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Smoke Wagon Uncut and Unfiltered “The Younger” (57.18% ABV)

Smoke Wagon Uncut and Unfiltered “The Younger” (57.18% ABV)
Smoke Wagon‘s popularity skyrocketed in mid-2019 as their distribution expanded into several states.  MGP bourbon and rye whiskey was already a hot commodity by that time and enthusiasts were trying to find the next big thing.  MGP was rapidly running out of aged whiskey to sell non-distiller producers (NDPs) and enthusiasts were being forced to jump from brand to brand in order to get access to the oldest stocks of Indiana’s finest.  One by one, brands like Blaum Bros, Litchfield, Chattanooga and Belle Meade were running out of 9+ year old barrels and replacing them with their own distillate or younger products.  But Smoke Wagon seemed to be going in the opposite direction and kept releasing older and older single barrels and batches.  The rush was on to get as many as possible.

The Well Runs Dry

It wasn’t long before Aaron Chepenik, Smoke Wagon‘s founder, found himself running out of aged barrels too.  By late 2020, the tap of 10- to 13-year-old barrels started to run dry.  Even younger batched products like Uncut & Unfiltered had resorted to using barrels that were primarily 5 and 6 years old.  Aaron was doing everything he could to stretch what he had left in Indiana, but there was no quick solution to this problem given the nature of how whiskey needs time to age.
By early 2022, the top of Smoke Wagon’s bottle hierarchy was essentially their Uncut and Unfiltered label.  I’m not counting the Rare and Limited bottles because nobody I know could get their hands on one.  Anyway, Aaron was able to stabilize the average barrel age of each batch of U&U for the moment, but fans wanted more.  The only two other products was the (somewhat boring) “Straight Bourbon Whiskey” and the “100 proof Small Batch.”  Each of these products were only 4 years old because that’s all MGP had left to sell Aaron in the quantities he needed.  An idea occurred to to him that he could create a batch of those 4 year old barrels at cask strength if he could narrow down some of his best 4 year old barrels.  Uncut & Unfiltered “They Younger” was born.

Smoke Wagon’s new “Middle Child”

U&U “The Younger” takes the same concept of its slightly older sibling by trying to pack as much flavor as it could into each bottle.  Like every bourbon Smoke Wagon puts out, the only barrels that are used are MGP’s high-rye bourbon mash bill which contains 36% rye.  As a side note, if you love the Four Roses OBSV mash bill, then you’re in luck because that’s what this basically is (at MGP, it’s referred to as LBSV).  They’re batched together in a tank at the Smoke Wagon facility in Las Vegas, Nevada that hold no more than 20 barrels at a time.  Aaron tastes each one before he decides which batch it will go into.
I think MGP bourbon (or rye whiskey) has this special trait of being a fantastic product at a young age.  I also have faith in Aaron’s abilities as a blender, so this made my purchase of “The Younger” a no-brainer.  At the store in Kentucky I found it at, I had to buy it with a bottle of Smoke Wagon Vodka in order to get it at the retail price ($55).  Otherwise, I’ve seen it’s a common trend for retailers to mark this up to $70.  I’ll talk about the value proposition later, but fortunately I knew a few people who would love to receive that attractive bottle of vodka as a gift.  So how does The Younger taste?  Let’s find out.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Sharp scents of cinnamon and spices are immediately apparent.  If the nose is any indication, this will not be a boring bourbon.  The sweetness can be found under the cloak of all of that spice and reveals itself as more of an untamed molasses scent rather than the typical brown sugar notes I get from aged MGP bourbon.  It’s still pretty great though.  The high rye content comes off as a sort of fruity licorice scent or, depending on the season, Christmas Fruitcake.  
Palate: Wow, this is much more rye-forward than I was expecting (yes, I know it’s a high-rye mash bill).  The spice is something I was braced for but the amount of botanical/herbal notes I am finding seems higher than normal.  Maybe it’s because I’ve not had enough 4 year old MGP blends to know if this is common or not.  Still, earthy notes combine with hay, wildflowers, mint, tarragon and clover for a flavor that suggests it’s a rye whiskey more than a bourbon.  I was preparing myself for lots of youthful bourbon flavors and less sweetness but I end up finding the opposite to be true.  There is plenty of caramel glaze flavors as well as fruit juice.  The spice on my tongue is so strong that it practically grabs you by the collar and gives you a good shake.  The mouthfeel is moderately thick too.  If I were to describe the overall impression I had of each sip, it would be like a hive of bees swarming around your mouth, stinging you with a new flavor every time.  It’s a lot of fun to sip.
Finish: The finish calms down into more subdued sweetness, but the spices level still remains cranked up (especially that cinnamon and allspice!).  The rye traits I found on the tongue are still present and I start noticing a general gingerbread vibe towards the end that’s really delicious to let linger in your mouth.  Overall, I admire the intensity I find on the finish and can’t wait for the next sip.

Score: 7.9/10

Wild and brash, this bourbon is a fantastic sip that challenges you at every turn.  I dinged it for being a bit disjointed but it’s most definitely worth the money and gets my seal of approval as a top buy for the price.  Keep in mind that for the flavor inside the bottle, it’s still only worth about $55, so I’d ignore the stores that are selling it for $70.  For fans of Smoke Wagon and MGP, you can feel safe with opening up your wallet for this one.  But for those that do not share my love of the brand, you obviously know of many other labels that can provide the intense flavors you desire for less money.      
Let’s take a little bit more time to look at the price structure of Smoke Wagon, since we’re on the topic.  If 100 proof Small Batch comes in at $40 and Uncut & Unfiltered comes in at $65-70, then U&U The Younger is probably priced right at $55.  But almost every store that sells Smoke Wagon products will usually price them 25% higher than retail.  That puts The Younger into $70 territory where other bourbons on the shelves demolish it with proof, providence and age.  I will concede that the biggest competitor to “The Younger” is actually the older version of it (which is just called Uncut and Unfiltered).  That is why I recommend that you not go over the $55 price tag.  The extra age of U&U is worth it.

Final Thoughts

Uncut & Unfiltered The Younger feels like somebody dared Aaron Chepenik to make a barrel proof product from the youngest barrels he had.  He took that dare head-on and the end result was just about as good as he could do with what he had to work with.  So congratulations are in order on his accomplishment.  But I would hope that this bottle is just a temporary stopgap until his other barrels have gained a couple more years of age and we can go back to the Private Barrels and possibly a “Desert Jewel v2.0.”  Until then, give this a flyer next time you see it at the store.  You won’t regret it.

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Wednesday 29th of November 2023

It’s delicious. Proofy sweet Carmel I didn’t get the mint but some light leather and tobacco. Well worth the 50 I paid for it. 8/10