Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: Virginia Whiskey

The A. Smith Bowman distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia is somewhat of a novelty. Owned by Buffalo Trace, the distillery does not distill from grain mash but instead, redistills whiskey that has already been distilled at Buffalo Trace. For years, their only brand was Virginia Gentleman Bourbon, but about a year ago, they discontinued that label and replaced it with a series of (more expensive) spirits under various labels highlighting the A. Smith Bowman name, including Bowman Brothers Bourbon, John J. Bowman Bourbon and Abraham Bowman rye. They are also marketing gin, vodka and rum.

The Bowman products, like Virginia Gentleman before it, have been released to a fairly limited market in and around Virginia, so they are hard to find outside Virginia. Now, The Party Source in Kentucky is offering a privately barreled cask strength version of the Abraham Bowman Rye. The Bowman Rye is nearly ten years old, so it's a bit older than Buffalo Trace's other cask strength rye, Thomas Handy. I've loved some of The Party Source's past private bottlings, so I was eager to try the Bowman (and while I usually use my own photos, I couldn't resist The Party Source's photo, complete with packing material for ambiance).

While I'm at it, I've got an old bottle of the standard, discontinued Virginia Gentleman, so I thought I'd give that a try as well.

Virginia Gentleman Virginia Bourbon, 40% ($15.00 - no longer available but probably still on the occasional shelf in the Virginia area).

The nose on this has really clear and clean bourbon notes with citrus and rye. On the palate there is a real rye inflection; it's heavily herbal and a bit medicinal with a bit of bitterness. The finish is mostly a dry rye finish. This is really quite good for a budget bourbon and reminds me of the standard Buffalo Trace bourbon. It may be a little rough around the edges, but it's got a lot of flavor. Too bad it's no longer around.

Abraham Bowman Rye Whiskey, bottled for The Party Source, distilled 3/14/01, bottled2/1/11, Lot 01-C-14, Barrel #1, 68.2% abv ($70).

The nose on this is a huge rye bomb; it definitely smells like Handy. The palate is full of big rye flavors rolled up with a pure, rock candy sweetness. It's got sugar, herbs, anise, the whole big rye package at a whopping 68.2% abv. Water is really not good for this one, turning it syrupy sweet. Tasting it neat, it's great stuff!

It's too bad that these A. Smith Bowman products aren't more widely available. They have clearly been putting out some good stuff, from the bargain basement to the premium level.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION: Joe Dangler, Master Distiller at A. Smith Bowman, let me know that they are discontinuing the 90 proof version of Virginia Gentleman but not the 80 proof version which I review here. Thanks Joe, it's good to know that Bowman is still making some great budget bourbon.


Regular Chumpington said...

Wow! The Bowman sounds great. Is it as punch-you-in-the-face assertive as the Handy? I thought Handy took water reasonably well when necessary, if only to kind of calm it down a touch.

Also thanks for sharing the notes on the Virginia Gentleman.

There's a whole amazing ton of American whiskeys out there, and as I saw this last weekend when in the midwest, we really only get a small sampling by comparison out here. After my Winkle hat-trick a few weeks ago and an absolute ton of bourbons back east, this set of notes makes me want to put the scotches back in the cupboard for a while.

(Then again, a month ago it was all things Japanese. Best to recognize these as cyclical I guess...)

sam k said...

Virginia Gentleman discontinued? Bummer.

How do they plan to make up that volume, which would certainly be more than they're producing of the Bowman specialties? I know the Bowmans bring a higher buck, but volume contributes to the economies of scale nonetheless.

Great post. I had no idea about any of this.

sku said...

Sam, I haven't heard anything definitive from Buffalo Trace regarding the elimination of VA Gentleman. (I sent them an email and will let you know if they respond), but Virginia Gentleman has disappeared from all official BT press, including the BT website and the A. Smith Bowman website. It seems that they've replaced it with the higher end Bowman line of Bourbons.

sam k said...

Are these then wholly distilled in Virginia, or do they first distill in Kentucky, then Virginia, like Virginia Gentleman was?

So many questions...

sku said...

Hey Sam, did you see the update in the post regarding the continued production of Virginia Gentleman?

As far as I know, Bowman is still doing redistillations, but I'll see if I can get a confirmation on that.

Andrew G. said...

Sku, this is pretty late to the party, i.e. 3 years out, but Virginia Gentleman is most definitely still available in the VA-MD area. I'm from Virginia, and I enjoy this as my everyday "not thinking about it" bourbon.

I post this for historical/search engine reasons, since I found this page via Google.