Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.
There are a lot of obscure whiskey brands out there owned by companies like Luxco, better known to bourbon drinkers for its Blood Oath and Yellowstone associations. Another label under this company is David Nicholson, a historic expression with former ties to the Van Winkle family.
David Nicholson bourbon, as the story goes, was developed by one David Nicholson, a St. Louis grocer, back in 1843, and sold from his general store. Fast forward 50 years, to 1853. Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, having joined WL Weller, gets involved with the Nicholson brand by distilling and bottling the original “43” recipe at A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery for St. Louis.
The brand is said to have subsequently remained in the Van Winkle family until 2000, when Luxco purchased it. Until recently, most of it has been sold in Missouri and Illnois, according to Luxco, so there is still a large bourbon-crazy market waiting to try it.
As to where the David Nicholson bourbons are being distilled today, that’s a mystery, as is often the case when non-distilling producers own these legacy brands. (Some say Heaven Hill.)
Semantics aside, the bottling I’m reviewing here, David Nicholson Reserve, provides one extremely pleasurable drinking experience, one that makes you forget who made it, where it comes from, and just leaves the consumer in awe of its masterful blending, rounded flavors, and extremely reasonable price tag.
Vital Stats: 100 proof. Made from a rye mash vs. their flagship wheated. $40 for a 750ml.
Appearance: Solid amber with glimmers of candy corn orange. Long, resilient legs. Just short of brilliant with a barely-visible cloudiness.
Nose: The candied rye spiciness is the first thing to come across through initial deep inhales. Old leather with a touch of lavender builds up the strong mid-inhale. Apple skins, earth, and minerality linger in the nose. Impressive how the heat is present in every sniff, yet it doesn’t burn – it just adds character in the boldest, yet gentlest way.
Palate: It hits the lips and tongue with a sharp sweetness which doesn’t last very long, just enough to remind you what type of beverage you’re drinking. A husky bitterness washes over the palate next, bringing flavors of sun-scorched hay, a wisp of vanilla essence, white pepper, and the earthiness of brown butter. The legs get layered and sticky after a few sips. Lingering toffee notes allow the drink to be enjoyed for minutes after each sip.
This bottle is highly recommended as a hype-free, lower-cost alternative to some of the classic rye-kissed Kentucky Bourbons available today. If David Nicholson Reserve was available at my local liquor store, I’d most likely be keeping a bottle of it on hand at all times for both thoughtful sipping and delicious rye-based cocktails. Thanks to the Van Winkle family and Luxco, this brand has survived over 170 years and continues to impress.