A. Smith Bowman Distillery: Meet Virginia Makers

A. Smith Bowman Distillery Shows its Virginia Spirit through Innovation and Historical Tradition
The World’s Best Bourbon for Two Years Running Made Right Here in Virginia

As a small and privately-owned company, A. Smith Bowman Distillery is proud to share the history behind its strong Virginian roots, offer complimentary tours and tastings on a regular basis, and put its operation on the map as home of the “World’s Best Bourbon” two years in a row. Through these things and more, A. Smith Bowman shows its Virginia spirit.

While our distillery operation may be small, it has made an impact that stretches across the globe.

In 2016, following rigorous blind taste testing, Whisky Magazine named the distillery’s Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon Whiskey the “World’s Best Bourbon”, but it didn’t end there. This year, we were again awarded this distinction, but for its John J. Bowman Single Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

These distinguished recognitions, among many others our distillery has received, can be attributed partly to our dedication to remaining true to tradition while embracing innovation and creativity throughout our journey.

With a history dating back more than 80 years, A. Smith Bowman Distillery is Virginia’s oldest operating distillery.  Our history began in 1927 when A. Smith Bowman purchased the Sunset Hills estate farm in Fairfax County, Virginia, and opened a dairy and granary. After the repeal of Prohibition in the state of Virginia, A. Smith Bowman built and licensed the distillery, and used grains from the farm to begin distilling spirits. In 1988, the distillery moved 60 miles to our current location in Spotsylvania County near Fredericksburg, where we operate as a micro-distillery producing premium, award-winning, hand-crafted spirits.

A. Smith Bowman’s strong Virginian roots go deeper and even intertwine with notable historic figures like John Adams and John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan and James Madison.

A. Smith Bowman Jr.’s daughter married Jay Adams, who had grown up on the farm adjacent to the Bowmans. Jay descended from John Adams, John Quincy Adams and James Buchanan. Mary Hite Bowman, who was the mother of the Bowman brothers, also had a nephew, Isaac Hite, who married James Madison’s sister.

The distillery’s long history plays an important role in everything at A. Smith Bowman. This includes the spirits the distillery creates, as well as the names of the stills and the legacy that is shared with visitors from all over the country, and even abroad, to tour our facility.

A. Smith Bowman has two flagship bourbons: Bowman Brother’s Small Batch, and John J. Bowman Single Barrel. Bowman Brother’s is named in honor of John, Abraham, Joseph and Isaac Bowman, who were Virginia militia officers in the American Revolutionary War. 

With experimentation a main focus, the distillery also produces a series of limited edition whiskies named after Abraham Bowman, the commander of the 8th Virginia Regiment in the American Revolutionary War. Each edition of the Abraham line is a different expression, and a new release is offered a few times a year.

The Abraham Bowman series has released a number of experimental expressions, and in May we released the 16th release in the lineup. The series has released everything from Vanilla Bean Infused, to Coffee Finished Bourbon, to Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon to the Port Finished Bourbon, and much more.

The distillery is also home to George Bowman Colonial Era Dark Caribbean Rum, Deep Run Vodka, and Sunset Hills Gin.

In addition to our core line, the team at A. Smith Bowman is committed to producing innovative and creative spirits. In line with that goal is the installation of a new, custom micro still nicknamed “George,” which was named after the father of the pioneering Bowman brothers.

George is a 500-gallon hybrid pot still with a reflux onion, optional gin basket, and attached columns with bubble cap trays. These features allow Master Distiller Brian Prewitt to experiment with many different flavor profiles and a variety of spirits including vodka, gin, and whiskey.

In November 2016, our distillery launched a new line of experimental spirits, and introduced the first release ever made utilizing George. The first release was a custom gin recipe created by Prewitt called Rye Expectations Gin, and was sold in the A. Smith Bowman Distillery Visitor Center. The Experimental Series will include a wide variety of distilled spirits, including the aforementioned gin, and will grow to include different expressions of rums, vodkas, and brandies. The series will explore a wide variety of spirits delving into unique recipes, wood types, exotic fermentables, and the use of local ingredients such as grapes, apples, pears, grains, and much more. 

Separate from creating its own spirits, A. Smith Bowman Distillery often collaborates with other local Virginia businesses for bourbon releases. In 2016, the Distillery partnered with Richmond’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery to create the limited edition Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon. For this experimental release, we sent barrels which had aged bourbon for four-and-a-half years to Hardywood where they filled them with two special beers: six barrels-aged Gingerbread Stout and four barrels-aged Foolery Imperial Milk Stout. These beers aged for eight months before the barrels were emptied and sent back to us, to be filled for the last time with bourbon that had aged for nine years in new charred white oak barrels. The bourbon then finished inside these special barrels for 17 months.

On another occasion, the distillery worked with Rick’s Roasters to create the limited edition Abraham Bowman Coffee Finished Bourbon. We sent barrels which had previously held bourbon to Rick’s Roasters, who mellowed a special blend of African and South American 100-percent Arabica coffee beans in the barrels for two to five weeks. These barrels were then returned to the distillery, where they aged eight-year-old bourbon for three months.

We also regularly collaborate with local Virginia businesses and charities to host special events. A. Smith Bowman Distillery’s rustic space and aging barrels make it a popular rental space for events of all kinds. In addition, we  host several events throughout the year, including its annual Father’s Day Festival. The signature event showcases a variety of local vendors at the distillery, and also features live music, food trucks, and of course local spirits and distillery tours. The distillery has also hosted the Grapes and Grains Trail Holiday Spirits Festival, in which the public is invited to check out local vendors and shop for holiday gifts while enjoying local beer and spirits and live music.

On a regular basis, the distillery welcomes guests from all across the country for complimentary tours and tastings. Each tour is rich with history and information about distillation, and gives visitors a look into the aging warehouses, and the barrel dumping and distilling processes. Visitors also get to see Mary, the pot still named after Mary Hite Bowman, and of course George, the new micro still.

Tours and tastings are offered Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tasting Notes:

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon: 90 proof
The nose is warm like a Virginia summer. Its complex flavor has hints of vanilla and oak while the finish is smooth and mellow.

John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon: 100 proof
A complex and fragrant nose is followed by a flavor profile with hints of toffee, leather, figs and almonds and a long smooth finish.

Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Whiskey:
Each release is an entirely new expression that offers different aromas, ages and complex flavors. Collectors and connoisseurs will surely appreciate these one of a kind whiskeys.

Deep Run Vodka: 80 proof
Named after the freshwater lake out front of the distillery this seven times distilled vodka has a wonderfully smooth and perfectly clean taste.

Sunset Hills Gin: 80 proof
Distilled with juniper, citrus and other botanicals, this gin boasts a fresh aromatic nose and an amazingly light and smooth taste.

George Bowman Colonial Era Dark Caribbean Rum: 80 proof
The subtle aroma of coconut and vanilla are followed by the rich flavors or molasses, honey and brown sugar.

A. Smith Bowman Experimental Series: Limited Edition
Each release is an entirely new experiment that pushes the boundaries of gin, vodka, rum and brandy production by delving into unique recipes, wood types and exotic fermentables.

Mary Hite Bowman Caramel Bourbon Cream Liqueur: 34 proof
Bourbon is blended with dairy cream and caramel to create this dessert-like beverage. Enjoy chilled in a glass or over your favorite vanilla ice cream.