Picked up a bottle of the Bowman Brothers Small Batch on Thursday; drank some over the weekend. First impression was not positive; I was getting an unsophisticated burn before and after a mid-mouth taste of wet oak. It felt like lighting a piece of wood on fire and then chewing on it. This was in a bourbon tasting glass with a little shaved ice.
Second and third tastings were in Manhattans, dry and sweet, and here the bourbon started to shine. The Vermouth really smoothed off the alcohol heat for me, and previously too-strong wood taste resolved into currents of black pepper, leather, and something kind of fruity that I can't quite put my finger on. Possibly the Vermouth itself coming through there. Anyway, score one for Bowman; these were two very tasty Manhattans, and the first bourbon I've tried in a while that performed equally well with both dry and sweet Vermouth.
Today I spent some time tasting it neat, no ice. Still a bit too strong on the alcohol burn for my taste. But at room temp, more of the flavor profile I was tasting in the Manhattans could linger than in the first tasting over ice. More of the leathery notes and black pepper, with the latter lingering as the alcohol heat faded. Again, something fruity, though somewhere between cherry or currant and vanilla. Much tamer oakiness. Tasted great alongside a little dark chocolate and salt. Not a particularly deep or complex bourbon, but not a one-note either.
Bottom line: One of the worst first impressions I've had in a long time, but worth sticking with it on further tasting. Ultimately a very good mixing bourbon, and an acceptable sipping whiskey. A little overpriced for my taste at $30; I'd find it a much better value at $23. Good enough to make me very curious about the John Bowman Single Barrel and the Abraham Bowman Rye. I like to have a Virginia spirit on hand for guests, and the Bowman Brothers Small Batch is certainly more than adequate to fill that niche in my bar.
Any news on a 2010 release of the Bowman Single Barrel and/or Rye?