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Alyssa Bonagura Loves Smoke Wagon (The Fred Minnick Show)

On this episode of The Fred Minnick Show, singer-songwriter Alyssa Bonagura sits down with Fred to sip some whiskey and rap. She started singing at age 2, and by age 10 was recording a duet with Kenny Rogers. She has worked with artists as varied as Steven Tyler and Jodee Messina, and also is a producer. As an artist, Bonagura has released four albums since 2008. On the show, she and Fred talk about her career, her unique name, social media, the pandemic … and she also performs a tune from her forthcoming album.

Whiskeys tasted:

  • Smoke Wagon 12 Year (13:22)
  • Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion Series (26:00)
  • Four Gate Batch 10 Rye (51:50)
  • Montanya Rum (1:02:03)


Fred and Alyssa get into many subjects, such as:

  • Fred comments Alyssa on her positivity, something she says she learned from her mother.
  • She talks about how by the time she was three weeks old, she was on the road touring with her parents’ band, Baillie and the Boys. Literally, music has been part of her life almost since birth.
  • They reminisce about meeting at Hometown Rising and the pre-covid fun.
  • Alyssa says Smoke Wagon reminds her of Scotch, calling it “light” – even though its 110 proof. She gives it a “10 out of 10.”
  • Fred bangs the drum again for Knob Creek 9 Year, which he feels is ignored because “it’s everywhere.” Thus, it will never have a cult following like, say, Blanton’s or Weller. He compares it to an artist in the 1980s that consistently had hits but was never the flavor of the month.
  • The Bardstown Bourbon Company blend gets compared to hanging out with friends around the bonfire drinking from Solo cups.
  • Talking seasonal cocktails, Fred brings up the Mint Julep. “If the Kentucky Derby didn’t come around, five people in the world might be drinking Mint Juleps.”
  • Alyssa talks musical influences, from Casey Kasem’s Top 40 to vintage country to more modern female country and folk artists. She also was into Coldplay. She also was big into the Beatles thanks to her father, and she spent three years in Liverpool, England, studying music engineering. She eventually goes full “fan girl.”
  • Fred and Alyssa talk about how in country music, the opening line is more important than ever and more important in country than other genres. They also discuss writing for one’s self rather than to appease a specific audience, whether it’s a song or a new book.
  • At about the 45:00 mark, Alyssa plays a new song she wrote during covid quarantine. It’s titled, “End of the World.” (Don’t worry, it’s a positive song.)
  • After the song, she admits she’s getting tipsy from the whiskey and she notes she’s glad she didn’t wait 10 more minutes to perform.
  • They bond over how awful the final season of “Game of Thrones” was. Alyssa compares one particular scene as being like an adult version of “The NeverEnding Story.” And not in a good way.
  • Fred and Alyssa talk about their “fur babies” and it transitions into emotional songs that can make them cry.
  • When they break out the rum, she randomly brings up when she was in Spain, on tour with Steven Tyler. “My life is weird,” she says, laughing.
  • By the time the show winds down, Alyssa circles back to her “breakup boots.” It’s a story worth hearing about.


Alyssa Bonagura on drinking with friends: “I always feel like it’s the same thing with any kind of alcohol that you have in a setting where you’re with your friends and … it becomes like some kind of camaraderie, sharing something together because you really start to see and connect with someone in a different way – and that’s why I love music so much, that you connect with someone on this crazy deep level.”

5 Sherried Whisky Alternatives

Here are my recommendations for those of you who want something sweet and luscious, but a little different in your glass this year. 

Fred Minnick

American whiskey critic Fred Minnick has appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef, Discovery’s Moonshiners, CNBC, CBS This Morning, NPR, Fox News and many more, just to discuss the state of whiskey. He's the host of the Amazon Prime show Bourbon Up and Spirits Network's Frontier Filmmakers. In addition, the Wall Street Journal-bestselling author wrote seven books, including Whiskey Women, Rum Curious, Bourbon Curious, MEAD, and Bourbon: The Rise, Fall & Rebirth of An American Whiskey. He has written for the New York Times, Scientific American, Parade Magazine, Forbes Magazine and is the editor-in-chief of Bourbon+ Magazine. Minnick is a co-founder to Bourbon & Beyond and curates both B&B and the Hometown Rising Festivals, as well as being 1/3 of the popular Bourbon Pursuit podcast. But most importantly, he wears ascots.

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