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Distilled in the Southland (part 1 of 3) – Bowen’s Spirits

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Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, is known as one of the preeminent cocktail bar destinations. But the Southland’s alcohol manufacturers are often overlooked, more’s the pity. This three part series examines three independent local spirit producers. Act One: Bowen’s Sprits.

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Based in Bakersfield, the oil boomtown that took a huge hit from the housing crisis, Wade Bowen and his wife JoJo are young babes in the volatile liquor market. Their first product, Bowen’s Whiskey, debuted mere months ago, and is still taking its first steps onto the national market.

Wade learned a secret proprietary recipe from Old Bud, a fifth-generation moonshiner dating back to the American Whiskey Rebellion. “Making whiskey is not a process but an art,” said Bud. After months of trial and error, Wade refined his art of American whiskey into a spirit that has a fiery nose but smooth and sweet vanilla and caramel notes that increase with a few drops of water. Most spectacularly, it leaves a specific smoky finish. After informal tasting, friends of the Los Angeles Cocktails Examiner repeated one comment: “It’s not peaty,” referring to the signature peat flavor of Scotch. No, it’s not peat. This is American whiskey (of which Scotch is a subcategory, as is bourbon), with a distinct campfire smoke finish. It will remind you of hiking, trails, tents, and the great outdoors. At 90 proof you’re going to rough it with each sip, but you won’t be eaten by ABV bears.

Bowen’s has a cheeky attitude, demonstrated as they “strive to embody its hometown’s history of grit and innovation by turning out an original spirit that bucks the crowd.”

The disconnect for this Examiner, however, is in the bottle, which is shaped like a California wine container. It looks too elegant with the long neck, too urbane for the rural dust disposition of the dark amber liquid. According to Wade other bottles were tried, but the labeling machines weren’t configured for them, and hand-labeling their first batch of 10,000 was infeasible—all evidence of the difficulties thrust upon small, independent makers. The label, though has a simple campfire logo and the slogan “A Small Batch Handcrafted American Whiskey – Each smooth and smokey batch has its own unique character...just like you.”

Here in Los Angeles, Bowen’s is carried by the Whale & Ale Pub in San Pedro, and recently premiered at the formal movie theater now locavore gastropub Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, which only serves food and drink made in California. To purchase ($36.50), check out Bar Keeper in Silverlake, which carries it because Joe Keeper, the proprietor, saw JoJo's Ducati keychain at a motorcycle race and asked "Do you ride?" When she said yes, Joe said "I like you, I'm going to carry your liquor!"

And you, too, should try a ride aboard this decidedly rustic American renegade whiskey.

Check out the slideshow for more pictures and cocktail recipes.

DISCLOSURE: In addition to free bottles and a comped Mohawk Bend dinner, Bowen’s Spirits sponsored the 2011 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival®, produced by Aaron Vanek, the Los Angeles Cocktails Examiner.

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