One morning after church, we were discussing bourbon with some of our friends while having coffee and donuts. As we found out, some of our church friends like bourbon and whiskey as much as we do. One couple was was also making their way through the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, just as we are.
Well, one thing led to another, and the next thing you know, we were doing whiskey tastings every once in a while after church. We take turns bringing a whiskey – or two – and the person who brings the whiskey is responsible for telling the story and history behind the whiskey. One or two of our group are still novices when it comes to whiskey, and we all enjoy learning about the history behind the spirits and the people who made them.
This past weekend was a special tasting day, not because it was a holiday or anything, but because we actually tasted three whiskies! This was by design, and we were all looking forward to it. The whiskey of choice for this expanded tasting was Basil Hayden.
I supplied Basil Hayden Bourbon and Basil Hayden Toast. My friend brought a bottle of Basil Hayden Dark Rye. This proved to be my favorite tasting we’ve done at church, but I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite among the three iterations of Basil Hayden. I can say this, however. The dark rye whiskey was by far the best rye I have ever tasted. I realize everyone has a different palate, and as such there really isn’t a “best ever” of anything. You should drink what you like and what makes you happy, and I can say – up to this point – Basil Hayden Dark Rye is my favorite rye whiskey.
Now on to my short review of each Basil Hayden whiskey…
Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Basil Hayden Whiskey is a product of James Beam Distilling Co. It was first crafted by master distiller Booker Noe as an honor to Meredith Basil Hayden, who led 25 Catholic families from Maryland to what is now Kentucky in 1785. He became a master distiller and was known for his “high rye” bourbons.
Basil Hayden Bourbon is one of four bourbons in the Small Batch Bourbon Collection by Jim Beam, the others being Knob Creek, Booker’s, and Baker’s. Basil Hayden, as you might guess, is heavy on the rye. The mash bill consists of 63% corn, 27% rye, and 10% malted barley. It’s bottled at 80 proof, and even with the higher rye content, it’s extremely smooth. It’s perfect for those who are new to bourbon and/or those who like lighter tasting whiskies. On the nose, I pick up berries and oak. When tasting, you’ll likely notice vanilla, brown sugar, and oak. The finish is smooth, with no lingering burn – just dried fruit, perhaps corn, and oak.
Basil Hayden Toast – Like the standard bourbon, Basil Hayden Toast is bottled at 80 proof. Unlike the standard bourbon, it has no rye at all. Brown rice replaces the rye in this mash bill, and the whiskey also undergoes a secondary aging in a toasted then flash-charred oak barrel. The result is some of the smoothest bourbon I have ever tasted. The aroma is that of toasted oak and fruit, with perhaps a touch of caramel. The taste is soothing with vanilla and wood. When finishing, you’ll pick up notes of caramel. I was very impressed with this bourbon, and it will be a regular in my cabinet.
Basil Hayden Dark Rye – This whiskey was the wild card for me at our tasting, because I had never sampled it. It is a blend in the truest sense of the word. Beam blends Kentucky Rye with Canadian Rye from their award-winning Alberta Distillery. They then add a little California Port. The result is a whiskey full in flavor, but incredibly smooth. On the nose, you’ll pick up dark berries and molasses. When tasting, I get caramel, fruit, and some complementary spices. The finish is sweet and somewhat fruity. As I mentioned earlier, this is the best rye I’ve had to date, although some purists would likely turn up their noses at its blended nature. I don’t care. This, too, will be a nearly constant addition to my liquor cabinet.