Review: Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Bourbon

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery, out of Frederiksburg, VA, has been producing some excellent products in recent years. Owned by Sazerac since 2003, Bowman sources Buffalo Trace new make distillate and re-distills it at the distillery for a total of three distillations (reportedly). They age the whiskey on premises and recently opened a visitors center onsite.

A. Smith Bowman produces a Rye, a Small Batch Bourbon, Single Barrel Bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, and a number of limited release whiskeys. Last year I reviewed a barrel strength rye that was one of the best rye’s I tasted all year (2011).

Today I’ll be digging into the Small Batch Bourbon.

Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Small Batch Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $29.99/bottle
Color: Light-Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar, sorghum syrup, sweet cinnamon, red apple, and moderate oak influence.
Palate: Well balanced sweetness (brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla) with ample sharp spice notes (pepper, cinnamon, and all spice).
Finish: A shade dry and spicy. Charred wood bitterness and cinnamon with a touch of maple sweetness.
Overall: Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon is a whiskey of very good quality. It offers a balance of sweetness and spice. I cannot say it’s very full flavored, nor is it complex, but it’s a damn fine sipper that offers some classic bourbon flavors. If you favor zippier bourbons, this one would certainly please you with its well defined wood/barrel sugars and spices.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good)

Revving Up!

I hope this summer finds all of you and yours doing well. If you are anything like me, with 3 active girls (10, 7, and 5 years old), your summer has probably been filled with activity. The frenetic pace over the last 6-8 weeks is finally starting to calm down a bit, and as a result I’ve got a number of things brewing for the site over the next month.

As I type I’m sipping the latest E. H. Taylor Barrel Strength offering from Buffalo Trace, and completing a review of course as well. Stay tuned for the full scoop on this one soon. Also on the roster for August are reviews of Evan Williams Single Barrel 2002, Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Small Batch Bourbon (from A. Smith Bowman Distillery), a micro bourbon from Iowa called Cedar Ridge, and a value offering from Evan Williams, (“White” Label Bottled in Bond).

In addition to reviews I’ll be providing my take on the whole “adding water to whiskey” discussion that’s been going around even more than usual lately. Also, a great friend and the man behind the Owensboro (KY) Bourbon Society, Vince Carida, has put together some awesome information for starting whiskey clubs and societies. This is very important for whiskey’s growth in my opinion. I love being on my own with a great bottle of whiskey, but like many things – whiskey tastes even better with good company. A whiskey club/society is a way for people with like interests to to get together and share one of life’s best (and most affordable) luxuries. I get asked an awful lot about the best approach for starting such clubs, and Vince is way more qualified than I am to talk about it. Thanks Vince for your contribution!

Finally, I’m really looking forward to cranking out a multi-part series on how to expand and “train” your palate for better whiskey appreciation. We’ll start with proper glassware, how to execute an effective tasting session, how to select the right whiskeys for conducting tastings, and most critically how to begin to develop your individual palate. Some would have you believe that being able to pick apart a whiskey for aroma and flavor is something reserved for experts. I’m here to tell you that with a little discipline, knowledge, and of course practice, you’ll soon find you have all the ability you need to understand why you like certain whiskeys over others. It’s going to be fun.

Thanks again for all the comments on the site this last month. We’ll get things cranking beginning this week. Until then, sip something great!

Drink your whiskey!

-Jason

Review: Old Fitzgerald 12 year Bourbon

Old Fitzgerald Bourbon first hit the market in the late 1800s, and was eventually produced by the much lauded Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, KY. Yes, the same distillery that once made bourbon under the Weller and Old Rip Van Winkle labels among others.

Diageo purchased the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1992, thus taking over the Old Fitzgerald brand. In the last 1990’s the brand was sold to Heaven Hill along with the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, KY which produces Old Fitz today.

Old Fitz still follows a wheated recipe made famous by the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Exact mashbill proportions I am not aware of, but it’s safe to say the recipe is probably identical to the original.

Old Fitzgerald 12 Year Old Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $39.99/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Banana bread, toffee, buttered popcorn, and deep vanilla notes. There’s quite a bit of cinnamon spice and some staler aromas of sweet corn mash.
Palate: Soft as a puddle of toffee sauce. Rich vanilla custard, some maple sugars, and spicy cinnamon prickles the tongue. Very simple in terms of the flavors presented, but it does so with excellent structure. It’s not fat and overly sweet in the least.
Finish: A zippier finish than expected. The warmth from the cinnamon dominates with that ever present buttery toffee sweetness.
Overall: Old Fitz 12 year old is a beautiful whiskey full of classic wheated bourbon aromas and flavors, but made far more interesting with age. A wealth of cinnamon spice notes add some complexity, cutting the richer, sweeter flavors. My only slight criticism is the price is a good $13-15 more expensive than W.L. Weller 12 Year Old, which I rated an 8.8. Still, Old Fitz 12 is excellent whiskey and a delight to sip.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)

Happy 4th of July


Happy 4th of July to all of you that allow me the opportunity to share a wee bit of knowledge and enthusiasm for the world’s greatest spirit. One of the reasons I focus so much of my time specifically on American Whiskey is because I think it’s the finest, most diverse, and most exciting whiskey category in the world. I feel a deep sense of pride when I sip something fantastic that this great country has produced.

On a more important note – Thank you to everyone that has fought for the United States of America, and for those that still do so today. Living here is a privilege that I hope is never lost on me.

In honor of the 4th, make yours a pour of American Whiskey today. As for me, I have a day of Mint Juleps, great beer, and eventually some Pappy 15 on the docket. There’s not a sip that won’t make me think long and hard about what it means to be an American, and all those that have given me this opportunity. We are lucky in more ways than we know.

Happy 4th of July to you all.

Drink your AMERICAN whiskey!

-Jason

Reviews: Few Spirits and Ranger Creek .36 Bourbon

It’s been a while since I’ve examined some new Micro-Distillery offerings. Here are two that have caught my eye of late, and warrant some discussion.

The first is Few Spirits Bourbon. Few Spirits is an upstart of the last 18 months out of Chicago, IL. Chicago’s a city that has seen more local distilleries popping up, which is a great thing. I have paid attention to Few Spirit’s growth, and was surprised to see their bourbon already in the Nashville, TN market. Few makes an aged rye, white whiskey, and gin as well.

The second whiskey, Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon, comes from the Ranger Creek brewery in San Antonio, TX. The operation calls itself a “brewstillery” of sorts. Texas’ Balcones and Garrison Brothers distilleries have received some press nationwide for their products, and Ranger Creek is poised to do so as well. The distillery focuses only on a bourbon whiskey for now.

Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey, 46.5% abv (93 Proof), $45.00/bottle
Color: Golden/Light Amber
Nose: Brash, youthful whiskey notes give way to vanilla, golden raisin, demerara sugar, clove, and corn.
Palate: Spicy and dry. Caramel and maple syrup dries quickly with clove and allspice. Some astringent bitterness overpowers the sip leading to the finish.
Finish: A tad on the bitter side with sweet corn and cinnamon.
Overall: Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey is certainly drinkable, but there’s just way too much youth and rough edges to recommend it in any way. The label says “Aged in charred new oak barrels less than four years.” I’d guess no more than 6-9 months tops. Age is not the be all end all, but a whiskey is ready when it’s ready, and this one clearly needs more time to tie up the loose ends.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 6.7 (Decent)

Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey, 48% abv (96 Proof)
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Rich chocolate caramels, vanilla, nougat, banana, cinnamon, flint, dry corn and hints of rye spice.
Palate: Big and bold attitude – bitter caramel, cinnamon, maple candy, and a touch of chili heat. One quick note – avoid water. It’s 96 proof, and tended to go a little lopsided with the addition of too much. Add with caution.
Finish: Long – a balance of sweet caramel and barrel spices.
Overall: Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon has been aged for 9 months. I would have guessed it to be far older. Some traces of the typical young whiskey notes are present, but overpowered by a deep, dark, rich aroma and flavor profile that belies it’s age. Easily one of the best whiskeys under 2 years of age that I’ve tried. Ranger Creek claims it has a lot to do with the aggressive Texas heat, which they believe ages the whiskey quicker and more aggressively. I certainly believe the well developed flavor profile demonstrates the later well. As a result I’m looking forward to seeing more from this distillery. If this bourbon is any indication they are doing something right in San Antonio.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good/Excellent)

Review: High West Campfire

One late April evening I was in a peated scotch whiskey mood. That’s somewhat rare. I’m not overly fond of peaty whiskies. I tend to feel the phenols overpower the subtle sweetness and fruitiness of the malt. There are a few that I do enjoy however. On this particular evening I was sipping the last of my Compass Box Flaming Heart, and moving my way into a pour of Compass Box Peat Monster. What I enjoy about these two whiskies is the peat presence is absolutely felt, but not at the expense of the malt, the fruit, and the toffee. In short they are balanced.

As I continued sipping, pondering Compass Box’s ways with the art of blending whiskey, I thought, “Geez, why doesn’t a distiller or independent bottler in the U.S. get a hold of some peated malt whiskey to add to a bourbon blend?” To me it just made sense – the rich, sweet, and sometimes spicy qualities of the bourbon seems like a perfect compliment to the smoky quality of a well made peated malt. I quickly dismissed the thought, “that would be way too costly.”

About a week later I received an email from David Perkins, proprietor of High West Saloon and Distillery. After a relatively tame 2011 (by High West standards) Perkins and co. were working on a new whiskey release called Campfire Whiskey. David explained that High West had finished the blending of 3 different batches of Campfire Whiskey and wondered if I would be interested in trying them along with some fellow enthusiasts.

A sample tasting ensued and I was able to try each of the blends. My favorite, oddly enough, happened to be the one (Sample C) with the highest percentage of peated whiskey in the blend. High West however was going after a much more subtle peat influence, and selected Sample A for public release. In hindsight – probably the smarter move, but more on that later.

Here’s the gist of Campfire Whiskey. Its a blend of a six year old bourbon distilled and aged at Midwest Grain Products (Formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana or LDI), a 5.5 year old rye whiskey also distilled at the former LDI and aged in the upper floors of the famed Stitzel Weller Warehouses in Kentucky, and finally an 8 year old peated Scotch whiskey from the Scottish mainland. Global blending anyone???

David Perkins is not at liberty to divulge the origins of the peated whiskey based on agreements (understandings rather) with the source distillery. And honestly, I’m sure some will complain about that, but I can live with not knowing. What I do know is High West is the first American Distillery (that I can recall) to produce a blended whiskey of this type.

It’s a wildly unconventional blend, and has a name that pays homage to the peat contained within. How does it taste?

High West Campfire Whiskey, 46% abv (92 Proof), $49.99/bottle

Color: Deep Golden/Amber

Nose: Bright and fruity up front with a tang of honey, golden dried fruits (apricot, apple, peach), hints of cinnamon, toffee, and only a lingering peat smoke note. The peat is faint as a whisper on the nose, but very much threaded throughout.

Palate: The bourbon and rye influence is felt first, balancing honey, dried golden fruits, and vanilla with a spark of the rye spices. There’s a bit more “zip” in the spice quotient on the palate. As these flavors fade, the smoke and peat adds a great deal of interest and needed complexity.

Finish: Quite fruity with lingering peat and a smoky quality.

Overall: Leave it to a bunch of whiskey outlaws in Utah to spit in the eye of conventional whiskey blending. The result is without question one of the most groundbreaking whiskeys of recent years. Overly dramatic? I don’t think so. High West has managed to “mingle” (Jim Rutledge term) global whiskeys into something that stands on it’s own. It’s not overly complex, but it works well together. I know what you may be thinking. This is a gimmick right? No, it’s not. Rather than be heavy handed with the peat, High West has shown a great deal of restraint with Campfire. The result is a whiskey that is livened up and made far more interesting with a kiss of peat. Unlike the name implies – there’s no fire here, just great whiskey.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)