By Debbie Shocair
Basil Hayden, with its reputation as the lightest of Beam Suntory’s Small Batch Collection (also including Knob Creek, Booker’s and Baker’s), is named after Meredith Basil Hayden, Sr. Her recipe for a high-rye whiskey in the late 1700s is said to have inspired the current Basil Hayden mashbill, although Basil Hayden originated as an 8 Year Old version of Old Granddad, Beam’s staple high-rye bourbon.
Enter Basil Hayden Dark Rye. Using rye whiskey, incorporating some Canadian rye whisky as well, Basil Hayden has taken the further courageous step of adding a bit of California Port. That is Port wine added, not aged in a Port cask. The result? A whiskey that makes me think I should be enjoying it in front of a fire and a perfectly adorned Christmas tree.
Some purists might gripe that the TTB has screwed the pooch again with the labeling here, but not really. The name is “Dark Rye,” not “dark rye whiskey,” and the official classification is “whisky specialties.”
The aroma on this lovely creation was of dark berry candy, pure vanilla, marshmallows, and a faint hint of root beer. It’s definitely a bit surprising, and not quite what you would expect from a traditional rye whiskey.
Breaking it with a ½ teaspoon of water brought the marshmallow leaping to the front, with vanilla and heretofore hidden delicate notes of oak.
The mouthfeel was only at the back of the palate and top center of the tongue. A light touch for a rye, but in keeping with Basil Hayden’s general character.
The finish on this port-anointed rye was woodsy, with loads of caramel. Overall it was sweet, finally ending in rich prunes, much like a port. The deep fruity finish lingered for a relatively long time and clung to the palate pleasantly.
This may not be one of the very best whiskies I have tasted, but it is among the best conversation-starters. Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye is different, interesting and absolutely great for the Holiday season. If you are the type who buys Christmas ales and other seasonal drinks, you’ll find it attractive. Especially nice as a dessert whiskey though it would certainly lend itself well to cocktails. I thought enough of this new expression of Basil Hayden to include it as a surprise at the end of my most recent whiskey event, and each guest was as pleasantly surprised as I was.
It runs about $40 where you can find it. Though it should be widely available, I have been told by retailers that the allocation is (at least for the time being) , limited. My local Total Wine in Los Angeles only had two bottles in stock at the time of writing.