After the repeal of prohibition, A. Smith Bowman opened his distillery and began the legacy of distilling Virginia bourbon. Now located 60 miles from its original location, the distillery served as the backdrop for the photoshoot for our newest collection of Short Run Shirting. After the photoshoot, we sat down with Mary, who serves as the distillery’s tour guide and events coordinator, to find out more about the distillery and the legacy of producing premium Virginia straight bourbon.
A bourbon distillery in Virginia is a bit of an anomaly, what is the reason for the large majority of bourbon distilleries being located in Kentucky?
Kentucky is the geographic location that bourbon originated. According to legend, bourbon began when the settlers of Kentucky began to send their distilled corn barrels down the river to New Orleans stamped with Old Bourbon County on them – because that is the place where they were sending it from. People in New Orleans loved it and would say ‘Send us more of that old bourbon.’ Many of the families that moved to Kentucky during the 1700’s that began distilling were the families that kept the heritage of distilling going.
What makes great bourbon?
The legal requirements of bourbon is that it must be a product of the United States, at least 51% corn, aged in new, oak, charred barrels for a minimum of two years. At least 60-70% of the flavors of bourbon come from the barrels. We use American white oak because it is pliable and porous. The porosity is important to us because the whiskey is going to interact with the barrel. During the summer months the wood expands and the whiskey soaks down into the wood and in the winter months the whiskey squeezes out. Constantly breathing and interacting, the whiskey goes in clear but comes out with the deep amber color.
How many bourbons and spirits are produced at the distillery?
We have three bourbons that we distill and age here. The Bowman Brothers which is the 7-year small batch, the John J. Bowman that is a 10-year single barrel, and our limited editions which are released every four to six months. We also produce 3 additional A. Smith Bowman spirits off site: rum, vodka, and gin.
Do you have a favorite?
I like them all in different degrees for different occasions. I like the John J. Bowman as straight sipping whiskey. The Bowman Brothers is a great whiskey for mixing and cooking. It depends on my mood as to which one I’m going to use.
Are there any aging techniques that the distillery has experimented with?
We have been experimenting with using wine barrels with a variety of thickness, oaks – French, American, and Hungarian, and toasts to age our bourbon. In the wine industry, the toasting of the wine barrels is what allows for different flavor profiles to be produced -such as the vanilla or spice toasting that we are experimenting with. Half of the barrels have been charred to classify them as bourbon and the other half is whiskey. We poured our spirits in them and these are set to age for 8 years. These will probably become a limited edition because if we really like them, it will take another 8 years to make them again. Also in the works is our bourbon aged in an apple cider barrel.
The distillery focuses on the production of small batch and single barrel spirits, how does this influence A. Smith Bowman’s commitment to craftsmanship?
There are only 7 of us that work here and this includes two production officers and the Master Distiller. One of the production officers, Jimmy, has been here for 23 years and we have a twenty-year supply of bourbon barrels in the bourbon aging room. Jimmy is the one that puts the bourbon in the barrels, takes it out of the barrels when aging and gets the bourbon ready for bottling. A single person bottles all the bourbon by hand. Our Master Distiller oversees the whole process and there are only three people involved in the entire production process from start to finish. The bourbon literally comes from our hands to your hands.
If you find yourself in the Spotsylvania area of Northern Virginia, stop by A. Smith Bowman Distillery for a tour and to purchase a few bottles of their premium spirits. Needless to say, several of us walked away with a few bottles after the shoot. Our newest collection of Short Run Shirting is now available.