Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
We love history. Humans, I mean. We love it. There are books, movies, plays, artwork, entire colleges that are dedicated to studying and sharing it with humanity. Such love extends to ancient times with cultures telling the stories of their history, as with the Iliad and Odyssey. One reason I think we do this is because history gives us the chance to see a person’s whole story. We don’t know how we’ll die or what will happen to us tomorrow, but for historical figures, we can see the entire arc of their life. It’s scary, inspiring, joyful, saddening, all because we see ourselves reflected in others’ experiences, wondering if our story will be the same.
The history of the bourbon industry is no exception, with maybe a little less gravitas than the Greek poems. Today, I want to talk about Mary Dowling, the “Mother of Bourbon.” “Long obscured by the mists of time, Mary Dowling’s story is one of the most motivational and compelling in the annals of whiskey-making,” said Kaveh Zamanian, founder of Rabbit Hole Distillery and co-founder of the new enterprise: Mary Dowling Whiskey Company.
Born in 1959 in Bourbon County, the Kentucky native married into whiskey, with her husband being an established cooper (making barrels) and distiller. By the mid 1880s, she and her husband owned three distilleries. The family businesses thrived through 1920, when prohibition hit. Dowling turned to bootlegging, which ultimately resulted in criminal charges being filed and later convicted on members of her family. She pivoted, moving her whole distilling operation to Juarez, Mexico, which survived until the 1970s, though Dowling passed away in 1930, just prior to prohibition ending.
The Mary Dowling brand, in August, released the first two whiskeys in its lineup: the Mary Dowling Toasted Double Oak Barrel and Mary Dowling Tequila Barrel, both of which I would categorize as “experimental” whiskeys, one being a finished bourbon and the other using two separate toasted oak barrels to age the product. According to Mr. Zamanian, “We wanted to create a whiskey to honor her extraordinary character, celebrate her legacy and her iconic distillery, Waterfill & Frazier. We are excited to finally share two original expressions, which are meant to be savored while toasting to the unstoppable spirit of Mary Dowling.”
I was tremendously excited to try the Mary Dowling Toasted Double Oak Barrel bourbon. As a huge fan of heavily oaked bourbons (Woodford Reserve Double Oak and Elijah Craig 18 are two of my favorites), the combination of two oak barrels and toasted barrels will up the wood notes even more.
Toasting a barrel is different than charring – think toasting a marshmallow rather than lighting it on fire, as a barrel can be both toasted and charred. Toasting allows for a deeper penetration into the wood and introduces flavors of vanilla, coconut, nutmeg, and caramel.
For this expression, the makers chose to age the bourbon in two toasted & charred barrels, the first featuring a heavy toast and Char #3 for darker and richer flavors, the second being a light toast and Char #1 for softer creamy flavors. While the spirit has no age statement, because it’s titled “straight bourbon whiskey,” you can be assured it’s a minimum of 4 years old.
Vital Stats: No age statement (NAS); wheated mash bill; aged in two toasted American Oak barrels; 107 proof (53.5% ABV); $130/750ml
Appearance: Sunset and cognac orange.
Nose: Heavy nutmeg, cloves and wildflower honey swirl within a Spanish cedar cigar humidor.
Palate: Smooth dark cherries, milk chocolate and roasted chestnuts start off the dram. Delicate cinnamon dusted on and a roaring barbeque honey glaze fill the palate, finishing on ground coffee beans and a cayenne tingle.