Bowman built and licensed the original distillery that now bears his name. However, the site has changed. Due to rising real estate prices and high taxes in northern Virginia, in 1988 the distillery relocated to its current site in Fredericksburg, some 60 miles away from the original site.
In addition to the Bowman Brothers, Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bowman also produces a Rye whiskey, rum, vodka, and gin, as well as a number of limited release whiskeys.
Review: Bowman Brothers, Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Small Batch
This specific bottle was produced in 2013 (date stamp: A1320309:591070) and is bottled at 45% abv / 90 proof. I bought this bottle back in May 2014 and then it sort of got buried somewhere in the back of my closet – if you ever get a chance to see my closet, you’ll understand. Anyhow, when I came across it the other day, while actually looking for something else, I noticed that the fill-level had started to drop a bit. Since the angels had already gotten their share of this whiskey while it was maturing, I decided I’d better open it up before I lost any more to those greedy, whiskey-loving, winged drunks!
Color: a nice, dark, golden-brown
Nose: Quite a nice nose full of fruits – think ripe cherries, plums and even some strawberries. There is a good dose of fresh coconut that persists throughout. Hints of caramel and vanilla cream. Soft oak sugars and spices. As it sits in the glass, I also get a note of overripe banana. The aromas are very bright and fresh, filling the glass very nicely. Adding water initially brings out more oakiness showing a touch of pencil shavings and black pepper. But after a few minutes this settles and the coconut returns along with some toffee and the vanilla. A few minutes more and the fruits pick up in intensity – the cherries and strawberries, banana, and now some apricot. The fruits are joined by some nice spices – cinnamon, white pepper, even some nutmeg. I also get more of a toasted grain note, now.
Taste: A very soft, very delicate arrival. A tad thin on the arrival, but the flavors grow in intensity as it sits. The flavors are closely aligned to the nose with the ripe fruits, soft vanilla, touches of oak spices – now some cinnamon, along with white pepper. As with the nose, the coconut remains a rather dominant flavor, but mingling well with the other flavors. With water, the already delicate arrival becomes even softer. Starts more on vanilla now, with just a touch of lemon juice, the coconut, soft spice notes, and a bit of corn syrup sweetness. The toasted cereals note I picked up on the nose also show up on the palate. This is sweet, but not saccharine, and remains delicate.
Finish: Spiced vanilla, coconut, hints of the fruits and soft tannins. A bit on the short side and, like the palate, quite delicate. Adding water only shortens the finish.
Overall: I went into this with no real expectations and found this to be surprisingly good. Perhaps it is not the most complex whiskey, but this was engaging with its mellow, softly sweet, fruity and delicately spiced nature. For me, the nose was the highlight. While the palate is full-flavored, the body is just a tad light – perhaps due to the third distillation, and I just wished for a little more richness. Regardless, this is an all-around good sipping bourbon offering a very enjoyable experience. A good quality whiskey from active casks that impart personality without unduly overshadowing the core spirit.
Region: United States (Virginia)
Distillery: A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, VA (*Buffalo Trace)
Type: Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Maturation: American oak
Price: $27.99 (Specs, May 2014)
Availability: Currently available
Sample Source: My own bottle