By Father John Rayls
The A. Smith Bowman Distillery is a small Virginia-based operation, owned by Sazerac and specializing in limited editions and special releases. They first captured my attention about a year and a half ago when I reviewed the limited release of their high rye bourbon. It was a very interesting whiskey, and I went to some trouble to track down the only bottles released in the San Antonio area.
As a result, I was very anxious to get my hands on this release of the Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon. It was developed in cooperation with the Hardywood Park Craft Brewery of Virginia. In a convoluted process, the bourbon was aged for 4 1/2 years in charred new oak barrels, and then emptied into a new set of oak barrels, while the original set of bourbon barrels were sent to the brewery. There they were used for 8 months to age beer, Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout and the Imperial Milk Stout.
After emptying the beer out of the barrels, they were sent back to the distillery and filled with a new batch of 9 year old bourbon, not the original starter batch. This bourbon was then finished for another 17 months within the used bourbon-beer barrels. That 17 months stint of secondary maturation was apparently not pre-determined. Master Distiller Brian Prewitt made the choice based on repeated tastings getting the maximum flavor from the beer barrels.
The bourbon is stated as 9 years and 8 months old, and if that doesn’t quite add up to the story, remember that if an official age statement is made it reflects the youngest whiskey used to make the product.
The appearance is a medium brown with copper influence and golden highlights. The legs are a little misleading. Initially, they appear to be a little thin. However, they eventually turn into a creamy smooth slow run to the bottom of the glass.
I really like the nose on this bourbon, which smacks of Graham Crackers, ginger spice and honey on top of light oak. There is no alcohol burn whatsoever, even though it’s bottled at 90 proof.
The mouthfeel is very creamy. It’s different from a syrupy feel in that it’s lighter, but still coats the mouth nicely, providing a whole mouth experience, although on that settles primarily on the mid-mouth. There are notes of ginger, vanilla and some faint cocoa in the background. The finish is medium and gently fades with notes of cinnamon. Overall, there is a milky feel (in the best sense) with some sweet spice. I would suggest drinking it neat; although, a very small amount of water might bring out more of the cocoa.
This cooperation between a distillery and a brewery initially appeared to me to be a little gimmicky, but the bourbon is actually pretty interesting and worth your time if you’re looking for something a little different.
The suggested retail is $39.99. However, before rushing out to your favorite retailer in search of a big bargain buy, realize this is issued in a 375 ml bottle.
In addition, A Smith Bowman Distillery is known for their very limited releases. This means Virginians might have a chance at securing a bottle while the rest of us search endlessly without any success. I have heard stories of long lines of people at the distillery waiting to get their hands around a bottle of Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon.