What seems like a long time ago Kelly and I visited Smith Bowman’s Fredericksburg distillery, where John J. Bowman bourbon is made, with my mom during one of her last trips to Virginia. The tour revealed a true small batch, handmade whiskey process at work not far from our home. The bourbon was good, but not, on my palate, great.
Fast forward to 2017, when John J. Bowman was named “Best Whiskey in the World” by Whisky Magazine. Hmm. I filed that away at the back of my ‘try again’ list and moved on.
Feeling mildly disconcerted today, and hearing from a pal that a favorite rye whiskey selection was newly available at the Warrenton ABC, I stopped by to see what was on the shelf. Our favorite rye had been wiped out in less than a day. That’s not nearly as surprising as the ABC’s failure to make Rittenhouse Rye regular inventory stock, but whatever. I pulled that ‘try again’ out of my noggin and wandered back into the whiskeys. A bottle of John J. followed me home.
I’m utterly stunned. The first scent and flavor on my tongue is fruit, followed by a mild oakiness. The liquor is mellow and completely devoid of harshness, a sweet elixir despite its 100-proof strength and unblended, single barrel nature. What a lovely bourbon.
Though Bowman doesn’t divulge their bourbon’s pedigree, rumor claims that it comes from a double-distillation of their parent company Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace mash bill #1. If so, that makes it a close relative to Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace, two well-decorated bourbons.
The liquor is distilled once more in Virginia and laid up in American oak for nine to ten years. Despite their similar beginnings, Buffalo Trace and John J. Bowman are distinct in their finish. Must be the Virginia air.
Pappy, someday. Until then, Bowman has made the big time.
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