Whiskey Review: Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

I’ll be honest, I’ve been avoiding some of the more popular brands for a while now. It just didn’t feel like I had anything to contribute to the conversation when others have already written all there is to say. But after months of COVID-19 social distancing, during which I have tested some truly terrible, weird whiskeys in the name of blogging, I feel like I deserve to treat myself to something nice. So today I’m finally cracking this bottle of Basil Hayden’s that I’ve been salivating over for quite a few months.

History

The Hayden family first started distilling in Kentucky in 1840, led by Meredith Basil Hayden Sr. as the owner and master distiller. Throughout the mid-1800s, their approach to whiskey production– using an abnormally high amount of rye in the grain bill — gained popularity and enabled the Haydens to build a successful business.

In 1882, the grandson Raymond B. Hayden decided to start bottling a version of their high rye bourbon in honor of his grandfather and bearing an illustration of the man’s face on every bottle. The new brand, dubbed “Old Grand-Dad,” was successful and 17 years later they sold the brand to the Walthen family.

Production continued uninterrupted throughout the years, even producing a medicinal alcohol during prohibition to keep the stills going, and remains a popular brand produced today by the Jim Beam distillery under the Japanese Beam Suntory company.

In 1992, a new brand launched in honor of Meredith Basil Hayden Sr., this time called “Basil Hayden’s”. It proved successful and remains another popular sub-brand from Jim Beam.

Product

This is a “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” which carries some legally defined rules (specifically, that the grain bill is at least half corn). That said, there’s a lot of leniency in that definition, and in this case it actually shares the same grain bill as the aforementioned Old Grand-Dad: 63% corn, 27% rye, and 10% malted barley.

These two spirits also seem to share the same production distillery: the Clermont, Kentucky facility for Jim Beam. So really, what we’re saying is that Basil Hayden’s is to Old Grand-Dad as Acura is to Honda.

While the minimum time to age this spirit in those brand new charred oak barrels is two years for “straight” whiskey, there’s no upper limit on that. And much like with the Scottish rules, they can blend different barrels of different ages as long as the youngest drop meets that two-year requirement. The issue here is that there’s no age statement, so while we know it’s at least aged two years, we don’t really know how old any of this stuff is beyond that.

Packaging

There’s a lot going on here.

The glass bottle itself is about as plain as you can get. It’s pretty much a wine bottle, capped off with a synthetic and plastic stopper. But there’s a ton of stuff they added on top of that basic bottle.

The first thing you’ll notice is the paper poncho that they have draped over the bottle. It’s yellowed to look like an old fashioned printed parchment paper and the older style font backs up that notion… even though the brand itself is young enough that dot matrix printers were around when it was founded. That paper poncho is glued down at both ends, but it’s a unique feature that stands out on a shelf and gets noticed.

Also standing out and getting noticed is the metallic belly band that this thing is wearing. Embossed with the Basil Hayden name and wearing a ‘bH’ belt buckle, it’s shiny and invites people to touch it — which is a smart move, since people are scientifically more likely to buy something after they touch it.

Back up top, the stopper is wrapped in foil like a champagne cork, but without the same easy-opening pull tabs. It takes a second to figure it out the first time.

Neat

As soon as you pour yourself a glass, those sweet butterscotch notes are immediately noticeable with a touch of added honey. Give it a second and you’ll also see some orange citrus thrown in for good measure. It’s fragrant and sweet, with the orange notes strong enough to be noticeable but not so heavy as to be oppressive.

The flavor of the whiskey starts out a little light, mainly just a bit of caramel, some vanilla, and a touch of honey. It’s sweet, but there’s not much body to it. As the liquid sits in your mouth, though, those flavors start to become richer and bolder with some oak flavors thrown in, as well as a bit of nutmeg.

It finishes with that peppery spice we were promised, which is a tone that stays with you for a short while after it’s all said and done. Overall it’s a sweet, light, and delicious experience without any bitterness or bite.

On Ice

With a little bit of ice, the lighter flavors drop out but the bolder flavors come back with a vengeance. Instead of needing to wait for those bolder notes to build, they’re present right out of the gate and there’s not much development within the drink.

Specifically, what I’m getting here are the oak-related notes. It’s like licking a damp oak board, with a bit of peppery spice at the end and some faint caramel thrown in.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

Add some bitters, muddle with some sugar, and add a dash of cherry juice at your option, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good cocktail. It’s not the boldest or most memorable thing you’ve ever had, but everything balances out fairly well for a good solid drink.

Really the only thing the whiskey is contributing at this point are those oak wood notes and a bit of peppery spice. Everything else is the fruit and the bitters kicking in.

Fizz (Mule)

This was already shaping up to be a rather mellow bourbon, and this showing seems to confirm that suspicion.

The oak flavor wasn’t especially bold in the old fashioned, but I thought it would at least make an appearance here. Instead what I get is mostly the sweetness in the caramel and vanilla tones balancing with the ginger beer, and then a little bit of peppery spice on the end.

It’s good, but it’s not great.

Overall Rating

It’s a fine bourbon, but there’s more flash than there is substance. It really does feel like they took a little bit more care with a couple barrels of Old Grand-Dad, dressed it up in a prettier bottle with a classy sounding name, and charged twice as much for the privilege.

That’s not to say it’s bad. I like Old Grand-Dad, and I like this too. But there’s not a whole lot to differentiate it from the pack besides the branding.

Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: Basil Hayden's
Owned By: Beam Suntory
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $32.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

Overall Rating: 3/5
Above average branding for a very average bourbon.

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