Virginia’s Oldest and Most Award Winning Distillery

A Look Back at America’s “Native Spirit” for Bourbon Heritage Month

Bourbon lovers raise a glass, it’s officially Bourbon Heritage Month!

Back in 2007, a resolution was passed by the U.S. Senate that declared September the month to celebrate our favorite distilled spirit (but we won’t judge you if you celebrate every month). Every year, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery team comes together with other bourbon enthusiasts to appreciate the history, craftsmanship, and milestones of our favorite bourbon whiskeys — and how it has shaped our Distillery’s heritage. So, grab a glass of John J. Bowman Single Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey because it’s time to dive into the history of America’s spirit at our Fredericksburg Distillery.

Tiling the land at Sunset Hills Farm in Reston, VA, circa 1930.

The Birth of American Whiskey

Bourbon was born out of ingenuity on the American frontier — and every drop of this distilled spirit reflects the history of our nation.

The Scottish, Irish, and other European immigrants who settled in America during the late 1700s brought with them farming and distilling knowledge from their respective countries. During this time, corn, a sugar-rich crop, was everywhere. By combining new-world mash with old-world techniques, these thirsty settlers set the stage for America’s spirit. Throughout the 1800s, bourbon became ever-growingly popular (and more cost-effective than importing fancier foreign liquors.)

A team member at A. Smith Bowman Distillery preparing white oak barrels, circa 1950.

Why is Bourbon Called Bourbon?

The naming of bourbon has a conflicting history and is still shrouded in mystery to this day.

Some believe the name traces back to French royals with the surname of Bourbon. The House of Bourbon’s history reaches as far back as the mid-13th century and boasts descendants famous in French culture.

Others, however, believe the spirit was named for Bourbon County, Kentucky, where much of our favorite boozy elixir was originally distilled during the 19th century.

Regardless of which origin story you believe, at least we can all agree on one thing — the delicious taste of bourbon!

Aerial view of the 4,000-acre Sunset Hills Farm on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. in Fairfax County, Virginia, that A. Smith Bowman purchased in 1927

The Beginning of Virginia Bourbon

In 1927, our Distillery’s founder A. Smith Bowman purchased a 7,200-acre Sunset Hills farm in Fairfax County to open a dairy and granary. His fields were so abundant, that he needed a use for all his excess grain — a decision that shapes our history and has led to some of the best bourbon whiskey in the world. With the help of his two sons, he produced the first-ever batch of distilled, aged, and bottled Virginia Gentleman.

Until the 1950s, A. Smith Bowman Distillery was the sole producer of legal whiskey in the entire Commonwealth. Since then, our Distillery has become Virginia’s oldest and most award-winning Distillery, paying homage to the history and spirit of the early entrepreneurs of American bourbon and especially the historical family lineage of our founder.

A. Smith Bowman Distillery worker checking the bourbon barrels

Virginia is for Bourbon Lovers

In 1988, A. Smith Bowman Distillery moved from Northern Virginia to our current location in Fredericksburg, Virginia, allowing us to shift our focus to producing premium handcrafted small batches and experimental editions that embody innovation and our pioneer spirit. We continue to build upon our culture and heritage to this day, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by both the distilling industry and bourbon fans everywhere. Since winning “World’s Best Bourbon” titles in 2016 and 2017 at the World Whiskies Awards, A. Smith Bowman Distillery has become Virginia’s most award-winning Distillery with numerous awards for our hand-crafted spirits, including the coveted Chairman’s Trophy at the 2021 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, multiple Double Gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the Brand Innovator of the Year award at the Whiskey Magazine’s 2022 Icons of Whisky America.

While the road of bourbon is a long (and delicious) journey to travel, with over two centuries of history intricately interwoven with our country’s past, it’s a spirit that’s always been reliably there. We’ll be sure to keep raising a glass to that — today and tomorrow. Ready to see the history of Virginia Bourbon in action? Book your complimentary tour and tasting today of our hardworking bourbon Distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia!