Many years ago I had the insane delusion that I would someday taste whisky from every distillery on the planet. Then, the microdistillery industry took cues from the microbrewery industry and now it seems I would have to taste a dozen new whiskies a day just to keep up with the onslaught of new labels on the market. I suppose if nothing else it took the pressure off.
Smoke Wagon, a sourced bourbon from one such new-ish microdistillery, Las Vegas’s Nevada H&C (founded in 2010), uses a batching technique to combine older and younger barrels of MGP bourbon from Indiana – both high-rye mash bills – aiming for youthful rye spices paired with the richness of older bourbon. In this particular bottling, the bourbon is bottled at batch strength and is not chill-filtered. Normally at this point in the review I would wax eloquent about the vagaries and pitfalls of sourced whiskies but honestly if a sourced whisky is good (MGP usually is) and there’s at least some value-add from thoughtful blending, thoughtful barrel choice, or additional aging/finishing then I don’t have the energy to kick against it anymore.
My bottle is from Batch 105 at a batch strength of 56.59% ABV and was bottled in 2021.
Nose: Deeply woody and, yes, downright smoky. Charcoal, burnt caramel, flambéed cherries, and birch beer. Good balance of sweetness, and surprisingly low nose tickle.
Palate: Syrupy body. Strong, prolonged, (and delayed) tongue burn, fire to go with the smoke. After it clears, there’s campfire-blackened marshmallow, cherry pie filling, cocoa nibs, and cinnamon red-hot candies.
Finish: Medium length. Whipped coconut, dry charcoal, hazelnuts, and very little tannin (not drying). Fades slowly without evolving.
With Water: Several drops of water add a significant amount of sweet vanilla, making this smell downright dessert-like. The palate seems unchanged, but the finish might be a bit livelier. Try this both without and then with water.
Overall: It does what it says on the tin. This is unusually smoke-tinged bourbon, with a strong aroma, a righteous tongue burn, and a bevy of concentrated, hard-hitting bourbon flavors. If you find it a little dry you can easily fix that with a few drops of water. I think this is priced well if you can find it on the lower end of the range, as $60 or $65 for good cask-strength bourbon (emphasis on the “good”) is not a bad deal these days. I would certainly consider buying further releases from Smoke Wagon after tasting this.