Sometime around 1992, Austin Nichols released 1855 Reserve to overseas markets. Like its domestic relative, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, 1855 Reserve is … well, a strange bird. While not age-stated, it’s reported to be a blend of 6, 8, and 12 year bourbon whiskeys at barrel proof (percentages unknown). Yet even more mysterious than Rare Breed, 1855 is labeled “From the Makers of Wild Turkey,” and is not labeled straight. The reverse of the bottle reads:
An American original. Uncut with water and aged in new charred white oak barrels. Created by master distiller Jim Russell to commemorate the founding of the Wild Turkey distillery in 1855.
I have so many questions about this export release, but primarily – why wasn’t it simply marketed as Wild Turkey Rare Breed? Seems like extra effort and expense to design and produce different packaging for numerous batches. I mean, the “foreigners like age statements” argument definitely doesn’t work here. And just to clarify, I don’t blame Jimmy Russell. I’m sure someone at Pernod Ricard thought this was the way to go. I’m just not sure why. And “Jim” Russell? What? Anyway, I should probably move forward with the tasting at this point …
1855 Reserve – Batch W-T-10-92 (1992) – KBW at 110 proof – reportedly a blend of six, eight, and twelve year WT bourbon – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: copper red
Nose: chewy caramel, rich vanilla, sweet musty oak, oranges, honey, “spicy” floral perfume, hints of tobacco & leather
Taste: (you feel it before you taste it, so hang in there) SPICY vanilla, maple syrup, musty charred oak, rich citrus, floral perfume, garden herbs, baking spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), tobacco & leather
Finish: (the ride ain’t over yet) very long & notably spicy, full of intense warmth (throat to chest) – waves of maple syrup, spicy vanilla, musty oak, leather, slowly fading spice
Overall: Wow! I think Randy Savage just whipped my taste buds with a Slim Jim! While 1855 Reserve batch W-T-10-92 is notably rich and complex, it comes across somewhat brash and arguably unbalanced. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is a harsh or unpleasant bourbon – I’m just saying it’s a helluva spicy beast. If you enjoy mature barrel-proof bourbons for their complexity AND love intense spicy heat, I highly recommend this batch of 1855 (or possibly its corresponding domestic Rare Breed release).
As for the 1855 and Rare Breed batches I’ve tried thus far, I think I prefer batch W-T-01-99 best. If 1855 10-92 had the balance of RB 01-99, I’d rank it slightly higher (as 10-92 has a little more going on flavor-wise). But at the end of the day I feel 1855 Reserve batch 10-92 walks a borderline of B+/A-. While loaded with dusty Wild Turkey character and enjoyable complexity, it’s a little too brazen to grade as high as another 1990’s Wild Turkey barrel-proof release, Kentucky Legend (AKA “Donut” – which is labeled straight BTW).