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Abraham Bowman Rum Finished Bourbon

I’m struggling to find the words.

That may surprise those of you who have read my more logorrheic reviews on this site. I’ve periodically been accused of never finding a sesquipedalian flourish I didn’t like, to the annoyance of those who would prefer that I stick to monosyllables. However, today I am struggling to locate the mots justes for what I am trying to describe.

I’m thinking about the A. Smith Bowman Distillery. How do I feel about it/them/the whiskey they produce? It’s hard to describe. My first dalliance with Bowman was the Isaac Bowman Port Barrel Finished Bourbon. Please consult that review if you’re interested in exploring the distillery’s origins. As I expressed then, I thought they executed a wine cask finish competently enough. Though the lack of specifics around the whiskey’s origin (Distilled by Buffalo Trace? Distilled in Virginia? Distilled by Buffalo Trace then distilled in Virginia?) remains a minor frustration, the quality of the end product was enough to warrant a positive score.

That said, I have not picked up another bottle of Bowman whiskey since then. I’ve passed by a few, and I’ve been curious, though not curious enough to commit to a full bottle. Where does that leave me, in terms of my orientation toward Bowman? Cautiously positive? Theoretically skeptical but empirically optimistic? I’m sure the Germans have a comically long compound noun for this sensation, but I’m not going to bother searching it out at the moment. Rather, let’s get to the whiskey at hand and let it speak for itself, and for the distillery.

I’m exploring an expression outside Bowman’s core range today. In particular, this comes from the experimental Abraham Bowman series. Bowman has this to say about that category:

“We regularly experiment with mash bills, aging techniques, and production methods to create new bourbons and push the limits of our distilling expertise. Once we’ve explored all of our options, we choose our favorite and begin bottling it up.”

So, I’ll be expecting something out of the ordinary (hopefully for the better). Looking further into the details of this expression, I find that we’re dealing with an extra-aged finished bourbon. Per Bowman’s own site for this expression:

“This limited edition release began in 2006 when two barrels of American Oak were aged gracefully for nine years. Afterward, the contents of the barrels were transferred to Caribbean rum casks for another six years, bringing the total age of this bourbon to 15 years. Extremely rare, this release may just be the oldest rum cask finished bourbon ever produced.”

Whether or not this is the oldest rum cask finished bourbon, it certainly isn’t the only one. Perusing the online inventory of my local chain retailer makes this abundantly clear. There, one can find bottles of rum-finished whiskey from (in alphabetical order) Bardstown Bourbon Company, Barrell, Heaven’s Door, Jefferson’s, and Starlight. A previous rum-finished expression from Basil Hayden’s springs to mind; I’m also aware that Peerless has experimented with a rum cask finish. Getting out of bourbon and rye territory, Nathan recently introduced us to an American malt whiskey with a rum cask finish.

What are my preconceptions, going into this? Given my limited history with Bowman, In looking back on my notes from the Port barrel finish, one thing that leaps out at me is the balance struck on the palate between the underlying bourbon and the cask finish. I’m hoping that the extended rum finish here will complement – but not obliterate – the aromas and flavors from the underlying bourbon.

Final specifics, before I dig in: this is bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV). The Virginia ABC has this listed for a price of $69.99, which I will use for evaluation on our price-sensitive Scoring Bands. This was a sample provided to me by Kerry, who has my sincere thanks for his generosity.

Abraham Bowman Rum Finished Bourbon – Review

Color: Medium dark brownish orange.

On the nose: Opens with a heady burst of slightly bitter (not in a bad way) citrus aromas redolent of orange peel. This transitions by way of a sweeter, orange-juice like scent into the smell of chocolate-covered orange wedges. There’s some rich, taffy-like sweetness here as well, which plays nicely against more zesty, spicy notes of cracked black peppercorns and pickled ginger. This latter aroma comes in a nose-tickling form that reminds me of sniffing at carbonated beverages. Some more time in the glass reveals additional rich fruit notes such as cherries, still chocolate-coated. I’m very excited to taste this.

In the mouth: Similar to the nose, the first impression is of a slight bitterness. Unlike the nose, however, this doesn’t really broaden out into any of the richer flavors expected. Rather, there’s a woody astringency that mostly crowds out the fruity notes of orange. I get an odd vanilla note in the middle of the palate that tastes very synthetic, very chemical in nature. A last burst of juicy orange propels this toward the finish, where the tannic, extracted woodiness once again dominates all the other flavors here. This finishes dry and mouth-puckering, with a chalky texture and an unpleasantly bitter aftertaste.

Conclusions:

I was prepared to like this very much based on the nose, especially the more exuberantly fruity notes. Unfortunately, you can tell that promise went unfulfilled based on my tasting notes. The wood influence here is so overwhelming, so unbalanced, that it actually becomes uncomfortable at points.

There are cautionary takes in this glass. To pick but one: age, in this case, is a double-edged sword. Was the six years in the finishing casks too much? It certainly tastes like it; there’s more rum barrel than bourbon in here by a wide margin.

In light of this, and taking into account the price, I’m giving a score corresponding to “flawed” on our scale.

Score: 3/10

Revisiting my introduction: does this experience change my perception of the Bowman whiskeys? Yes, slightly, and of course for the negative. Perhaps I was warranted in all those times I left Bowman bottles on the shelf. That said, though, I’m still not willing to write off the category of finished whiskey generally, nor the Bowman whiskeys in this category specifically. Rather, I’m going to continue to adopt a “try before you buy” approach to the extent feasible, and would encourage you all to do the same.

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