By Richard Thomas
Last year, the modern incarnation of A. Smith Bowman shipped four old bourbon barrels down to Richmond, VA and Hardywood Brewery, where they were used to create the brewery’s Gingerbread Stout. In February, the barrels were sent back to Bowman, whereupon they were refilled with six year old bourbon for a two month stint of finishing.
The result was something unique in whiskey, because even beer-finished whiskey is unusual. Observant whiskey fans will recall that when Grants released their ale-cask finish, it raised eyebrows for its novelty. Finishing in gingerbread stout barrels that were previously bourbon barrels? To my knowledge, that’s a first.
Bottled at 90 proof (45% abv), the Bowman Gingerbread Beer-Finished Bourbon has a light character, and that characters begins with the appearance. The color is a light copper, so light in fact that it has a little translucence to it. The scent has a little more heft, what with its creamy texture. The main body of the aroma is a vanilla and citrus sweetness, underlaid by a woody tinge.
The flavor reverts to the whiskey’s generally light touch, with a cookie spice that is indeed very gingery, leaning to peppery. The sweetness is in more of a toffee vein, touched with a little dry wood. The finish is light, but lingering.
I generally agree with Bowman’s new Master Distiller, Brian Prewitt, who said of this creation “The Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon has a great nose and taste starting with its spicy entry and rounding out with a pleasant finish.” I thought the nose was the best part, the palate did indeed open with a ginger spice kick, and the finish was mild and pleasant. The thing is the notes aren’t exactly delicate, but the character is so very light, so the package just never seemed to gel for me. I thought it sat in an odd spot between bourbon, rye, and certain scotches I know of, but without finding the sweet spot to make it work.
The Gingerbread Beer-Finish is interesting stuff, and certainly novel, but that novelty didn’t make it great. Even so, diehard bourbon lovers should take a look (perhaps splitting a bottle), just to get an idea of what the bourbon-to-beer-to-bourbon finish did.
Bowman’s Gingerbread-Finished Bourbon is a limited edition, with a suggested retail price of $69.99.