A bourbon from Virginia…and Kentucky (sort of)October 20th, 2011
Truman Cox has moved from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky to replace retiring Master Distiller Joe Dangler at the A. Smith Bowman (ASB) distillery in Virginia, and he’s wasting no time. This just came in yesterday. (See picture.) It a limited edition bottling under the Abraham Bowman label, barrel proof (69.3%), and over 18 years old.
The whiskey itself also has ties to Buffalo Trace. It was actually distilled at Buffalo Trace, but then spent most of its life maturing in Virginia at the ASB distillery. This was explained to me in the press release that came with the bottle.
I’m pleased to see this distillery reinventing itself, even if in an unusual way. As Truman puts it: “ASB is coming at the micro-distilling level from a completely unique position. While other micros are starting from the ground-up and growing, ASB is redirecting from a large producer to a microdistillery.”
He continues: “While historically a full-scale producer and rectifier with large distribution, we are refocusing our footprint, home place, and marketing efforts at regional levels and practicing the flexibility and innovation that the microdistilling community is known for. We do not hide the fact that we purchase our starting material and source some whiskey from larger distilleries; other microdistilleries do this as well. We do our own distillation for our core whiskey. ASB has the fortunate luxury to source multiple starting distillates, which we will be blending before our distillation for future batches. This will allow us to compose an entirely new starting material to feed our still to come up with a whiskey distinctive to the distilling world.”
He goes on to say that this particular bottling came from Buffalo Trace, but continues by saying “However it has spent the better part of its barreled life aging in ASB’s distinctive warehouse. Since most whiskey men agree that the barrel and aging is where the predominant flavors come from, I believe we are offering an exception bourbon with a rare look at geographical distinction.”
Having just tasted the whiskey, I can say that I like the whiskey a lot. There’s no excessive oak, which I feared there might be for an 18 year old bourbon. It’s nicely balanced and flavorful.
I do not, however, envy Truman and the rest of the team at ASB when it comes to explaining in the future where their whiskies were distilled (or re-distilled), aged and bottled if they truly plan on being open and transparent about the source of their distillate (which doesn’t seem to be the case with this bottle–there’s no mention of it being distilled in Kentucky). To begin with, the vast majority of the general public thinks that bourbon is only made in Kentucky. And from what I am gathering here, some of the ASB releases down the road could be distilled in Kentucky, Kentucky and Virginia, or only Virginia before being matured in Virginia. (I’ll try to get Truman to clarify or confirm this.)
Good luck with that, because it won’t be easy.