John J. Bowman Single Barrel

Maker: A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA (Sazerac)john-j-bowman-101106699

Distiller: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky/ A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

Style: High Corn Bourbon

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Note: Triple distilled. Twice (column & doubler) at Buffalo Trace and once (pot still?) at Bowman.

Appearance: Light copper with fairly thick legs.

Nose: Caramel, oak, woodruff, alcohol, grape hyacinth.

On the palate: Light bodied and dry. Oak, alcohol, toffee, tarragon.

Finish: Dry, but with a fruity note that slowly emerges as the taste fades.

Parting words: Bowman single barrel is a stylish whiskey worth seeking out. The Buffalo Trace grassiness is apparent but the oak and caramel sweetness do an excellent job of keeping it from overrunning the whiskey.

The first one of these I purchased shortly after its initial release. It was very light with a vaguely coppery taste and aroma. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t great. This one is very, very good. I have had a few other bottles recently including a couple private selections and they have all been good, so I either got a bottle from a mediocre barrel the first time, or the product as a whole has been improved. Whatever the case, John J. Bowman is now one of those whiskeys that I always pick up when I am visiting a part of the country in which it is sold. Bowman Single Barrel is recommended.

RIP Truman Cox

Recently I, as a (part-time) whiskey blogger, have been urged to take up the banner and “give Maker’s Mark shit” for lowering the proof of their bourbon. I’m not going to do that. The decision to lower the proof of Maker’s is unfortunate and disappointing, but the level of internet outrage regarding the proof change is completely out of proportion, surpassing even the Ebay/Pappy hysteria of 2012. I have no desire to contribute to this silliness any more than I already have.

Instead, I’m going to call attention to something much  more worthy of getting upset about: The death of A. Smith Bowman Master Distiller Truman Cox.

I didn’t know Truman very well. We were Facebook friends and I only recall meeting him once in person. He was the kind of guy who would greet you with a hearty handshake and a smile. As a friend of mine said, he was above all a genuine guy. He loved his family and he seemed to enjoy life immensely.

He was also a whiskey man through and through.  His prior position was at Buffalo Trace as chief chemist. He became Master Distiller at Bowman at a crucial time, as Bowman had recently moved to a new location, had a relatively new owner, Sazerac (also owner of Buffalo Trace), and was in the midst of a profound transformation. 10 years ago, Bowman was little more than a curiosity. It was the only large-ish bourbon distillery still operating in the state of Virginia and had only one (fairly) widely distributed brand, Virginia Gentleman. It came in 80 and 90 proof expressions.

When Truman moved to Virginia, the transformation of Bowman was well underway. The 90 proof VG had been replaced by Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon at 90 proof  and a 100 proof single barrel bourbon, John J. Bowman, was also introduced (review coming soon). Also made are Abraham Bowman Rye (I review the TPS barrel-stength version here) and Sunset Hills Gin. Under the brief period of Truman’s leadership the transformation of Bowman was completed, and Bowman began putting out some of the most highly regarded and sought after private bottlings of bourbons and ryes among enthusiasts. They were able to have the best of both worlds. They operated like a micro-distillery in many ways, but they were also able to draw upon the resources of a large spirits company like Sazerac and a large distillery like Buffalo Trace.

Truman was one of the brightest rising stars in the world of American whiskey and his sudden death is a great loss for the industry and bourbon drinkers alike. Here are some links:

The Spirits Business Article on Truman’s death.

Lew Bryson on Truman’s passing.

Chuck Cowdery on Truman’s death

Truman’s famous barrel dance.

Truman tasting Pappy Van Winkle 20 y/o

Truman’s autobiographical bit on the Bowman website

Members of congratulate Truman on becoming Master Distiller

Here’s hoping he gets that bottle named after him at last.

Bowman Brothers Small Batch

Maker: A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA (Sazerac)

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Note: First distilled at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Kentucky, then redistilled in a pot still and aged in Fredericksburg.

Appearance: Bright shiny copper with a thick, voluptuous robe.

Nose: Oak, heirloom apple, alcohol, charred sweet corn.

On the palate: Full-bodied. Caramel apple upon entry, sweet cinnamon, leather.

Finish: Light, but still apple-y. Caramel, then fading into a ticklish tingle all over the mouth and lips. Lingers for a very long tim.

Parting words: For many years, Bowman was a one-brand distillery. Virginia Gentleman was that brand and it came in 80 proof and 90 proof versions. There were other brands here and there, Bowman, Fairfax County  and others but in the years before Sazerac bought the distillery, VG was about it.

I was a pretty big fan of “The Fox” as the 90 proofer was called. The label was a scene of a fox hunt and the logo for that version had a little fox head on it. I didn’t love it because it was great bourbon. I loved it because it seemed to be the perfect summertime sipping whiskey. It was light and refreshing with some nice cinnamon notes but otherwise unassuming. When it was announced that the Fox was being discontinued (the 80 proof version is still made) and replaced with a 100 proof single barrel John J. Bowman Bourbon and a 90 proof Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon, I had mixed feelings. It was great that Bowman was doing new things, but my beloved Fox would be gone!

After finishing a bottle of Bowman Brothers Small Batch, I don’t miss The Fox anymore. This has the same refreshing qualities of its ancestor, but with much more depth and weight. The sweetness, spice and fruitiness of Bowman Brothers makes it the perfect autumn sipper. Refreshing but complex enough to keep things interesting. I actually prefer it to the single barrel, at least the bottle I had of it. And in fantastic news, Bowman Brothers is now on the Michigan state liquor list which means we should be seeing it on shelves in a few months. Saints be praised! At any rate, enough fanboy gushing. Bowman Brothers Small Batch Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey is highly recommended.

Sunset Hills Virginia Gin

Maker: A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA (Sazerac)

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Lime peel, lemon peel, angelica, anise, very light juniper.

On the palate: Fairly heavy mouth feel. Very light, little taste except alcohol.

Finish: Some sweetness, some light herbal notes, and then fades away.

Mixed: Makes perfectly serviceable martinis and does ok with tonic and bitter lemon. All are enjoyable, but dull.

Parting words: I really wanted to like this gin. I am Facebook friends with the master distiller at Bowman, and I enjoy the Bowman bourbons and ryes. But this gin is just boring. It’s neither here nor there. It lacks the rough edges of bottom shelf gins, but it also lacks the interest of upper shelf gins. It’s not too expensive, but why bother? There is nothing going on here. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Sunset Hills Virginia Gin.

Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Barrel-Strength Rye

Maker: A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA (Sazerac)

Age: 9 y/o

Proof: 136.4 (68.2% ABV)

Notes: Lot 01-C-14, The Party Source barrel #1

Appearance: Dark, ruddy copper with thick, slow legs.

Nose: Surprisingly mellow, leather, caramel, mango, a little copper.

On the palate: Medium-bodied, sweet and hot. Cotton candy, butterscotch. When a splash of water goes in, more spice comes out. Jalapeno, paprika, and cassia join the party.

Parting words: This is an exclusive offering from The Party Source (TPS) in Bellvue, Kentucky. TPS is one of the only retailers outside of Virginia to carry the Bowman line of spirits. The whiskey is first distilled in Frankfort at Buffalo Trace, trucked to Fredericksburg where it is redistilled and then aged there in Virginia. This is good whiskey, much better than its barrel-proof sibling Thomas Handy, and rye of this age is very hard to come by. That said, it’s expensive at $73 and while it’s good, it’s not great, in spite of all the internet gushing over this stuff. Nevertheless, it’s worth a recommendation. Makes a pretty good Sazerac cocktail too (on the rocks or with a little water added).