Nevada H&C Distilling Co. was founded in 2012 by Aaron Chepenik and Jonathan Hensleigh in Las Vega, Nevada. Sourced from MGP in Indiana, the company ages their whiskey in the Nevada desert and leans on bespoke blending to differentiate their whiskey from other MGP sourced whiskeys. Their Small Batch and Uncut Unfiltered releases both come with a stamped wax seal of two crossed guns and the phrase, “Bibamus Moriendum EST” denoting, "drink, for we must die" or according to the company, “drink and enjoy today because we won't be around forever.”
Straight Bourbon is the lowest proof of the three offerings, and instead comes in a more traditional clear glass bottle with a screen printed front label bearing the same phrase. Like the other two offerings, Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon is non-chill filtered.
Caramel, honey, and vanilla form the base of aromas. They’re complemented by toasted oak and baking spices, which accent the sweeter notes successfully. Light and approachable, the aromas are pleasant and engaging.
Toffee, nutmeg, light oak, and tobacco create a foundation for the palate. Hints of vanilla and caramel come forth as well. The bourbon offers a nice mouthfeel, and there is a greater depth of flavor than the proof suggests. This may be a result of it being non-chill filtered, and makes for an experience that is quite enjoyable overall.
Tapering caramel sweetness and light tobacco give way to a flush of rye spice on the backend. The intensity quickly resigns, but the flavors linger for some time, providing for a nice way to end the sip. While the lower proof results in a more delicate experience, the overall sip is surprisingly full-flavored.
According to the company, the barrels used to make the small batch blends of Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon are aged in the top two floors of their Las Vegas, Nevada warehouse and never rotated. Combined with non-chill filtering, the bourbon retains quite a bit of character and dimension despite being the lowest proof of the company's three standard bourbon offerings.
Surprisingly, I feel it showcases the company’s blending expertise better than the higher proof offerings within their lineup. While I enjoy Small Batch (100 proof) and Uncut Unfiltered (barrel proof), and typically reach for higher proof bourbons, lower proof bourbons do serve their purpose. Proofing down a bourbon can smooth out its flaws, but can come at the cost of compromising much of its character. Thankfully, Smoke Wagon maintains that character here, offering a lower proof option that showcases their blending prowess and resulting distinct flavor profile at the same time.
With a never ending stream of new bourbons on the market, identifying a bourbon’s value is as important as ever. Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon is not going to knock anyone’s socks off, but it’s also not going to disappoint anyone looking for an easy-sipping bourbon either. Its quality is on par with higher priced bourbons such as Yellowstone Select ($50 though often found for less) and Angel’s Envy Port Finish ($50), but also with similarly priced bourbons such as Bulleit Bourbon ($30) and Elijah Craig Small Batch ($26). This puts Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon right in line with competitors.
Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon may be the lowest proof offering in the company’s standard lineup, but its enjoyable flavor profile and entry level price make it a bourbon worth exploring.
Like many other brands, Smoke Wagon is sourced from MGP. It’s easy to look at any one of the many brands that source bourbon from MGP and argue they are all essentially the same. But the fact is, while they may have started their distillation journey at MGP, their future paths can be quite different. Anyone who has tasted multiple single barrel bourbons distilled and aged in the same place knows this, and anyone who has tried multiple bourbons distilled by MGP knows this as well. Smoke Wagon has quickly made a name for itself, offering bourbons with a traditional but distinct flavor profile in packaging that is sure to catch the eye. All things considered, Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon is worth a purchase to try it out. Whether or not you purchase it a second time will come down to your own personal preference.