Bowman is arguably one of the better kept secrets in bourbon. Based out of Fredericksburg, VA, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery plays host to a number of spirits, including vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey. The brand takes its name from four militia officers (John, Abraham, Joseph, and Isaac) in the American Revolutionary War who “helped establish and settle Fayette County.” Innocuous enough, until we consider the rumor that Bowman source from Buffalo Trace for their bourbon bottlings. This understandably got some folks interested in the brand, including yours truly, especially considering the role Buffalo Trace holds in the market. Yet without actual clarification from Bowman, it’s ultimately hearsay.
Each bourbon in Bowman’s lineup takes a slightly different name, with today’s review focusing on the Bowman Brothers label, a small batch 90 proof bourbon. The whiskey is distilled in copper pots three times before being subject to an otherwise by-the-books production process. I found a bottle locally for $35.
Nose: Woody backbone with an approximation of cherry-vanilla frosting. Dried out caramel with a slightly sulfuric undercurrent. Tangible cereal/corn grain overtakes the wood as it sits. Post-sip experience is fruitier with dried apricot.
Palate: Light-medium texture. Red grape, vanilla, light brown sugar, and roasted corn with that sulfur essence throwing the whole affair off. Flavors are light and sweet, but the experience is somewhat rough and incoherent. Vanilla and wood remain consistent while a dried cherry note comes and goes.
Finish: A bit on the dry side. Wood transitions to honey graham crackers, along with a little tobacco. Hint of oatmeal raisin cookies.
Can’t say I’m big on this one. I consider myself fairly lenient when it comes to bourbon, with my worst comments being that a given bottle is boring or shallow. Bowman Brothers begins decently enough, but that odd sulfur-like note I mention throws the entire experience out of whack. I still struggle to call this a bad bourbon, since the makings of something better are easy to find. Pleasant aromas and flavors exist and make their presence known, which is why I still feel inclined to give this bourbon the benefit of the doubt. Yet all it takes to potentially ruin something is a single note, which is the case for me here.
I will say that Bowman Brothers Small Batch holds up reasonably when integrated into cocktails. In fact, after first trying it, my girlfriend suggested making a Manhattan (traditionally a rye whiskey-based cocktail) with it. I did and we were both quite pleased with the results. Saying that a whiskey is best suited for mixing or cocktails can often be code for “it’s not good enough on it’s own, therefore it’s not good.” There are absolutely times that this is the case, but I’m not prepared to put Bowman in that camp. Neat is my preferred drinking method, and I imagine most reading this have similar (if not identical) preferences. Yet it always bears repeating: sometimes you just can’t beat a solid cocktail. Put another way: A bad base spirit often results in a bad cocktail. Bowman Brothers Small Batch doesn’t scratch my neat pour itch; it also hasn’t left me unhappy in any of the cocktails I’ve made with it.