SMOKE WAGON UNCUT UNFILTERED
Batch 26 – bottled November 16, 2020
MASH BILL – MGP 36% rye mash bill
PROOF – 114.88
AGE – NAS (blend of 4 to 8 year bourbons)
DISTILLERY – Nevada H&C Distilling Co.
PRICE – $65
WORTH BUYING? – Yes siree!
Over the last year or two, Smoke Wagon has rapidly become a darling of the craft whiskey world—albeit a rather rough and tumble darling. “Darling” is hardly the descriptor one might first think of in relation to a Las Vegas brand with old fashioned pistols in its logo, nor with Aaron Chepenik, the master blender whose entertaining Instagram videos have done much to popularize the brand.
What I appreciated so much about the first batch of Smoke Wagon Uncut/Unfiltered I tried (bottled without a batch sticker in Summer 2020) was how like its maker it seemed—fun, friendly, hearty, kicky, and authentic. Watching Chepenik’s off-the-cuff videos, one gets a real sense of his personality and points of view. If he’s tasting a new blend for the first time and doesn’t like it, he says so plainly with a “Well, back to work.” And when he likes it, you can almost feel the bright sunshine of his delight emanating from the video screen.
From neck pour to bottle kill, my first experience with the Uncut/Unfiltered line was consistently stellar, demonstrating the good things that can come from sourced MGP whiskey (an increasingly ubiquitous phenomenon with each passing day) aged in a very specific climate and tended by someone with a very clear sense of their own tastes.
I’ll admit, when I first uncorked this Batch 26, I was disappointed. Out of the gate, it lacked that special spark, tasting very like many MGP sourced bourbons I’ve had—a bit general and uninventive. So I let it sit for a bit. A few days later, my experience was similar.
Now it’s about a week and half since uncorking, and I’m four pours into the bottle. Here are some brief notes taken in both a simple tumbler and traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – rich sepia-oranges
NOSE – bright cinnamons, oak in sunlight, rich and sweet caramel, candied ginger and mango, a dusting of fresh dried herbs
TASTE – sparkly, buttery, with caramel, cinnamon, bits of candied dried fruits, and a subtle almond butter note
FINISH – a peppery prickle on the sides of the tongue, the caramel, some chocolate sauce now, oak, and that lovely subtle almond butter note…
OVERALL – another friendly, spunky batch of bourbon from MGP via Las Vegas!
Now that’s more like it. The tasting notes are very like those of that Summer 2020 batch I had, only now with that extra sense of life about them I was missing in the first few pours.
Whereas I preferred the Summer 2020 batch in the tumbler, this batch I prefer in the Glencairn, where the darker sweet notes emerge more prominently to add depth to all the bright notes. Perhaps this glass is the key to this particular batch. Before now, I’ve only tried it in the simple tumbler and a basic brandy glass.
In any glass, the color is gorgeous, rippling in vibrant shades of earthy oranges. The nose is definitely more complex in the Glencairn. That’s not usually a surprise, given the Glencairn was designed for nosing and tasting. But as I said, and to my surprise, that Summer 2020 batch was distinctly more enjoyable overall in the tumbler. Just goes to show it’s worth having a few glasses at hand, to help find the one that for whatever inexplicable reasons shows off a given whiskey best.
Smoke Wagon’s Uncut/Unfiltered line is a good standard to keep on the shelf. Though I wish Nevada H&C Distilling well in all they do, I do hope their cult status does not eventually push them out to unicorn pasture. The current msrp price of Uncut/Unfiltered is worth paying. But with evermore MGP bourbons coming out in all shapes, sizes, proofs, and/or finishings, I wonder how much the market will bare. Without something distinctive to bring out of the everywhere-all-the-time MGP distillate, a bottler is merely one of many. Smoke Wagon’s distinction is, for me, its particular liveliness. It’s a genuinely fun bourbon to drink.
It helps that Chepenick keeps no secrets. There is no attempt to obscure the origins of the whiskey. The level of transparency, especially courtesy of the Instagram videos, is exceptional. This helps fans develop a legitimate familiarity, and a personal connection, with the product. That alone separates it from quite a lot of MGP-sourced endeavors. Any secondary bottler who still thinks it’s a good idea to downplay—or, worse, purposely mislead consumers about—their whiskey’s true origins is out of touch. Whiskey fans value authenticity because whiskey itself is authentic by nature. It’s people who spin the truth.
Smoke Wagon Uncut/Unfiltered ain’t lyin’.