Friday, March 24, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Color (5%):  Dark amber, faint copper. Quite a bit of thinning at the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%):  nice sweet vanilla caramel notes, somewhat creamy, reminds me of a cow tail or one of those Gotze's caramel cream candies. Alcohol is certainly more present than their standard straight bourbon. There's a faint peppery spice if you look for it, but the sweetness is much more noticeable. 7/10

Palate (20%): Not much initial sweetness, but it does come through in the mid-palate. Very roasted back end, with notes of dark coffee. Heavy rye spice for a bourbon. Intense peppercorn, manageable but intense. Certainly not for beginners, but good for someone with a little experience. 17/20

Finish (10%): This starts mild and slowly builds and builds. Dry oak and leather start us off before that rye spice takes over. That's a lot of rye heat. The flavor is there even for a 100-proof bourbon. There's a bit of sweetness poking its head through, but it is a big wall of spice. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is an intense, bonded whiskey. I typically don't care for overproof high rye whiskeys. But there is a soft sweetness layered through this spirit. I typically wouldn't pair this with most foods, maybe a robust cigar. It's over-spiced by my standards, likely due to the rapid aging in the Nevada heat. This style of rapid aging has become increasingly common, with many Texas distilleries taking similar approaches. As any Scotsman will tell you, "There is no substitute for time." I prefer their softer version; it has a bit more evolution on the tongue. 22/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Ice again brings out the sweetness on the nose and mutes those boozy notes. I do think that ice helps the drinkability of this one. With ice, this could pair with a steak au poivre or a lamb curry. Ice mutes the flavor to a level of intensity I prefer. The finish smoothes to a softer bell curve of intensity rather than a harsh spike. 22/25

Total Ranking: 79% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $60
Actual Price: $52

Conclusion: This is a delicious medium-tier bourbon. That $45-70 range has fierce contenders like Four Roses and Elijah Craig. This holds up as a rye-forward bourbon. It's certainly worth sampling, and I'm sure it'll make a few people's top ten lists, just not mine. High spice and alcohol bite aren't my go-to sippers, but it was excellent over ice. As I said before, it's an irony that this brand is sought after by hoarders and collectors. Its slogan, "Bibamus Moriendum Est," means "Drink, for we must die." Yet, so many bottles from this award-winning distillery will gather dust on some collector's shelf. If you find this bottle, open it, try it, and share it with friends. If you like it, get it again; if not, let someone else give it a chance. 

Fact Sheet: 60% Corn, 36% Rye, 4% Malted Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co.
ABV: 50%

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