One of the successful trends in American Whiskey, as it has been with Scotch Whisky, is the technique of finishing a whiskey (or aging for additional time) in a barrel other than the original aging barrel. There are a number of good reasons to finish a whiskey in another barrel, and most have to do with what that finishing barrel may have held prior to finishing (sherry, port, cognac, rum or other compatible spirits). When you age a wine or spirit in an oak barrel, the barrel absorbs a percentage of that spirit which can subsequently be released into whatever that barrel is used to age next. Finishing a whiskey in a sherry barrel, for example, will impart subtle sherry characteristics including color, flavor, and aromas.
Chris Morris from Woodford Reserve is notorious for his barrel finishing experiments within his Master’s Collection; in 2012, his tinkering resulted in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Whiskey. Instead of using a previously used barrel, Morris used a new French oak cask which was toasted rather than charred. The late Truman Cox, from the A. Smith Bowman Distillery, was also quite well known for his inventiveness and experimentation with whiskey. Although he has passed, some of the spirit that he distilled has made it into the latest release from A. Smith Bowman Distillery.
Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is unique in that it finishes a mature whiskey in another new American oak barrel which is then relocated to a different warehouse to age for an additional five months. With American Whiskey, the location where a barrel is aged can have almost as much impact as how long it was aged, a concept that can often be difficult for brands to communicate (but is well summed up in this video).
This bourbon was originally put into barrels on December 12, 2006 and transferred to new barrels on April 17, 2013. After aging an additional six months in Bowman’s standard Warehouse (A1), the barrels were then moved to the mezzanine of Warehouse K, and aged for an additional 5 months. The mezzanine allows for increased air flow around the barrels while also allowing the barrels to receive more scrutiny under the watchful eye of Master Distiller Brian Prewitt.
Abraham Bowman Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey (100 Proof / 50 % ABV, $69.99) – dark amber in color, this whiskey has the color of whiskeys twice its age, a noted impact from its additional time in a new barrel. While oak is a dominant aroma on the nose, it’s not the only aroma, with cinnamon, caramel, baked apple, allspice, pu-erh tea, and dark cherries underneath. Although oaky and spicy, the nose of the A. Smith Bowman Double Barrel isn’t vapory or overly sharp. The entry is explosive, like a double-barreled shotgun blast of oak to the palate. As with the nose, it’s not the only flavor there, although it’s quite dominant. Underneath the strong oak is caramel, strong cinnamon, dark cherry, and allspice (and this is all right out of the gate in the entry).
By the time we get to the midpalate, the wallop of oak from the entry has subsided and we’re left with a spicy but not singular midpalate. The midpalate is oak, black pepper, cinnamon, and clove. In the midpalate the caramel from the opening stretches out and reads a little more like marzipan. The finish is medium length, pretty dry, and is another real downshift in intensity with light lingering oak and clove spice.
It’s hard to complain that a double oak barrel matured whiskey is too oaky – this release is clearly aimed at bourbon fans who enjoy oak. From that perspective, the A. Smith Bowman Limited Edition Double Barrel Bourbon does a nice job of delivering strong oak whiskey without it being a singular experience. There’s some nice complexity on the nose which is also present at the end of the midpalate. The mouthfeel to start is also excellent, although from the midpalate on it thins out a bit. The finish is a also little shorter and drier than we prefer.
What A. Smith Bowman Distillery has managed to do is simulate some of the deep oak characters of an old bourbon while balancing it with the flavors and character of a younger whiskey. It’s an interesting experiment and one that will appeal to fans who like the bold, oaky experience of an older whiskey but can’t find bottles of the older stuff. Still, there’s no shortcutting time, and what we gain with flavor and balance we lose in complexity and finish. It’s not a perfect bourbon, but it still manages to offer a lot in an expression that is unique to the marketplace.