Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Release #15 Review

Abraham Bowman cover photo

I must admit, I would have never thought I’d get a chance to taste any of the special Abraham Bowman release bourbons. This rare line of releases is sold exclusively in Virginia and only in small amounts.  From what I read, standing in line for hours is the only way to get your hands on one.

I’ve also rarely seen one for sale on the secondary market because people like to hold on to them and *gasp* even drink them!

For those of you who do not know much about the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Virginia, here’s a quick rundown. The distillery has been around for almost 90 years distilling various clear spirits and whiskies.

It was not until 2003 when Sazerac bought the distillery that they began to shift their whiskey making into more of a specialized and premium product.

Because they had a very large company that could help them increase capacity, this enabled them to concentrate on making some amazing small batches of bourbon.

In an interview with Bourbon Pursuit, Master Distiller Brian Prewitt claimed that Buffalo Trace distillery does not supply them with the actual finished distillate, but instead with the “high wine” distillate that has passed through only the Analyser portion of a typical column still.

This high wine is then shipped via tanker truck all the way from Kentucky. Bowman Distillery claims that the mashbill and yeast are unique and distilled to their specifications but that their final distillation process makes it unique.

This doesn’t necessarily rule out the opinion that some enthusiasts believe that Bowman bourbon is actually Buffalo Trace Mashbill #1 or #2 (or a blend of both), but it does explain why their product tastes so similar to Buffalo Trace products.

For Release #15, Brian Prewitt worked with local craft distillery Hardywood Park Craft Brewery by giving them 10 barrels that had previously been used to age their bourbon in.

Hardywood Park took those barrels and aged a Gingerbread Stout in 6 of them and an Imperial Milk Stout in the other 4. About 8 months later, they dumped that beer and gave the barrels back to the distillery.

Then, Prewitt filled those barrels back up with a 9.5 year old bourbon and let them rest for an additional 17 months before dumping and blending them both together.

The gingerbread and stout beer influence immediately gave this release a “gingerbread and cocoa” character and thus it was named as such.

If you lightly shake this bottle and look at it through light, you can make out thin wisps of sediment swirling around. It’s almost fine enough to not be noticed but I’ve determined this is some of the leftovers from the beer that was left in the barrel.

It’s not like this was going to push me away from wanting to taste this bourbon but instead only drew me closer. Let’s see what this tastes like.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Typical Buffalo Trace Bourbon notes of vanilla, caramel and a slight tinge of cherries. Amazingly, I find the scent of powdered cocoa and a whiff of a Christmastime gingerbread house.

Buttery toffee and sweet oak impart wonderful lingering scents. The nose is balanced, yet uniquely vivid among almost every other bourbon on the shelf.

Palate: For as much as the nose told me this was a bourbon, the flavors on the tongue lean into the territory of a rye whiskey. The mouthfeel is slightly thin (no doubt from the low proof), but the gingerbread notes are immediately upfront and dominant.

There are so many notes of ginger, cinnamon, allspice and molasses that it’s like i just ate a gingerbread cookie. The notes of cocoa are dry and bitter and lean towards being a touch too alkaline.

But they add a depth of flavors that is rarely found in other bourbons I’ve tried and makes really amps up the experience.

Finish: Woody with a nice layer of cinnamon and clove that give the spice a little sizzle in your mouth long after the sip is complete. There are slight rye spice qualities about this that leave you thinking you may have just drank a rye whiskey.

But that’s just the gingerbread talking. The finish is slightly sweet but still gorgeously complex. I just wish this was cask strength.

Score: 8.4/10

Holy Moly! Now that was an experience! The combination of gingerbread and cocoa made tasting this whiskey feel more like I was drinking a rye whiskey than a bourbon.

Gingerbread already contains many similar spice notes that rye whiskies are known for while the cocoa effect somewhat reminded me of whiskies that used chocolate malted rye (but not in a bad way).

It almost didn’t need to be any higher in proof because the flavors were already so noticeable.

But someone at the Bowman distillery team must have noticed (or the fans demanded) the same thing as I’ve seen them put out several additional “Gingerbread” finished releases with much higher proofs since this release in 2016.

The fact that no other distillery or producer has tried to recreate a product like this is shocking because it truly is such a beautiful pairing. I’ve had a few stout-finished bourbons before, but they’ve been hit or miss.

This one seems to have found the balance by incorporating a spice-heavy gingerbread character.

A thought crossed my mind as I was drinking this; “just how many barrel finished flavor possibilities could there be?” When you consider the amount of crazy craft beer flavors there are, the possibilities seem endless.

When I first read the description of “gingerbread” it didn’t even cross my mind that it was a gingerbread flavored beer that was put into a barrel. If you’re like me, you were probably racking your brain thinking about how and why they’d put gingerbread dough or baked goods inside of a barrel.

But flavored beer could legitimately be the start of a whiskey barrel revolution whereby a distiller could suggest to craft breweries what kind of beer flavors they want them to make in exchange for access to their barrels.

This would come full circle when the distiller would go pick up those beer-soaked barrels so they can finish their whiskey in them.

Final Thoughts

For those of you that like finished whiskey, just think about the possibilities… We could have Strawberry Rhubarb finished Buffalo Trace. We could have Jalapeno and ghost pepper finished MGP.

What about White Russian Imperial Stout finished Wild Turkey? The possibilities are endless and I for one, am prepared to roll out the red carpet for whatever comes next.  I hope more distilleries take notice of what the people at A. Smith Bowman are doing.

Ratings Breakdown

1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)

2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it

3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)

4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)

5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)

6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)

7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)

8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)

9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)

10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)