Whiskey marketing tends to flow down a few narrow channels. If you’re walking down the whiskey lanes browsing around, it isn’t exactly hard to see this trend. You wanna sell whiskey? You gotta have a rugged heritage. It’s okay if it’s mostly rubbish, just pick a name of a distiller from the 1700s and slap on a word that makes you think Davy Crockett would drink this between eating bear hearts—boom, you’ve nailed the market. Given whiskey’s image, you’d think it caused your body to develop more testosterone. If it did, I’d probably look like bigfoot. Anyways, tonight’s drinking comes courtesy of a company that has clearly mastered this technique, A. Smith Bowman Distilleries of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The product: Bowman Brothers “Pioneer Spirit” Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Long name, I know. Here’s the thing, this whole marketing spiel I mentioned, it seems to be a more modern trend. The funny thing is, unlike the names smacked on labels, such as Elijah Craig, this name actually has something to do with the company’s heritage. Furthermore, Bowman seems to be ahead of the curve a touch—he started the distillery in 1935; in fact, the original distillery location in modern day Reston, Virginia is on the National Register of Historic places. Then again, Bowman was just naming the distillery after himself, much like Jim Beam; he just happens to have famous relatives…
The namesakes of this bottle, the Bowman Brothers, were intrepid American Revolutionary War Veterans and, no bullshit, pioneers. They led families west to the wild frontiers of Kentucky (like someone else I mentioned…) to settle communities in two counties. You probably know Kentucky well for one of its fine exports as well, bourbon. I’m sure there’s no connection. Where the hell was I going with this? Oh yeah, A. Smith Bowman ain’t just another new name on the shelves playing a tired marketing ploy—they were around when whiskey’s marketing ploy was “it gets you drunk.” Now they have to tell you to drink responsibly, how sad. As usual, all of this is tangential though—let’s talk juice.
Supposedly, from what I call “research,” Bowman Brothers is made from a Buffalo Trace Mash, about 15% rye, that is triple distilled though a copper still. What does that smell like? It’s very light, with a crisp apple note leading in, a delectably smooth vanilla middle, and just a dusting of rye spice at the end, almost like apple crisp and ice cream. I’m kind of hungry now. Okay, Girl Scout cookies down and I’m back—let us taste! (As if I haven’t already had two drinks.)
That rye note is actually pretty up front on the first sip, considering its low station in the mash. The middle is where this whiskey really shines, with a very rich vanilla flavor that’s rather unusual—did I buy the special release aged with vanilla beans? Nope, my blood ain’t that rich. There is also a pretty great chewy, sweet, maple-syrup-over-snow thing as the foundation. This is enjoyable stuff.
What’s the point here? Well, one, this Bowman Brothers is a pretty interesting, light and lovely whiskey. Also, all the marketing money in the world isn’t going to give your brand any legit heritage. Finally, it seems to me that Virginia pioneers probably taught the people of Kentucky a thing or two about the art of whiskey—even Washington was a distiller—and if this is the kind of whiskey Virginia is still churning out, I think they still know what they’re doing.