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Whiskey Review: Abraham Bowman High Rye Bourbon

Abraham Bowman bourbon is made in Kentucky by the Buffalo Trace Distillery and then redistilled, aged, and bottled at the A. Smith Bowman facility in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (This is what is generally believed to happen anyway. Sazerac, the owners of Buffalo Trace, are quiet about some of the details of this whiskey.)

The Bowman company has been using the Abraham Bowman brand in recent years to release experimental versions of the company’s whiskey. (I reviewed one of their standard bottlings, the John J. Bowman bourbon, a few years back.) The Abraham Bowman line has included such things as bourbon with a coffee or vanilla bean finish, and even whiskey aged in barrels previously used to hold Gingerbread Beer.

Does it work? The verdict is usually mixed (isn’t the verdict with whiskey almost always mixed?), but these limited edition bottlings have become highly desired among bourbon fans.

The latest is a “High Rye” bourbon, which means a bourbon that contains a high percentage of rye as the “flavor grain,” along with the requisitie majority of corn. (For more of the specifics about what makes bourbon, see the Professor’s Bourbon 101 post.) According to the distillery, this contains “five times more rye” than their standard recipe, which means this must clock in at something close to 50% corn, 45% rye, and 5% malted barley.

My particular bottle is Release #12, Bottle #1256. It was aged for 8 years and 10 months and bottled at 100 proof (50% abv).

The bourbon has a dark color in the glass — darker than I was expecting at under 9 years of age,  and has a strong smell of sweet fruit. (It made me think of bubblegum.) It also has strong ethanol vapors which prevented me from discerning much else.

The taste was equally fiery. I would have guessed this was higher than 100 proof if pushed. There is a lot of rye spice, some vanilla, and dry, almost bitter oak. Hardly any sweetness. Again, it seems older than its stated age; woody, and not necessarily in a good way.

The Abraham Bowman High Rye Bourbon felt somewhat thin in the mouth, although it did have a long, hot finish. The downside here is that I had to add a splash of water in order to appreciate more of the flavor, but that just made it even thinner.

I’m torn about this one. Looking at it as a bourbon, it doesn’t really match the profile I prefer. (I tend to go for wheaters like W.L. Weller, or just lower-rye bourbons like Elijah Craig.) But that doesn’t mean it’s bad — it just means it’s not for me. It certainly has a lot of flavor, even if I found it somewhat one-dimensional.

And if you look at it as a rye whiskey…Well, there are certainly a lot of ryes out there that I prefer for less money. (Like High West Double Rye or Templeton Rye, or just good old stand-by Rittenhouse Bonded.) Although I suspect that given the strength of this whiskey, it would make a very nice Manhattan.

Ultimately, I’d saw that the Abraham Bowman High Rye Bourbon is an interesting whiskey and worth trying, but I’m not sure I’d pay $70 for it again.