*Sincere thanks to Sazerac and A. Smith Bowman Distillery for the sample.
The A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia is a bit of an odd set-up. It can trace its roots back to 1935, when, right after Prohibition ended, a man named Abram Smith Bowman opened up a distillery in what is now Reston. The distillery’s biggest seller was their Virginia Gentleman Bourbon. In 1988, faced with soaring real estate prices so close to Washington D.C., A. Smith Bowman relocated south to Fredericksburg. In 2003, the business was purchased by Sazerac. This is when things start to get a little different.
If I understand it all correctly, Sazerac basically outsources the production, through the first distillation, of all A. Smith Bowman bourbons to its Buffalo Trace distillery. Then that first run spirit is sent to A. Smith Bowman for its second distillation and maturation. Adding to this rather unique approach is Bowman’s interesting array of old and new pot stills (not often used in the bourbon world), and column stills. They also warehouse their barrels by standing them on their ends instead of on their sides (also not often done in the bourbon world.) So, while the mash and first run distillate used might not have much of a distinct character on its own, A. Smith Bowman does put its own unique stamp on the whiskeys it produces.
The Isaac Bowman Port Barrel Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey continues the distillery’s tradition of naming its bourbons after members of the Bowman family. Isaac Bowman was the great, great-uncle of the distillery’s founder, and was one of four brothers who played a significant role in the American Revolutionary War and early American history in general. After serving as an officer in Clark’s Northwestern Campaign, Bowman was captured in 1779 by a Chickasaw tribe and was presumed dead. Held first as a prisoner, then later reportedly adopted by another tribe, legend has it that Bowman eventually somehow escaped to Cuba and by 1782 had made it safely back to Virginia. After that, he settled down, became a farmer, and had 13 children. To be honest, after a wartime ordeal like Isaac’s, I would think it might be difficult to settle down in such a manner. Although, perhaps after a time like that, maybe moving out to the country, growing some turnips and making a small army of kids is just what the doctor ordered.
In any case, released at the end of 2017, the Isaac Bowman Straight Bourbon is part of the A. Smith Bowman standard range, an everyday version of their highly regarded A. Smith Bowman Port Finish release from a couple of years ago. While the official verbage does not give an age, some sources claim it’s in the four to six year old range. The bourbon has been finished in a variety of ex-port casks – some American Oak from several different states and some European Oak from France – for a period of three to six months.
The Nose: A taut and guardedly complex nose. Those sour apple flavored honey sticks, and cherry cough syrup lead the sweet side of things along with a little navel orange, orgeat syrup, and a hint of vin Santo. Behind that, there’s semi-sweet chocolate chips, chocolate mint leaf, candied nuts, toasted grain, and caramel corn. The oak and spice are relatively subdued with nutmeg, clove and faint star anise..
The Palate: Quite a unique palate for a bourbon. Initially there’s a bracing mix of cherry juice, oranges, and raisins, with hints of light molasses and dark honey. Lots more nutty chocolate here as well; candied almonds, dark chocolate, salted peanuts, and a hint of mint chocolate. Stronger, more tannic oak notes than the nose – sanded boards. There are more prominent spice notes, too, with cloves, warming cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and black pepper on warm popcorn.
The Finish: Lengthy, with tart cherry, brown sugar, salted nuts, grippy oak, nutmeg, ginger, and barrel char.
Thoughts: Quite good and quite unusual, which, seeing as unusual can often be not that good, is quite good and unusual in and of itself. The port finish plays a major part in flavoring this whiskey, but it manages to do so in a fairly refined and integrated way. The fruit and nutty chocolate notes, especially on the palate, are not completely unfamiliar in the bourbon world, but they do stand out as being different while at the same time working well with the more expected oak and spice. I’ve not tried that A. Smith Bowman Port Finish release, but on the few other occasions I’ve tried other wine or port finished bourbons, I’ve usually ended up enjoying them. The Isaac Bowman is no exception. With a relatively reasonable price tag of around $40, definitely recommended.
- A. Smith Bowman Distillery, www.asmithbowman.com/distillery.aspx
- “A. Smith Bowman Distillery.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Mar. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Smith_Bowman_Distillery
- “Isaac Bowman.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Bowman
- “Virginia Gentleman.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Gentleman
- “Visiting the A. Smith Bowman Distillery.” Bourbon & Banter, 5 June 2016, www.bourbonbanter.com/on-the-road/distilleries/visiting-smith-bowman-distillery/#.Wo-XgBPwZE4