Boozehound Reviews: Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Basil Hayden's
Basil Hayden’s is an excellent Kentucky bourbon for a relatively affordable price. — photo by Lucy Orloski

In this week’s edition of Boozehound, we’re heading back to bourbon country.

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is part of Beam Suntory’s small batch collection (which also includes Booker’s, Baker’s and Knob Creek bourbons), but the legacy of the Hayden family and this brand goes back centuries. The family emigrated from England to what is now Virginia in the 1600s, later migrating to Kentucky where Basil Hayden began distilling his award-winning bourbon in the late 1700s.

So what’s the secret to Basil Hayden’s success? The mash (grain mixture) used in their bourbon recipe contains a greater amount of rye (according to law, bourbon mash must legally contain at least 51 percent corn, and the rest of the grain can be, barley, rye or a combination of the two). Adding rye results in a spicier bourbon that balances the sweetness imparted from the corn. Basil Hayden’s ages eight years in charred French-oak barrels which gives it a delicate, smooth finish. This, combined with the flavor, makes it one of the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted.

Budget-wise, at $41.99 (at your local liquor store) Basil Hayden’s is the perfect mid-range choice for people looking to move beyond Jim Beam and Jack Daniels but who aren’t ready to make the jump to higher-end bourbons such as Eagle Rare or Pappy Van Winkle’s.

Color: Amber

Aroma: Basil Hayden smells amazing: The extra rye in the bourbon highlights the sweeter aspects in the aroma, and the predominant note is caramel with a hint of spice, mostly cinnamon and some nutmeg. There are also aromas of vanilla imparted by the oak and just a touch of dried fruits. No kidding: this stuff smells divine.

Taste: Sitting lightly on the tongue, the spice and vanilla that were notable in the aroma hit you first. Then the sweetness sets in, cutting back on the burn from the alcohol and subduing the spice.

Finish: The finish is long and smooth. An initial harshness fades quickly into a gradual warming sensation that completes the wonderful taste experience.

The Mixmaster: I tend to be a purist and take my bourbon straight, but there are plenty of bourbon-based cocktails out there, from the Old Fashioned to the Mint Julep (if you want to really get a taste of Kentucky). Also, the Clinton Street Social Club makes an excellent whiskey sour.

Overall: One of the best bourbons I’ve tasted to date: It’s light-bodied, smooth and, with the extra rye in the mash, absolutely delicious. If you’re looking to upgrade your bourbon without breaking the bank, try the eminently drinkable Basil Hayden’s.

Grade: A+


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