Some whiskey brands dig deep into obscure history for their backstory, but Mary Dowling, the latest from Rabbit Hole founder Kaveh Zamanian, is a story I’m honestly surprised hasn’t been told yet. I had the opportunity to chat with Kaveh about his new venture at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September, and he gave me the short version of Mary’s story.
Mary and her husband John were partners in both life and business, owning and operating three distilleries together, including the famed Waterfill and Frazier. They were pillars of the business community and social scene in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky at the turn of the 20th century. When John died young, Mary took over the empire and became the only woman to run a major distillery. Not even Prohibition could stop her. When the government shuttered her distillery, she hired Joe L. Beam to relocate operations to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, famously preserving the Beam’s uninterrupted family legacy of distilling. That’s just the tip of the Mary Dowling iceberg, but thankfully a book is in the works, per Kaveh.
So, what’s in the inaugural Mary Dowling bottlings? The flagship is a unique high rye double malt bourbon (70% corn, 25% malted rye, 5% malted barley). In a nod to Mary’s exploits south of the border, it has spent 2-4 months finishing in tequila casks. The second expression is a style of bourbon we’ve yet to encounter from Rabbit Hole, a wheater made from a mashbill of 65% corn, 25% wheat, 10% malted barley. This double barrel offering has seen secondary maturation in a lightly toasted, #1 char barrel from Kelvin Cooperage and is bottled at cask strength. Let’s dig in!
Mary Dowling Bourbon Tequila Barrel – The aroma is pretty straightforward despite such a unique finishing with a spry mix of creamed corn, butterscotch candies, and cinnamon toast. As it opens, the finishing comes into play a bit more with subtle, green notes of cut grass and dried citrus peel. The palate is light and sweet with notes of candy corn and lemony sweet tea. A pleasant, warming rye spice arrives on the midpalate, adding some heft before dissolving into an easy finish of cracked pepper, agave syrup, and lime zest. This one won’t easily get pegged as a tequila-finished bourbon, and that’s perhaps for the best. Unique and engaging but a bit youthful for the price point. 93 proof. B+ / $75
Mary Dowling Bourbon Double Oak Barrel – With sufficient time to open, this one really sings in the glass. The aroma is rich and toasty with sandalwood and Chai spice, pipe smoke, and Bing cherry, all wrapped in dark brown sugar and clove syrup. All the makings of the perfect winter warmer. On the palate, it’s a bit of a stroll through the lumberyard, at least initially, with loads of sweet sawdust and seasoned oak. But once taste buds adjust to tannins in double-time, there’s something very close to harmony with notes of toasted coconut, crunchy chocolate cookies, grilled peaches, and cherry cordial all dusted in dark baking spice. While there are dry patches here and there, things remain silky and sweet for the most part especially on the long and warming finish accented by notes of cocktail cherry and Tootsie Roll. An impressive addition to the growing toasted bourbon category. 107 proof. A- / $130