Rest in Peace, Truman Cox
We were shocked to learn about the sudden death of Truman Cox, master distiller at A. Smith Bowman distillery in Fredericksburg, Va. Truman died at his home Saturday night, February 9, after a brief illness. His death has left his many friends, at Bowman and Sazerac and throughout the industry, bereft and sorrowing.
Truman was born and raised in northern Indiana, listening to his grandfather’s tales of bootlegging during Prohibition. He got a degree in chemistry at the University of Central Florida and, after jobs with Disney World and NASA, he started on his true vocation in the spirits industry, learning quality control chemistry and the science of nosing and tasting whiskey. In 2004, he started at Buffalo Trace as a lead chemist.
That’s when I met Truman Cox. A pair of big guys who laughed a lot; we hit it off immediately. Truman became a solid source for information when I needed solid chemical explanations of processes for a story (he was invaluable on the sour mash story I wrote a few issues back), and was also a great euchre partner on numerous late nights during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
He enjoyed his work at Buffalo Trace, learning from master distillers Harlen Wheatley, Gary Gayheart, and Elmer T. Lee, for he wanted to create whiskey, not just test it for quality. In 2011 the call came. Truman was sent to the A. Smith Bowman distillery (which Sazerac had purchased) to run it as a craft distillery, a small production plant that would concentrate on cool stuff. He threw himself into the project, working on the distillery and the visitor center, reaching out to local businesses and civic groups, and quickly making Bowman a part of the community again.
While working to rebuild stocks and get a cash flow going with quickly produced gin and vodka, Truman also was able to mingle barrels of older stock that existed at the distillery in its small warehouse, creating several small batch Bowman whiskeys that were quite good. We debuted one of them at WhiskeyFest New York last fall; a bourbon finished in Virginia port barrels (that were originally Bowman bourbon barrels, re-used by the winery). It was a delicious whiskey, with a subtle sweet fruit influence from the wood. I discussed the whiskey on-stage with Truman, and at one point we simply sat there, sipping the whiskey in front of hundreds of guests, enjoying ourselves and grinning like fools.
Truman’s wife Susan and daughter Emmy were truly his delight. The love of the family was clear every time you saw them together. Truman had fun on his own — he rode his Harley-Davidson where it took him — but he loved the time he spent with his girls.
That’s where Truman was Saturday night, at the peak of his ambitions. A career that had led him to the demanding and rewarding master distiller position; a loving family; well-earned friends and fans. He had just adopted a dog, a Corgi mix, and we were all discussing possible names on Facebook that night. The girls wanted Flynn; Truman was holding out for Bung Hammer. He was laughing and joking right at the very end.
Truman made friends for bourbon everywhere he went. He led tours, he poured drinks, he cleaned the distillery bathrooms — literally! — as part of the master distiller job he’d earned and cherished. He died too young, and too soon, before we could really see what he could do.
Our sympathies go to Susan and Emmy, and Truman’s friends at the Sazerac companies.