Basil Hayden is paradoxically among the oldest and youngest bourbon expressions from Kentucky. Its roots are closely intertwined with American history and the distillery industry in Kentucky.
The original Meredith Basil Hayden, Sr., as it is named, was a Catholic in Maryland who guided a group of 25 Catholic families from Maryland to Kentucky in 1785. They settled in what is now Nelson County, Kentucky, not far from Bardstown, one of the centers of Kentucky’s distillation industry.
While living in Kentucky, Hayden donated land for the construction of a Catholic church; the first Catholic church west of Alleghanies. He also began to distill.
In the 1780s, there were a number of distilleries producing corn whiskey in Kentucky. However, the term bourbon was not yet applied to this spirit. This practice did not start until the middle of the 19th century.
Little is known about Hayden’s original whiskey, except that he used a high proportion of rye in his moss bill. This is not surprising since rye whiskey at the time was the predominant spirit produced and consumed in Maryland. It is likely that Hayden’s first whiskey was a rye whiskey, but that the moss bill contained a significant proportion of corn, as was the practice among distilleries in Maryland.
Fast forward a few generations to 1840. Raymond Basil Hayden, grandson of the original Basil Hayden, built a new distillery in Nelson County. He called his whiskey “Old Grand-Dad” in honor of his grandfather. The label had an imaginative portrait of Basil Hayden.
Great-grandfather was a bourbon, as more than 50% of his moss bill was corn, although it still had a significant component of rye.
The brand still exists, making it one of the oldest bourbon brands in existence. Today, the brand is owned by Beam Suntory, and the whiskey is produced at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. The current moss bill is 63% corn, 27% rye and 10% malted barley. This is in line with the original moss bill used by Raymond Hayden.
In 1992, Beam Industries introduced a small batch collection of four whiskey terms: Basil Hayden, Knob Creek, Bookers and Baker’s. Basil Hayden was the lightest body of the four and used a moss bill that Jim Beam thought was similar to the one originally used by Meredith Basil Hayden when he first started distilling.
We are not entirely sure which moss bill Meredith Hayden used, and it is likely that the moss bill evolved over time. The current bog bill used for Basil Hayden is the same as the one used for Old Grand-Dad.
Today, the Basil Hayden series consists of three core whiskey expressions: a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, a 10 YO Kentucky Straight Bourbon and a Dark rye whiskey.
The latest term to become part of the Hayden core area is Toasted bread, a whiskey in which brown rice has replaced 27% rye in the moss bill, and which undergoes a secondary finish on heavily roasted barrels.
According to the company:
Basil Hayden Toast is uniquely made by the eighth generation distillery, Freddie Noe, and is a product that marries innovation and history. Instead of traditional rye grains, Basil Hayden Toast is made using brown rice from the United States, which gives a touch of sweetness and a touch of less spice, while a secondary toasted barrel finish draws notes of caramelized sugar and toasted wood.
After storage, the roasted brown rice bourbon is mixed back with more brown rice bourbon, which has been rested in level four carbon barrels to obtain a final product with complex flavors due to sweet vanilla and rich roasted nuts, which make up the welcoming, accessible nature for which Basil Hayden is known.
Basil Hayden has also released several limited releases of rye and bourbon bottlings. Although these are not part of the core range, they can still be found in many retail stores. There are especially more that are worth looking for.
Basil Hayden Caribbean Reserve is a blend of 8 YO Kentucky Rye Whiskey and 4 YO Canadian Rye Whiskey from Alberta Distillers, to which a small amount of black strap rum has been added.
Basil Hayden, Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 10 years, is one of the oldest bottled rye whiskeys by Basil Hayden. The whiskey has a classic rye profile with smoothness and sweetness typical of a aged rye whiskey.
Basil Hayden Rye Whiskey is a traditional 4 YO rye whiskey that then barrels again in charred quarter casks for another 7 years. The result is a deeply flavorful rye whiskey with a taste and aroma profile typical of a much more mature rye whiskey.
Below are taste notes on the entire core selection of Basil Hayden whiskeys, including Toast, their latest release.
Basil Hayden, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, NAS, 40% ABV, 750 ml
This whiskey is Basil Hayden’s entry level bourbon. On average, it sells for about $ 40. On the nose, it shows the characteristic high rugby bourbon profile of red berries, especially cherries, and peaches and apricots. There are additional notes of orange jam along with a little cinnamon and white pepper.
On the palate there are notes of peach and dried apricot along with a little vanilla, cinnamon, a touch of clove and some spicy oak.
The finish is short to medium, sweet, with lingering notes of dried peach and apricot and a touch of pepper.
This is a good whiskey, but has a lot more potential. It is a pity that Beam does not issue a Bottled in Bond version of this whiskey. A few extra years of aging and the higher proof would make it much more tasteful and complex. Even a premium bottle version with, for example, 44% ABV / 88 proof would produce a much more exciting whiskey. A version with higher proof would be an excellent candidate for bottling with limited edition.
Basil Hayden, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 10 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml
This whiskey is a more complex, layered version of the basil Basil Hayden bourbon reviewed above. On the nose, it offers more intense fruit aromas of cherry syrup and stone fruits of peach and apricot. The spicy oak aromas are also more pronounced. There are additional, expected notes of vanilla, cinnamon and caramel, along with a bit of bold and a touch of fresh mint.
On the palate, the whiskey is very smooth. However, the fruit notes are less pronounced than they are on the nose. The whiskey offers a honey-full sweetness along with notes of caramel, vanilla, cinnamon and oak, accompanied by a little smoke, a touch of fat and a little pepper.
The finish is medium-length, with a light, lingering, fruity sweetness of dried apricot and cherry syrup and spicy oak.
Basil Hayden Toast, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 40% ABV, 750 ml
On the nose, the whiskey is very sweet with a honey, almost maple syrup like aroma. As it opens up a more traditional bourbon note of flavor, it emerges. There is a pronounced note of cinnamon, but in general the whiskey is less spicy than the other Hayden expressions, both bourbon and rye whiskey.
On the palate, the whiskey is very smooth. It’s less sweet than it looks on the nose. There are notes of dried fruit of apple, peach and apricot along with a light tropical fruit note with melon and a touch of mango as well as a pronounced nutty note. There are spice notes of cinnamon along with a mild but persistent black pepper and a hint of bold.
The finish is medium-length, with lingering notes of stone fruit, roasted wood and a mild pepper.
This is a good whiskey for someone who is not a traditional bourbon drinker or is transitioning from being a predominantly Scotch whiskey drinker.
It is not entirely clear how replacing brown rice with rye changes the profile of whiskey. It feels smoother on the palate and nuttier, as well as less spicy and sweeter than the other Basil Hayden expressions, but as it opens up, its bourbon DNA becomes more pronounced.
Basil Hayden, Dark Rye, NAS, 40% ABV, 750 ml
This is a blend of Kentucky straight rye whiskey that has been combined with Canadian rye whiskey from Basil Hayden’s sister distillery in Canada, Alberta Distillers Ltd., and a touch of port-style wine from California.
This is a very unusual rye whiskey. On the nose, the Port-style wine influence is obvious and unmistakable. It offers aromas of dark black fruit, especially blackberries and dark cherries, along with prunes and a touch of fig. There are additional notes of baked apple, vanilla and caramel along with the necessary rye spices, but these are more subtle than the typical rye.
On the palate there is a distinct fruity sweetness of black and blue berries along with plums, both fresh and dried, accompanied by notes of vanilla, caramel and cinnamon. By and large, the flavors of the Port-style wines tend to dominate the classic rye whiskey profile, making the latter more subtle and nuanced, but also adding to the complexity of the whiskey. As the whiskey opens, the properties of the rye become a little more noticeable.
The finish is long with lingering notes of sweet black fruit along with flavors of almond, spicy oak and pepper.
This is a very interesting rye whiskey. It is smooth and very easy to drink. On the rocks it is almost impossible to lay down.
Although Basil Hayden is a relatively young whiskey brand, its roots are closely intertwined with the history of Kentucky distillation, and it shares a whiskey DNA with some of America’s oldest bourbon expressions.