Abraham Bowman whiskey, which is produced in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is named for the only field officer who commanded the 8th Virginia for its entire two-year existence. Originally distilled by his descendants, the whiskey is an excellent tribute.
Americans drank rum in colonial times. After the Revolution, however, they drank whiskey. Rum was made from Caribbean molasses, but whiskey was purely home-grown. “The Revolution meant the decline of rum and the ascendancy of whiskey in America,” writes Mary Miley Theobald. “When the British blockade of American ports cut off the molasses trade, most New England rum distillers converted to whiskey. Whiskey had a patriotic flavor. It was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain.”
Nowhere was whiskey more popular than on the Virginia frontier. Whiskey came to America with the “Scotch Irish” who settled the frontier of Virginia, the same areas that produced the 8th Virginia Regiment. After the war, many 8th Virginia men led their families and neighbors into the woods of Kentucky. Abraham Bowman was among the very first to go. They began making whiskey out of corn, aging it in charred oak barrels, and (eventually) calling it "Bourbon."
Abraham Bowman was commissioned in 1776 to be the 8th Virginia’s original lieutenant colonel. A year later he was promoted to colonel to replace Peter Muhlenberg, who became a general. The Bowmans were not Scotch-Irish; they were German. Abraham was a third-generation American, however, and by his time or soon after there wasn’t much difference. After a few more generations, the Bowmans were back in the Old Dominion, and opened a whiskey distillery the day after Prohibition ended. For many years it was the only legal whiskey distillery in Virginia.
The historical label is “Virginia Gentleman,” a serviceable bottom-shelf whiskey that is aged for just a few year. A. Smith Bowman Distillery, which was sold by the family to the Sazerac Company in 2003, also has a line of award-winning top-shelf whiskeys named after members of the family’s Revolutionary War generation: Bowman Brothers, Isaac Bowman, and John J. Bowman. These are the labels for the company’s small batch, port barrel finished, and single barrel labels.
The Abraham Bowman label is reserved for experimental whiskeys that are released once or twice a year in small quantities. There have been cider finished, “double barrel,” wheat bourbon, vanilla bean infused, coffee finished, and port wine finished versions. The port finished bourbon won a “world’s best bourbon” award in 2016 and became a regular product under the Isaac Bowman label. Since then, a bottle of Abraham Bowman whiskey has become very hard to acquire. To get one, a person has to stand in line at the distillery on the day of release or win a lottery conducted by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
If you live in Virginia or are ever driving through the state on Interstate 95, can stop in and take a tour of the distillery. You can go home with a bottle of good whiskey, but don’t count on a bottle of Abraham Bowman. It’s a safe bet they’ll be sold out.
is researching the history of the Revolutionary War's 8th Virginia Regiment. Its ten companies formed on the frontier, from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh.
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