1 of 2
A tour of the the A. Smith Bowman distillery makes for a spirited trip. Photo by Chris Dovi
2 of 2
Caroline Street features beautiful Colonial and Federal-style architecture. Photo courtesy Fredericksburg Area Tourism
Nothing says vacation like two shots of 10-year-old single barrel whiskey before noon on a Thursday morning, followed by a shot of 80-proof rum, another of corn vodka and a chaser of gin. Actually, activities like that tend to badly affect your ability to say "vacation," but that's what I mean. Luckily, the shots we're talking about are sampler-sized and were drunk during one heckuva super-informative tour of the Smith Bowman distillery just minutes from historic downtown Fredericksburg.
The tour is one to remember — assuming you're conservative about your sampling — and despite its over-21 subject content, the distillery is an awesome event for any age group that enjoys mixing science, history and extremely nerdy craft-whiskey fun.
From its copper distillery tank with its Weird Science -esque condenser affectionately named "Mary" after the Bowman brothers' mother, to the artistry of the handmade wooden barrels used to age, sometimes for decades, the high-octane, high-end and small-batch liquors produced at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery (540-373-4555 or asmithbowman.com ), the tour is worth the time and cost (it's free).
Founded in 1934 after Prohibition, the distillery was started by a grain farmer in Rappahannock County, with his sons following the tradition. In 1988, it moved to Fredericksburg.
The day I toured in June was a banner day at the distillery, located on the scenic Deep Run Lake. Abraham was available.
This Abraham is no vampire hunter; rather, he's a remarkably smooth and extremely limited edition 17-year-old, 147.5-proof, uncut and unfiltered whiskey that'll set you back on your heels — and set you back most of a Franklin note if you pick up a bottle at your ABC store or in the distillery gift shop.
Trust me, it's worth the price. And as noted, so is the tour, which is available Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. or by appointment. Groups larger than 10 can be accommodated with prior notification.
Fun fact: The longer whiskey ages, the more of the whiskey inside the barrels "disappears." As much as 10 percent of the volume of liquid that's poured in is gone by the end of the first year. With a craft-distilled 17-year-old whiskey like Abraham, a 53-gallon barrel may yield only 10 gallons of finished product.
Called "the angel's share" by distillers, this disappeared whiskey leaves a heavenly nectar behind for mere mortals to enjoy. Another product derived from the aging process is "barrel candy," a sticky, condensed whiskey paste that seeps from a cask's seams.
Amid the beautiful Colonial and Federal-style architecture of Caroline Street, the town's main drag, is a wonderful way to continue a brewery or distillery-themed tour. The Rising Sun Tavern (540-371-1494 or preservationvirginia.org ) is a circa-1760 tavern museum. Once the home of George Washington's youngest brother, Charles, the beautifully preserved and restored building is a museum dedicated to tavern life of the 18th century.
Notably, Charles lived in the home for 20 years, but he never ran it as an inn or tavern. Also interesting, according to the museum's docents (who wear period clothing and interpret life in the tavern), it may be about the only Washington site in existence that explicitly claims that George Washington never slept here.
"But he probably dined here," explains Ruthie Boynton, one of two interpreters there the day I dropped by.
The $5 tour is informative and includes a chance to see the bar in the taproom kept for commoners (gentlemen had their own salon on the other end of the house). The original bar — with the bars still on — is still there. Yes, the name "bar" comes not from the tabletop counter running its length, but from the fact that bars of earlier times resembled high-security bank windows to protect the barkeep during frequent brawls.
Sadly, the tavern no longer is open for business. That ended in 1827, when the tavern's license was revoked by the town ("probably too much tippling on Sunday, we think," Boynton explains with a wink and a nod), but visitors still can stay nearby. The Schooler House Bed and Breakfast (540-374-5258 or theschoolerhouse.com ) , an 1891 residence painted in relatively subdued Victorian colors of green and burnt umber, is right across the street.
A little bit of Richmond is right nearby. At the other end of Caroline Street, The Chimneys, a 1730s home that's likely the oldest on the block, is the latest in the constellation of restaurants started by the Richmond partnership that also owns F.W. Sullivan's and Lady N'awlins Cajun Cafe, both on Main Street in Richmond.
The Chimneys ( 623 Caroline St.) takes a bit of a higher-end approach than either of the other ventures. The place, which was still being renovated when I dropped by but is expected to open in late July, has the feel one might have expected at the Rising Sun Tavern 200 years ago.
Another spot on Caroline Street that's drawing rave reviews in FoodE (pronounced 'foodie,') a farm-to-table restaurant where you walk up to the counter to order lunch or dinner. Brunch is available at FoodE. ( 540-479-1370 or foodeonline.com ) on Saturdays and Sundays.
Looking for more to do? Shops along Caroline Street run the gamut from astrologers to antiques, two music shops, boutique clothing stores, Civil War curio shops and the aptly named Sorry Mom Tattoo (540-373-2443 or sorrymomtattoo.com) , for the tourist who wants something permanent to commemorate the trip.