Before Reston Was Reston: The Tale of A. Smith Bowman Distillery

In honor of Founders Day on April 11th we thought we’d dig a little deeper into Reston’s rich history and bring you something out of the ordinary. While we love the fact that our community was ground-breaking at the time and represented a new way of living in suburbia, we’ve often wondered what was here before 1964. Because, seriously, it wasn’t that long ago.

And then something caught my eye — that charming and dilapidated building on Old Reston Avenue. What was it? How long has it been there? Why hasn’t it been torn down and replaced by an office building?

I needed to know!


The story involves two men, Dr. C.A. Max Wiehle and Abraham Smith Bowman. Dr. Wiehle, a physician from Philadelphia, owned over 3,000 acres of land in this area where he founded a farming community called Wiehle (yes, the town was called Wiehle). He built this building in 1892 and used the first floor as a town hall and the second floor as a church.

After Dr. Wiehle died, the building changed hands and became a single-family home and then a general store. In 1927 Abraham Smith Bowman purchased the almost 4,000 acre estate, then called Sunset Hills, which included this building. Here, he operated a dairy farm and granary before realizing he had too much grain on his hands than he knew what to do with.

Lucky for him, Prohibition was repealed in 1934 creating a legal way for Bowman to process extra grain. The distillery was founded in 1935 and he originally used this building as a warehouse. Until the 1950s, the Bowman Distillery was the only legal whiskey operation in Virginia.

In 1947, Bowman acquired 3,240 additional acres making the tract the largest privately owned property in the DC Metro area until the 1960s. It was then sold to real estate developers and the rest is Reston history as we know it. However, about 60 acres, including the distillery, was sold back to Bowman’s sons and they continued to operate until 1988.


Because of rising real estate costs, the distillery eventually moved to Fredericksburg, VA where, to this day, they continue to produce innovative, small-batch whiskey, gin, rum and vodka.


You can visit the current distillery for a complimentary tour to learn about the journey from still to bottle as well as the mashing and barrel aging processes. Once in the barrel room, you’ll experience the “angel’s share.”

Bowman’s Mary Aherns tells me, “The “angel’s share” is the great aroma that you smell when you walk into the distillery — the part of our bourbon that we are “sharing with the angels.”

A Smith Bowman Distillery Reston Fredericksburg Virginia

Copper still “Mary” (left).

Bowman spirits are made on two copper stills that they have lovingly named “Mary” and “George.” Copper has been used for generations in whiskey distilling because it removes sulfur compounds from the alcohol resulting in a better tasting spirit. Both stills were custom-made by Vendome Copper Works in Kentucky. “Mary” is the workhorse that distills Bowman’s bourbon. “George” was installed in Febrary and is considered experimental. Their Master Distiller, Brian Prewitt, has been distilling a wide array of spirits for many years. His foodie mentality translates into the bottle via unique flavors and recipes. Every few months Bowman releases a new “expression” under the Abraham Bowman Limited Edition label. These are typically small batches and sell out fairly quickly.


Master Distiller, Brian Prewitt, inspecting a bottle.

This year is A. Smith Bowman Distillery’s 80th anniversary and they, like Reston, keep reaching new milestones. From a small pioneer operation off Sunset Hills to a growing facility in Fredericksburg, the story of Reston can’t be told without them.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service in 1999.

Photos courtesy of A. Smith Bowman Distillery.

A. Smith Bowman Distillery
One Bowman Drive At Deep Run
Fredericksburg, VA 22408


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Complimentary tours are offered Monday – Saturday every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.  The Gift Shop is open until 5 p.m. Bowman Distillery is an ABC store, so you can also purchase the spirits directly from them.

Locally, try their spirits at Tavern64.

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Tavern64 Regional Kitchen: Building Community with Local Food

  • gewald

    I still have some Virginia Gentlemen labels around somewhere that I picked up on a tour eons ago. And there used to be a water tower on the property that Herndon High School used to paint and one time I did with SLHS graffiti (Along with Kevin OHarrow). Hope the statute of limitations is over on that. Quite possibly the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done. The ladder didn’t have a safety cage on it.

  • I’ve often wondered about that building on Old Reston Pkwy, I drive past it every day on the way to work – now I know, thanks! Wonder what they plan to do with it?

  • Nils

    No pictures of a bottle of Virginia Gentleman? It’s the only Virginia Bourbon there is, and it was distilled right in Reston!