Travis Nathan Thomas flies helicopters in Afghanistan. When he returns home to Las Vegas for short breaks, Travis and his fiancee Shelley love to visit the newest steakhouses, ride motorcycles and get a little taste of what they playfully call "moonshine"—100-proof whiskey stored in a charred oak barrel, enhanced with their own flavoring agents. With the turn of a tap, Travis pours a sample that eagerly flows from a nozzle into a shot glass.
"I can smell the oakiness," he says, bringing the whiskey to his lips. "It's smooth. I can see how it's aging and getting better. I think the next time I get back, it's going to be just right."
The whiskey is dubbed TNT—after Travis' initials—and the padlocked barrel is one of more than a hundred kept about 30 miles outside Las Vegas at the Pioneer Saloon. Sitting quietly near the California border, the first and oldest bar in Southern Nevada was founded in 1913 on the edge of Goodsprings, a town with less than 300 people according to the latest census. Housed in a tin structure purchased from a Sears & Roebuck catalog, the Pioneer Saloon would eventually become a hotspot for car clubs, and that's how Shelley first heard about it. She brought Travis along to check it out on New Year's Eve a few years ago—but decided to take the scenic route.