Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Nevada H&C Distilling Co.
Release Date: Ongoing
Mashbill: 60% Corn, 36% Rye, 4% Malted Barley
Color: Golden Hay
MSRP: $60 (2021)
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. The company started releasing their Uncut Unfiltered Straight Bourbon in 2017 and quickly grew in popularity, releasing 21 batches of Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered in 2020 alone. 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.”
The bourbon introduces itself with a rich and spirited caramel greeting. This warm welcoming is joined by complimentary notes of rye grain, gentle cinnamon, orange rind, and a shade of ginger that weaves itself throughout. It’s not as potent as you’d expect given the proof, but instead is nicely developed and presents itself with confidence. It rounds out with a touch of summer fruit and an inkling of sweet oak.
A whirlwind of sweet, fruity, and dark flavors hit all at once creating a confusing, yet impactful sip. Sweet caramel, combined with raspberry, chocolate covered cherries, leather, and rich oak are at the forefront of this onslaught. As the flavors settle, additional notes of apple pie, rye spice, and walnut mosey in. Combined with a wonderful buttery mouthfeel, this assembly creates an enjoyable and memorable sip, albeit a somewhat chaotic one.
The finish fully transitions to a darker flavor profile with leather, cigar, and dry oak as its focus. These notes linger well after the sip is gone, creating a dry aftertaste. Light cherry undertones can be detected, but are unfortunately a bit too muted. Drinking under its proof, the bourbon makes its mark with a rustic finish that may not be for everyone, but suits this whiskey and its branding well.
Smoke Wagon was quick to gain the fanfare of a lot of bourbon drinkers in a relatively short amount of time. Maybe it had to do with their rough and tumble image, or their unlikely origin of Nevada, or that their bottle design and name speaks to modern bourbon drinkers. Regardless, does their bourbon stand out in a crowded field of non-distiller producers (NDP)?
Bottled just weeks before I purchased my bottle, I have to give credit for a quick turnaround, even more so as I’m located on the other side of the country from their operation. I’m not sure if a quick turnaround from bottle-to-distributor-to-retailer-to-consumer is part of their business plan or I just purchased the bottle hot off the receiving truck, but this perceived freshness is an interesting concept nevertheless.
As my tasting notes conveyed, Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered Batch 29 is a roller coaster of a sip, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It features a lot of great qualities that kept me interested throughout my time with it. Tasting through its brazenness is an experience that was more memorable than other blended barrel proof products on the market. It wasn’t necessarily refined or overly complex, but it hit a happy medium of both. It also lacked any youthful notes that many of their craft competitors struggle with. This might be due to its aging in Nevada’s dry heat or the blending style of Aaron Chepenik and Jonathan Hensleigh, but being memorable when so many companies offer the same base whiskey, is an accomplishment.
Of NDPs sourcing their whiskey, they often come in two forms. Some bottle it straight from the barrels they get it from, and others try to add their own spin on it. For those companies that simply bottle it, they often can price their whiskey at a lower price than the companies adding extra steps to their process.
Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered falls in the later category, with it being uniquely aged in the Nevada Desert, and then blended by Chepenik and Hensleigh. Despite these extra processes, the bourbon is still competitively priced against brands that are doing far less, or in some cases, far more. Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered’s $60 price tag is eye-catching for what it offers and will be certainly appealing to many consumers. This might be another reason the product has caught the attention of so many whiskey drinkers at such a fast clip. If the company can continue sourcing quality barrels and maintain their current style of blending, and maintain their rapid fanbase, then there could be a disruption in the market. It’s too soon to tell if that will be the case, but even now, their $60 asking price is striking as it’s on par with many of their craft barrel proof competitors that feature young tasting bourbon, and is far less than their bespoke blending competitors. Its price may only become a better value as time marches on.
A blitz of flavors and easy-sipping proof combine to make Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered a memorable tasting experience despite its sourced origins.
Sourcing MGP bourbon is certainly old news at this point, and can be easy to immediately write it off. Despite MGP’s widespread availability over the past few years, they are still a distillery that is capable of putting out great barrels. It’s easy to disregard companies like Smoke Wagon as just another NDP sourcing from MGP, but it always comes down to what barrels they get access to, what barrels they select, and what they do with the barrels once they get them.
Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered Straight Bourbon Batch 29 isn’t bashful, but it also isn’t as acute as Booker’s Bourbon batches can be either. Instead, its flavors rush at you all at once, and thanks to its lower proof compared with other barrel proof bourbons, it doesn't overwhelm you. The result is a bourbon that is enjoyable to sip and experience, but may not hold up as a cigar bourbon that many claim Smoke Wagon bourbons excel at. Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered Batch 29 was a memorable tasting experience in the short term, but it still remains to be seen if they can continue this in the long term. True of any company, but the here-and-now product is compelling in the places it needs to be.