Review: Bower Hill Bourbon Barrel Strength, Single Barrel, and Barrel Reserve
Bower Hill is one of many small, non-distilling producers that have been showing up on the whiskey shelves with greater frequency lately. But unlike most NDPs, this isn’t the typical MGP juice. Their four different bourbons are all sourced from an unnamed Kentucky distillery. Each release is made from a mashbill of 70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley and aged for 5-6 years, so the different offerings appear to be variations of the same sourced whiskey stocks.
The brand gets its name from the “Battle of Bower Hill” which was the site of the first bloodshed in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. You remember that one from history class, right? Veterans of the Revolution were just minding their business, enjoying the fact that they didn’t have to pay taxes to the British anymore, and along comes George Washington to tax the thing they loved most, whiskey. Bower Hill claims it is memorializing this event “by continuing the tradition of producing outstanding whiskey, no matter what the cost.” Let’s see how three of these whiskeys taste! (All but the Special Edition bottling are reviewed.)
Bower Hill Bourbon Barrel Strength – The nose on this whiskey doesn’t show much heat for a barrel strength. It’s burly with plenty of oak, newly-planed wood, and pencil shavings. Secondary notes of old leather add some complexity with hints of citrus and sweet cinnamon candy struggling to surface. The palate is candy sweet and oily with an immediate and significant heat. Atomic Fireball candies ride roughshod over the entry and linger well into the finish. Additional notes of wet oak and black pepper temper the heat and keep the experience from skewing too saccharine. Subtler flavors of orange marmalade and clove chewing gum flicker in and out. The medium-length finish is drying with fading notes of cinnamon rock candy and lumberyard. A touch of water cuts some of the heat but amplifies the sweetness. 118.8 proof. B / $130
Bower Hill Bourbon Single Barrel – The nose on Bower Hill’s single barrel offering again shows lots of wood but an equal helping of sweet cereal notes in the form of stillage and a touch of caramel corn. The palate is thin, but the heat is much better integrated than with the Barrel Strength. Notes of Honey Maid graham crackers, green apples, and cloves allude to apple pastries, but there’s no corresponding richness or oiliness to complete the experience. The finish is on the shorter side with a flash of candy corn and cinnamon sugar. 94 proof. B / $70
Bower Hill Bourbon Barrel Reserve – The nose on this whiskey finds even better balance than the single barrel with less of a burly oak note, sawdust and pine sap, and a more developed sweet side. Some of the raw grain is still there, but there are also baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, along with flamed orange peel and cocktail cherries. The palate, disappointingly, isn’t nearly as much of a departure. It’s thin and watery with fleeting orchard fruit notes and a bit of caramel sauce. The finish sees more water thrown on these already limited flavors, but mercifully, it doesn’t last long. 86 proof. B- / $42