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Smoke Wagon Private Barrel Bourbon (Smoke on the Water, NJBYC 2020) Review

Smoke Wagon Private Barrel Bourbon (Smoke on the Water, NJBYC 2020) Review

In 2020, a picking panel from the New Jersey Bourbon and Yacht Club braved Covid-19 to meet up and select a single barrel of 13 year old Smoke Wagon Bourbon. The man responsible for the NJBYC getting access to the barrel in the first place was none other than longtime Smoke Wagon devotee, Dan (Instagram @Oakandtime).

But since Dan had moved to Austin, TX shortly before the pandemic hit, he would have to remotely do the pick with the rest of the group. There were only 2 barrels of 13 year-old high-rye MGP bourbon that Aaron Chepenik had left to choose from.


I’ve been told that the decision was tough and there was much arguing over which barrel was the best one. In the end, Barrel #5636 was declared the winner. Ironically, Dan also developed the sticker that would adorn the rear label.

Titled “Smoke on the Water” with a picture of a cassette tape, the bottle was ready to rock and roll the taste buds of all who would taste it. So how was it? I got my own bottle to find out. This was sampled neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The rich scent of toffee and vanilla comes first while traditional MGP bourbon aromas of seasoned oak is with you the whole time. It’s a rare treat for MGP to give off a chocolate scent, but this bottle has it in the form of dark chocolate shavings. There’s even some fruit forward scents of toasted orange peel and cherry creme. The nose is everything that bourbon from Lawrenceburg, Indiana should be like.

Palate: The first taste is surprisingly on the sweet side. It’s like a mix of a cinnamon and sugar churro coupled with a slice of dark chocolate raspberry cheesecake. It’s quite rich and extremely well balanced. Of course after 13 years in a barrel, the oak influence is everywhere (as it should be).

Notes of seasoned oak staves and wood polish are most noticeable and offer the sensation of drinking a bourbon that’s actually a bit older than the 13 year age statement this wears. The flavors don’t stop there as cherry flavored tobacco and flan round out the incredible flavors found throughout the whole sip.

Finish: More of the same on the finish as aged, musty oak dominates when the sip is complete. There’s still a nice amount of vanilla custard and peppermint candy cane and even some lingering fruit leather notes too. The finish is about as good as they come with MGP.

Score: 8.6/10

This is one incredible bottle. Throughout the tasting my memory kept flashing back to the few ultra-aged bourbons I’ve tried before where the oak transforms into this almost “antique” tasting profile. What I mean by that is that you can taste a sort of furniture polish effect coupled with a scent similar to a place that sells used hardwood furniture. It’s difficult to describe but the point is this bottle just oozes age.

Smoke Wagon Private Barrels really took off after Aaron Chepenik started to offer them at 12 years old and beyond. He had committed to offering the cream of the crop from what was left of the older barrels inside the old Seagram’s warehouses in Indiana.

But shortly after the NJBYC received this private barrel, Smoke Wagon ran out of them. Now it appears as if it’ll be a few more years before we see any more Smoke Wagon single barrels aged into the double digits.  What a shame.

“Smoke on the Water” is a fantastic private barrel that is worth the price of entry. Any of the 12+ year old Private Barrels would be. But they’re tricky to come by and you usually have to know someone to even get a taste of one. But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with perhaps the best single barrels that will come out of MGP for the next 4 to 5 years.

Ratings Breakdown

1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)

2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it

3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)

4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)

5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)

6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)

7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)

8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)

9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)

10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)

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