Tribute to Bourbon Distiller I Never Met


March 29, 2013

I’ve never dealt well with death.

So, this whiskey, this small sample container that comes in the typical Buffalo Trace foamy shipping sheath, just sat in my holding pen since it’s maker’s passing. I won’t lie; tasting this whiskey, I thought, would send me to a sad state, so I avoided it.

This whiskey represented loss.

Truman Cox. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace
Truman Cox. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace

I never met Truman Cox, the master distiller for the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I hoped to shake his hand one day over a dram and learn about his distillery tactics. But, I never got that chance. He passed away February 9 at the age of 44.

Truman’s sudden passing sent ripples of grief through my small whiskey profession.

Writers, distillers, marketers, PR people and competitors were devastated by Truman’s passing. My Whisky Advocate editor-in-chief John Hansell wrote: “Truman’s wife Susan and daughter Emmy were truly his delight. The love of the family was clear every time you saw them together. Truman had fun on his own — he rode his Harley-Davidson where it took him — but he loved the time he spent with his girls.”

That is what I know of Truman, memories from others. My only real connection to him is this Port barrel-finished whiskey waiting for me to taste. I’m told this was his last batch bottled.

And now, I twist the sample red cap of the “Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon.”

Within a single whiff, I smell the Port influence. Rounded chocolate and cinnamon, the nose walks a fine line between sweet and spice. A second nose shows American oak’s influence of coconut, vanilla, caramel and hints of whipped cream and crème brulee. Without even tasting the whiskey, I realize this is the best bouquet of any port-finished whiskey. On a third nose, I am reminded of a Cognac I once had inside of the warehouse of Pierre Ferrand. How did a Port barrel yield Cognac aromas? This intense nose shows grains on the fourth try, and that’s when I know it’s time to taste.

Truman WhiskeyThe slight bite lingers with chocolate, vanilla, chocolate and spice caroming off my cheeks. The second nip packs an almost briny, perhaps salted caramel, lingering effect, a full mouth feel with balanced tannins dropping down. On the third taste, it’s the note I’ve been looking for, the woody cigar-box like moment in mid palate just sitting there, hanging around and finishing like a good Tawny port. This is an absolutely beautiful whiskey, a reminder that finishing in used European barrels works when done right.

The whiskey is gone. And, I think of the man who made it, his craft. How I wish I met him!

But, I was wrong. This whiskey is not about loss.

This whiskey is about life. A good life, that is.