By Michael W. Harris
Type: Dry Gin
Botanicals: Juniper and “other botanicals”
Base: Grant Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: Small batch, but no other information.
I first discovered the Bowman Distillery during my ten months living in Virginia through their whiskies. During a visit by a friend, we explored one of their offerings, which he was quite taken by, so when I saw that they made a gin, I snatched up the bottle from the local Virginia ABC store. It has taken me quite a while to get around to reviewing the bottle, but it was a moment I was genuinely looking forward to…
In stark contrast to last week’s 57% ABV “navy strength” gin, Sunset Hills is a downright water-like 40%. In addition to that relatively weak alcohol content, I also had a hard time finding any solid information on the botanicals and distilling process for the gin, so I did not have a lot to go on when hunting for flavors besides the vague information of “other botanicals” listed on the bottle.
Still, I feel confident in my final assessment of Sunset Hills Pioneer Spirit Gin by the A. Smith Bowman distillery, so let’s get to it.
I opened up the Bowman gin while cooking dinner one evening (12/5), and found the attempt to cook, sip, write, and talk to my dining companion a challenging balancing act indeed. And while the Sunset Hills started off well enough, it did not hold up as the evening went on and the salmon made its way into the oven.
On the nose, Sunset Hills has a pleasant aroma: citrus, juniper, and only the barest hints of alcohol in the scent profile. It seemed to be setting up well for a nice, if uninspiring, drinking experience. If only it had turned out that way.
On both the palate and finish, Sunset Hills is just…bland. It has a good balance of flavors, but those flavors are subdued to the point of almost being non-existent. Similarly, the gin is smooth, but too smooth. There is nothing exciting about it and no stand out experience. And really, it feels like a gin for people who don’t like alcohol, and gin in particular.
Gin and Tonic
This feeling continued into my favorite type of cocktail. For as truly wonderful an experience as the Hayman’s and tonic was, the Sunset Hills variety was uninspiring when I had it (12/6). There is the barest hint of citrus in the mix, probably brought out a bit by the lime, but the entire cocktail feels like it was watered down.
It lacks bite or a distinctive taste. There is almost no aftertaste or burn on the back end. Nothing lingers in your mouth. It reminds me more of drinking flavored mineral water than having an alcoholic beverage. And while I love my La Croix dearly, when I am drinking a cocktail, I want to know that I am drinking a cocktail.
The word that keeps coming to mind to describe Sunset Hills is, “meh.”
If there was one drink that I thought that Sunset Hill’s lack of distinctive taste might work to its advantage, it was in a Pink Gin (12/8). With no overwhelming, spicy botanicals to accentuate the bitters, the Pink Hills might just be tame enough to be drinkable.
And at first taste, it isn’t bad…but it isn’t all that exciting either. It is neither good nor bad, it just is. There is the barest hint of booze on the back end as well, but it is still just a bit too tame to be exciting to drink.
This review has been rather lukewarm, and that is because Sunset Hills Pioneer Spirit Gin is exactly that. It isn’t bad, by any measure. It just isn’t great. It sort of there, existing as a thing; bland, uninspired. I really have no idea what Bowman was going for here, but part of me hopes that this is not what they had hoped to create. I also hope that maybe they try again. But for now, why I do not feel like I can rank this below Middle Shelf, know that it is a rather LOW middle shelf ranking.