Friday, July 8, 2016

Flavor in Basil Country - Review of Basil Hayden Bourbon

Normally, I shy away from low ABV bourbons and whiskies but recently I discovered that not all juice should be judged on ABV alone.  

With the lowest ABV that Beam currently distributes, Basil Hayden is and always has been quite a bourbon that would surprise even the biggest bourbon aficionados.  At just 80 proof, Basil Hayden is the lightest bourbon whiskey in this small batch family but still manages to carry an interesting and flavorful palate.

The Basil Hayden bourbon brand was introduced in 1992 and is named after Basil Hayden, Sr.  Hayden Sr. was a distiller, and he used a larger amount of rye in his mash than other bourbons of his day.  Later, Hayden's grandson Raymond B. Hayden founded a distillery in Nelson County and named his label "Old Grand-Dad", in honor of his grandfather, which bears a rendering of Basil Sr.'s likeness.

Unlike the traditional Jim Beam low-rye mashbill, Basil Hayden has a higher-rye recipe (27%) and is the same whiskey that goes into bottles of Old Grand-Dad. (see our review of Old Grand-Dad 114)  The only difference between the two is how long they slept.  Basil Hayden is older and has a lower proof – depending on which version of OGD you pick up.  With the absence of an age stamp on both labels, consumers are left to distinguish the level of maturity using their keen sense of tasting.  The BH label was updated in 2014 to reflect “artfully aged” rather than the traditional dating.  It is common thought that this liquid is approximately 8 years old.  Other brands have since done this as well (demand, supply etc.), but no specific reason was found for Basil Hayden.  Beam claims the mash used that the Basil Hayden we know today is similar to the original mash used by Hayden himself in his original recipe. 

With the growing popularity of American Whiskey, Basil Hayden has stayed strong on the shelves and is usually available.  It is artfully designed and typically lines the shelves with its small batch mates in the Beam SB family. 

Tasting Notes:

The color mimics that classic bourbon hue – golden and similar to that of a light maple syrup. 

The nose leans to the herbal side with mint and dried sage.  Maybe it was me or because of the name but I also got some basil(?)

The juice is very buttery with warm spices. A very soft, smooth front of cinnamon and hints of pecans.  Not much of a bite here.  For those looking for an easy drinker – this is your dram.    
The finish has a lighter presence then one would think with a higher rye.  It certainly does not linger on the palate for any period of time.  The balanced mash bill lends to perfect drinkability and is a good example of a daily drinker. 

Final Sip:

Basil Hayden is a great dram for many occasions and for a variety of palates.  I try to keep multiple bottles around so I can share with those who aren’t ready to adventure into higher proof bourbons yet still want to enjoy a good whiskey. 

I would highly suggest drinking it neat and suggesting others to do so as well.  This also helps newcomers to learn how to drink bourbon the right way.  


Region: Kentucky, USA
Distiller: Jim Beam
Mashbill: 63% Corn, 27% Rye, 10% Malted Barley

ABV: 40%
Price: $39 - $53


 * - Photo taken from open source of the web