David Nicholson Reserve is the namesake of David Nicholson, a St. Louis-based grocer who apparently began producing his famous “Original 43” bourbon out of the back room of his grocery store in 1843. The history of this bourbon gets much more interesting near the end of the 19th Century, when Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle joined WL Weller and started distilling and bottling the “Original 43” recipe at the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery. The brand allegedly remained with the Van Winkle family until 2000, when it was acquired by Luxco. This bourbon is currently sold in a relatively limited market but it has received numerous awards and distinctions, and in recent years the market has grown outside of the original Missouri-Illinois base.
Nicholson Reserve is described as “an extra-aged ‘ryed’ bourbon that provides full-bodied flavor and a distinct, spicy taste.”
The mashbill for this bourbon is undisclosed, but rumor has it that this product was distilled at Heaven Hill. There is no doubt this is a high-rye mashbill, at least in the range of 10-20% rye. There is no age statement on this bottle, but given the complexity of this bourbon I would guess that it has been aged for at least 6-8 years. This bourbon comes in at 100 proof (50% abv) and retails for a mere $30.
Appearance – amber with a dark orange hue. The legs in the glass are long and pronounced.
Nose – not surprisingly, there is heavy rye spice with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg and very mild alcohol. Rich notes of maple syrup develop, along with some vanilla, leather and charred oak. With time I also started to get some floral notes, like a very soft lavender, as well as bright fruit notes, like citrus and green apple.
Palate – the nose initially misleads you, as this presents as a very soft and sweet bourbon, giving more of that brown sugar and maple syrup flavor. However, the rye spice develops quickly along with a sweet bitterness, reminiscent of salted toffee and dark chocolate. Charred oak and vanilla also linger throughout the sip.
Finish – this bourbon leaves a decent mouthfeel with a medium-long finish. The rye spice continues to dominate the sip with a soft, peppery burn, but the sweet vanilla and charred oak flavors do not completely disappear. There are also notes of hazelnut, along with additional sweet notes of dried fruit that develop toward the end of the sip.
Overall – This bourbon is not terribly complex but it is a generally well-balanced and flavorful expression of a high-rye bourbon at a very reasonable price point. If you are a fan of high-rye bourbon, you will not be disappointed with the rye profile that develops here. I think this bourbon would also work really well in some rye-based cocktails, particularly an old-fashioned. This bottle is not easy to find in the Big Bend of Florida area, so I certainly hope the rumors about increased distribution are true because this is a bottle that would make a regular appearance on my shelf.