John, Abraham, Joseph, and Isaac Bowman were Virginia militia officers in the American Revolutionary War. In 1779, they led 30 pioneer families to Madison Family County, Kentucky and established Bowman’s Station. Their great, great grandson, Abram S. Bowman, purchased Sunset Hills estate farm located in northern Virginia in 1929. Following the repeal of Prohibition, he found himself with an excess of corn, wheat, and rye by 1935 and opened a distillery on the property. The current A. Smith Bowman Distillery is located about 60 miles from the original distillery in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. It opened in 1988 and began distilling spirits in the 1991. John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon is named after Colonel Bowman who was the first military commander and governor of Kentucky County.
A. Smith Bowman Distillery was purchased by the Sazerac Company, Inc. in 2003. Currently the company doesn’t produce their own whiskey distillate and doesn’t disclose who they source it from. It is believed the new make they use originates from Buffalo Trace and is their #1 mashbill. John J. Bowman Single Barrel is triple distilled. It’s unclear how many times A. Smith Bowman re-distills it through their unique copper still, but it is rumored to be twice distilled at Buffalo Trace and once at A. Smith Bowman. The company then ages the whiskey onsite. While no age statement is present, according to the company’s press materials John J. Bowman Single Barrel is aged between 9-10 years.
Baking chocolate, baked bread, oak, vanilla, and green apple, and a dash of toffee lead the way. A light tingling of ethanol is present but not so much to be distracting. The aromas aren’t overly strong, but more subtle and pleasant to the senses.
Taking a large sip reveals classic bourbon undertones with a touch of sweetness. It’s a creamy bodied bourbon that offers rich flavors. Rich malted chocolate, oak, vanilla, and hints of corn syrup immediately jump out. This is a bourbon that plays it safe in the sense that you won’t be overwhelmed with a massive set of flavors to dissect. That said, while it doesn’t have that wow factor of a standout bourbon, it sure doesn’t disappoint in what it delivers either.
Balanced and long. Warming heat slowly builds as it makes its way down your throat. A hint of spice in the form of green pepper, along with chocolate, leather, oak, and hints of vanilla start the finish. These flavors morph to light traces of chocolatey caramel that coat the mouth, and linger for a long time between sips. Balanced, flavorful, and unpretentious, the finish nicely encapsulates what this bourbon is all about.
Like the other bourbons produced from the A. Smith Bowman Distillery, John J. Bowman Single Barrel carries with it a unique background. If the rumors that this is made of distillate from Buffalo Trace’s mashbill #1 are true, it would share the same undertones as the E.H Taylor line and Eagle Rare. It also presents a great lesson in just how much aging factors into the taste of a bourbon.
In theory these distant cousins should be closer in flavor than they are. Instead the additional distillation and standalone aging in Virginia produces a bourbon that doesn’t exactly scream Buffalo Trace either. The end result isn’t one that really distinguishes itself from other single barrels on the market, but nevertheless still offers an enjoyable sip.
Priced at $50, John J. Bowman Single Barrel finds itself surrounded by some tough competition. Not only does it face off against Blanton’s and E.H Taylor Single Barrel, but also Four Roses Single Barrel and Knob Creek Single Barrel which cost slightly less. Each of these aforementioned bourbons offers a more memorable experience. That’s not to say that John J. Bowman Single Barrel presents a poor value. While it may not offer enough distinct characteristics to make it stand apart, it actually feels to be priced perfectly right in today’s marketplace.
With a unique background and pleasing flavor profile, John J. Bowman Single Barrel proves that it doesn’t matter how you start off in life, it’s all about how you finish.
John J. Bowman Single Barrel is certainly different from the company’s spicy Bowman Brothers Small Batch. However compared to other single barrel bourbons, it plays it straight down the middle of the road. Priced at a reasonable $50 and producing a pleasing classic bourbon profile, it’s hard to find many faults with this bourbon.
John J. Bowman is not overly unique, however it offers a fun distillation journey to contemplate while sipping on. And that ultimately is what’s great about the bourbon. Due to its hit or miss availability, it may not be a bourbon that you buy often. However when you do, you’re presented with a something that’s sure to satisfy any bourbon craving you have.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of A. Smith Bowman. We thank them for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.