Whisky Advocate

Rest in Peace, Truman Cox

February 13th, 2013

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 CoxTruman 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, tcoxwfny2012enjoying 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.

10 Responses to “Rest in Peace, Truman Cox”

  1. Jonathan Miller says:

    I met him at the WhiskeyFest seminars in NY. What a genuine individual and a passion for his whiskey. This is a real shock to to the industry. He will definitely be missed. Really sad to hear this.

  2. In With Bacchus says:

    This news really just broke my heart. Truman Cox was one of the reasons why I got into the beverage industry. I cold-called him through Sazerac to ask him about where to go with my life, really. I was going to be graduating in Chemical Engineering, a degree I really didn’t like. I knew distilled spirits was my passion but I didn’t know where to go from there. Truman took time out of his day to email me, back and forth over a few weeks, about HIS background, how he got started, and what I should do. He recommended my eventual graduate school, helped me get the application right, and gave me pointers on what to pay attention to and what was important in the industry. I finally got to meet him at Whisky Fest NY and when I clasped my hand in his it was like two brothers that had been apart for awhile. His warm, gentle demeanor, his heavy-handed pours of Bowman, and his broad smile reaffirmed everything that I had done up until that point. I will miss Truman, not as a distiller or chemist…but as a friend and mentor.

  3. Richard Turner says:

    I barely knew Truman, but was certainly a fan. I traded a few e-mails with him a year or more ago, and found him to be so very open, honest and forthcoming about anything he could help with. I immediately put it on my ‘bucket list’ to meet Truman face-to-face. Sadly, I won’t ever have that chance. My heart goes out to his family and close friends who must certainly be grieving and missing him terribly. He’ll be missed and mourned by many, I’m sure; I’m one.

  4. Gordon Dundas says:

    I had the pleasure of spending some great times in KY with Truman during many visits for Bourbon Fest and the like in my previous life with Whisky Magazine. A truly memorable man with a heart of gold and a humour that was infectious! I will miss him and will remember all the great times we had together! A true gent of the industry!

  5. Jim Haman says:

    I had the priviledge and honor to have known Truman for approximately 21 years. I first met him when I was a teenager, as he was my boss. Our friendship blossomed over the years, and I must say we grew closer and closer. He was one of my dearest and closest friends. As a matter of fact, Truman, Susan, and Emmy all came to visit me a couple weeks prior to his death as he was concerned about me after he learned of a life changing event that had occurred with me. We hunted together, drank together, laughed together, and of course ate together. He was one of the finest men I have had the priviledge to know and I am still beside myself after learning of his fate from Susan during the early morning hours. He is truly missed and since there are not many people equal to the caliber of person that he was: I am just out one hell of a great friend. RIP Tru!!!!

  6. Whiskylassie says:

    Being on the east coast, the story broke early. I was shocked and keeping my fingers crossed it was a mistake/rumor on twitter. It wasn’t. I felt a deep sadness only reserved for people I know closely even if I had never actually met Truman. He and I had chemistry, whiskey and age in common. I envied him for living the dream, for being such a great person and so much more. It’s hard to comprehend when we lose such wonderful people especially at their prime. My thoughts and prayers go to his family, Sazerac and all those whose life Truman touched. It is but a brief period of time we are here, we are fortunate to have had him for as long as we did. Deepest respects…

  7. robert pagan says:

    I didn’t know the man but my knewly found love for bourbon and this great comments in is blog makes me feel that I have missed a lot my not meeting him. My heart goes out to his girls my god bless you in this hard time. Robert

  8. Aaron Lloyd says:

    I remember meeting him at WhiskyFest NY as well last fall. He was a nice person and his smile was infectious. Will definitely miss him. :(

  9. PDD says:

    I met Truman at WFNYC last fall. Had a spirited, but respectful conversation on the evils yet necessities of cold filtration. He autographed a bottle of the A Bowman Special Release. Will be a special bottle.

  10. Mr. Julian says:

    I am shocked. I too met Truman at WFNYC, and was planning to take a tour of the A. Smith Bowman distillery soon. I do have a bottle of John J. Bowman bourbon on hand, (my favorite bourbon, bar none), so I shall be raising a glass to a great distiller.

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