November 19, 2013

Review: Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon - Ho Ho Ho, It's Still Summer!

Tanning in November

Holy crap, next week is Thanksgiving!  As ridiculous a cliché as it is for everyone to walk around saying how the year has flown by, jeez this year has really flown by!  Maybe having a toddler makes time go by faster.  Pretty soon we'll be saying things like "they grow up so fast!"  Ugg we're old.

Well, we may as well embrace it.  Cook up some hot cocoa, cuddle up under a blanket and...  Oh right, it's SIXTY-FIVE degrees in New York today.  Chalk it up to the sweaty commute, lack of sleep, and the soundtrack from "Elmo's World" echoing in our brains like some kind of Chinese water torture, but we're having a little trouble getting into the holiday spirit.  Maybe a festive whiskey is just the ticket.  Something toasty and sweet, with pumpkin or... gingerbread.  What could be more friggin' festive than gingerbread??

Abraham Bowman

We've been wanting to get our hands on some of the Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Whiskey for some time.  There have been several LE's from Bowman, including a cask strength rye, an 18-year cask strength bourbon, a 17-year monster 73.75% proof cask strength bourbon (affectionately known in the whiskey community as "Haz-Mat"), and a port cask finished bourbon.  The last LE release came out this spring and was called "Last Millennium" since it contained the last two batches of Bowman from the twentieth century - a combination of 14 and 16 year bourbons distilled in 1999.  All of the early limited editions got great marks from whiskey critics, the 18-year bourbon release was probably the most highly acclaimed.

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery is a small operation that is owned by Sazerac Company (owners of Buffalo Trace) but seems to be fairly independent and operating separately and on a smaller scale than BT.  The Bowman family were colonialists.  Colonel Abraham Bowman was one of Washington's top commanders in the Revolutionary War.  His family, including brothers John and George were some of Kentucky's early settlers. His great-grandson Abram Bowman founded the distillery in 1937.  

Gingerbread Beer Finish

The current Abraham Bowman Limited Edition is a "Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon".  Barrel trading is a hot trend right now.  We were very happy with Hudson's Maple Cask Rye, which was a barrel swap between Tuthilltown and a maple syrup production company.  Bowman Gingerbread is another barrel swap concept.  It was aged as a traditional bourbon in first-fill charred oak barrels for around seven years.  Those bourbon barrels were then swapped with Hardywood Brewery and used to age its Gingerbread Stout.  The barrels were then returned and the Bowman bourbon was reinserted in them for a second aging process.  The total age on this release is under eight years, with under a year in the swapped barrels, and it's bottled at 45%, 90 proof.

Tasting Notes

Appearance:  Pretty, ain't it?  Very nice Coca-Cola color going on here.  Begging us to crack open the bottle.

Nose:  Hmmm.  Yes on the sweetness and gingerbread, we're getting the baking spices, the graham cracker, the honey and nutmeg.  But there's something off here.  The spirit still smells hot, and the other flavors are floating on top of the heat instead of integrating into it.  It has all the ingredients of a good nose on paper, but we're not digging it.

Palate:  There's a bitterness going on here that shouldn't be an issue at 90 proof.  There are some nice notes, a hint of the brown sugar and vanilla that speaks to quality bourbon, some more of the cinnamon / nutmeg spiciness.   But again there's little balance.  It's just notes of sweetness and spice floating on a hot and immature tasting spirit.

Finish:  Way too much burn going on here for the low proof.  It's just not an enjoyable finish.  Too long to be crisp and too hot to be warm, the finish gives it away.


This bottle retails at around $65.  There isn't a ton of good whiskey at this price point sitting on the shelves right now, but that still doesn't make us like it.  It feels like a gimmick, like trying to use the sweetness from the borrowed barrels to offset a young spirit that's not ready for primetime.  Sadly we're giving this one a SmokyBeast "C+".  There are a lot of better whiskies out there for less money.  This year's Old Forester Birthday Bourbon slaughters it.  For half the price, Elmer T. Lee or Willett Potstill are better choices.  Or if you want something nice, treat yourself, spend a few bucks more, and buy a Michter's 10-year.  Right in the same pocket price-wise is Colonel EH Taylor Single Barrel and/or Barrel Proof which are, frankly, in a different league.

We're sad that our first experience with Bowman wasn't up to snuff, but we're still keen to try some of the earlier limited edition releases.  We haven't met a lot of 18 year cask strength bourbons or ryes that we haven't liked...  Stay tuned for more from Bowman.

Coming up on the Beast...

Stay tuned to SmokyBeast, we have some awesome reviews coming up.  The "SmokyBeast War of the Roses" is in the works, where we do a vertical head-to-head of the Four Roses Limited Edition line including 2011-2013 Single Barrel, 2012 Small Batch, and the brand new 2013 125th Anniversary Small Batch.  That is bound to be one to remember.  And for you peat heads (who have been reluctantly sticking with us through bourbon season), we're getting back on the scotch bandwagon in a huge way.  Stay tuned for our interview with James Wills of Kilchoman Distillery (if you haven't heard the buzz about Kilchoman you've been living under a rock) followed by reviews of their entire line including the first in the world 100% Islay-sourced single malt and the new Loch Gorm sherry cask.


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