By Richard Thomas
What with Basil Hayden gaining in popularity in recent years, it was inevitable that it would see a brand extension. After all, Knob Creek has seen three such extensions: the 120-proof Single Barrel; the Rye; and the Maple. And because Basil Hayden was the premium high rye expression of Jim Beam (when first introduced it was an eight year old, and so designated clearly reigned above Old Granddad’s stuff), it only made sense that when that extension came, it would be to add a full-on Rye whiskey.
Presumably, Basil Hayden Rye is drawn from the same stock of Kentucky style just-barely-Rye (i.e. just over the 51% Rye line in the mash bill) whiskey that Beam uses to make Knob Creek Rye, Beam Rye and Old Overholt. To make Basil Hayden Rye a little different, they used a cask finish. Not just any cask finish, mind you, but a quarter cask finish!
Reportedly, Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe picked up some tips from Beam Suntory stablemates Laphroaig, who have a fan favorite Quarter Cask Single Malt. After four years of aging in regular, 53-gallon barrels, the Rye whiskey for Basil Hayden is transferred to quarter casks (13 gallons) and aged a further seven years. So, 11 years old and most of that time in small barrels. In keeping with the Hayden style, it was bottled at 80 proof (40% ABV).
This whiskey came out a good bit lighter than I was expecting for one that had spent 11 years in any kind of charred new oak, let alone 7 of those years in 13-gallon barrels. The coloring was gold with copper tinting. The coat of the glass ran with big legs.
The liquid is a bit thin and definitely light on the palate, no doubt because of the low proof. A dry spiciness leads, dry because it’s both wood and rye spice, buttressed by some vanilla. The lightness of the whiskey actually helps here, because it gives the woody current a certain airiness, like walking through an open air lumber yard. The finish turns hard, back to Bourbon territory, having a creme brulee aspect.
All of this is fitting, because Basil Hayden was always a light, somewhat dry whiskey. When you consider that the rye content of Beam’s high rye Bourbon is in the upper 20s and their Kentucky-style Rye whiskey is in the lower 50s, it’s easy to see the progression, and the quarter casks probably made the end result woodier than would otherwise have been the case. I was hoping for more from this Laphroaig-informed Rye, but the outcome is certainly drinkable.
Basil Hayden Rye fetches about $45 a bottle.