Distillery: A. Smith Bowman
Type & Region: Bourbon, USA
Aged: I think it was 9 years
Price: $50 MSRP, but usually far more than that
From the company website:
“Our John. J. Bowman Bourbon commemorates the great, great uncle of Abram S. Bowman, who founded A. Smith Bowman Distillery. We hand select some of the oldest barrels in the warehouse to produce a single barrel bourbon with hints of toffee, leather, figs, and almonds. John. J. Bowman was awarded World’s Best Bourbon in 2017.”
You may have already of John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon, the 100 proof and 8-9 year old Buffalo Trace-distilled (unknown mashbill) but Virginia-aged bourbon that is somewhat distributed nationally. But did you know that they also have a small barrel pick program? Every now and then, John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon store picks pop up, usually in the DC area (because the distillery is about 70 miles away), and a frenzy ensues in part because of the association with Buffalo Trace and how few picks are done. I personally also fall in line with the frenzy because I want to try to buy a bottle so I can review it.
In Spring 2021, Magruder’s, a grocery and liquor store in Washinton DC, released their John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon Magruder’s Select. I vaguely recall seeing the fact sheet and it stating that this was 9 years old, possibly nearly 10 years old. I previously reviewed their Widow Jane 13 Year Single Barrel Bourbon, which was great but slightly too watery, but I still don’t have a great understanding of their ability to pick barrels. Regardless, the “normal” John J Bowman Single Barrel is a already a very good bourbon that’s worth trying for yourself, so I’d like to think that a barrel pick is even better. Let’s find out if that’s the case in this John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon Magruder’s Select review.
John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon Magruder’s Select is sweet and herbal with a little earthiness. That means honey, licorice, fennel, baked apple and pineapple, black tea, roasted oak, vanilla, and orange peel with just a little kick. From memory at least, this pick is a tad more herbal and earthy than the non-store pick I reviewed. If anything, this smells similar to a Buffalo Trace mashbill #2 bourbon.
After swirling, I smell slightly darker honey, fennel, ripe pear, apple, roasted oak, cinnamon, toasted vanilla, and a little must and fragrant flowers. Every now and then I also get hints of roasted caramel. There’s this underlying thin layer of berry and green grape with something a little piney, all with hints of fruit tart. So overall, this John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon Magruder’s Select is a slightly more sweet, herbal, and fruity bourbon that brings nice fragrance like a better mashbill #2 bourbon, but it’s still not amazing (similar to Blanton’s Takara Red Bourbon). It teeters on the edge of being amazing, but for some reason even at 100 proof, it still lacks a certain depth and intensity to get me there.
This Magruder’s Select has nice honey, apple, and fennel up front (very much like a mashbill #2 bourbon), then vanilla cream, orange, licorice, roasted oak, green grapes, rosemary, clove and cinnamon. There’s a little alcohol bite, but nothing out of the ordinary.
“Chewing” gives me more sweet honey, licorice, apple, pineapple, green grape, dried orange, roasted oak, bubblegum, cinnamon, and rosemary towards the back. John J Bowman Single Barrel bourbon Magruder’s Select has a nice viscosity and flavor that’s easy to drink, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite stand out to me in any particular way. It brings a good range of flavors, but is somewhat straightforward and doesn’t quite bring the full course of flavors to be something excellent. It scratches the surface with all its traits and occasionally slightly breaks the surface, but never fully gets through it to cover my tastebuds in flavor. Then again, I’m still enjoying this a lot.
The finish has more of this oaked white wine type thing with brighter honey, white grapes, pineapple, oak tannins, and licorice. There’s definitely a longer lasting oaky dryness and grape skins. “Chewing” leaves me with the same white wine finish that fades into this light and refreshing sensation. It’s quite drying, but in a pleasant way.
Here’s the thing, the normal release of John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon is already a very solid bourbon, borderline great, and this particular single barrel follows in the same path but doesn’t further elevate it. This John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon Magruder’s Select is still a very enjoyable bourbon that’s easy to drink and brings a good amount of complexity, depth, and maturity, but it still can’t bring enough richness, variety, or intensity to get past the hurdle to “Top Shelf” whiskey. I’ll always be happy to drink it though, but preferably at the $50ish retail I usually find in the Mid-Atlantic. This isn’t a bad pick at all, but not necessarily noteworthy.
So my advice for you (take it if you want) – you’re probably going to have a nearly if not equally as good experience with the non-store pick Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon. I still think Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon may even a better experience, with many of the same fruity, herbal, and oaky traits, but in a far more luscious and memorable package. Then again, virtually every bottle of John J Bowmn (as well as Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon) is inherently different because it comes from a single barrel, so there often is variation (sometimes a lot of it). So long story short, John J Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon Magruder’s Select is very good, but the “normal” one is just as good and far easier to find.