A. Smith Bowman High Rye Bourbon Review


Updated August 10, 2016

By Father John Rayls

Average Rating: A-

A. Smith Bowman High Rye Bourbon

A. Smith Bowman High Rye Bourbon
(Credit: Sazerac)

One of my all time favorite computer games was Dune. Of course, it was based on the Frank Herbert science fiction novel (and subsequent movie). It involved two primary enemy civilizations and a third less developed with their own interests.

This RTS (one of the first) centered on harvesting spice. However, the real agenda was to maintain a balance between spice harvesting and military development. This seems an appropriate way to begin this review because the marketing department of the distillery warns that this bourbon is full-bodied with lots of spice, powerful and full of flavor. Dune taught me that it isn’t only about the spice. It’s about balance, just like this bourbon.

The Bourbon
The High Rye Bourbon looks like one of the orange honeys harvested in South Texas, and that orange has a brown and yellow tint in it. The yellow is particularly present as it’s poured into the glass. It’s as if the color changes sometime between the pour and the first sip. After its description, it should come as no surprise that there is a strong aroma floating up from the glass. It’s filled with pepper and spice, but there’s also a strong presence of caramel apples, oak and vanilla. The legs are long and add to the real enjoyment of the aroma. It honestly smelled so inviting that it was a major battle for me to delay consuming it.

My anticipation continued to build and fired my expectations. This is often unfortunate because only rarely does reality match those expectations whenever I’ve neglected to manage them. However, that was never a problem with Bowman’s High Rye Bourbon. It not only lived up to my elevated hopes, but completely overwhelmed them in every regard.

This is a very enjoyable bourbon. Honey, vanilla, oak and spicy apples assault the mouth with goodness. It is only slightly oily (in the good sense), and has a slightly dry lingering finish. The finish is long and peppery with multiple waves of flavor. I cannot tell you how sad I am to report that I only had a very small bottle to sample. If you like full-bodied and balanced spiciness, this is your bourbon.

This is a very limited release, the 12th in the Bowman line. As a result, you probably won’t find it unless you are in or near Virginia. It’s being released this month, but good luck getting your hands on a bottle. It is 7.9 years old and bottled at 100 proof.

Addendum by Richard Thomas

I thought the Bowman High Rye was surprisingly understated for a 100 proof bourbon. The nose leaned hard in the spicy direction, both in terms of wood spices and rye spices, girded by a current of oakiness. One could easily be forgiven for thinking the age on this bourbon was in the low double digits on the basis of what your nose would tell you.

On the palate, the liquid had a silky texture, and correspondingly went down smooth. It wasn’t as woody or spicy as the nose, which is a good thing because pulling those aspects back brought the flavor into better balance. Caramel, pears and marshmallow combine with cinnamon, ginger and cloves, with a very understated note of oak. The finish runs dry, and surprisingly moderate on the warmth.

Understated, in fact, defines the entire character of what is a fundamentally subtle whiskey. This Bowman doesn’t jump forward to shake your hand, but instead quietly invites up onto the porch to sit a spell, and then lets you do most of the talking. I strongly advise against putting it on ice or adding water, but instead suggest you simply nestle in and treat it as a true sipper, something you want to take your time and time again with.

The Price
The suggested retail price is $69.99. This is normally above my budget, but for my part I’m willing to make some significant sacrifices to get my hands on a couple of these bottles.

The Abraham Bowman Limited Edition High Rye Bourbon is a part of the ongoing series of limited edition releases. Its namesake was the commander of the 8th Virginia Regiment in the American Revolutionary War. These special editions are released a few times a year. This happens to be the twelfth one in this line.

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