Let’s start with something we can all agree on: people have different tastes.
This statement is no surprise in any aspect of life, and this statement is no less true when it comes to bourbon. Too often, many of us in the bourbon community forget that new people have new palates. When those new people come to the internet asking for reviews, we (looking at you, Facebook groups) tend to recommend our favorite things as experienced bourbon drinkers and afficionados. I’ve been guilty of that, and I’ve also been guilty of forgetting just how different my palate is now than what it was when I was just trying bourbon neat for the first time.
I mention this because many new drinkers (and even experienced ones; no judgment here) gravitate towards lower proof offerings. Since 80 proof (40% ABV) is the minimum to be considered bourbon, some brands release their product right at that minimum as a win-win of maximizing profit and approachability for new drinkers. In a time where more and more higher proof offerings are on shelves, Basil Hayden’s sticks out as an attractive option for those who may shy away from a higher ABV.
For the uninitiated: this bourbon comes from James Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky as part of what appears to be a long-term offering beyond the basic version of Basil Hayden’s. The mash bill is a high-rye (27%) recipe, and the same one that is used for the standard Basil Hayden’s as well as Old Grand Dad products (including a personal favorite of mine, Old Grand Dad 114). At a minimum of 10 years old, this older expression of Basil commands roughly twice the price of the standard version, coming in around $69 in my neck of the woods.
Everything about the recipe, age, and price says that this should be solid bourbon, at least in my opinion. The proof is the only drawback, but that’s precisely the problem. Many experienced bourbon drinkers lament the lack of flavor in the Basil line for what feels like severe under-proofing. For every Basil Hayden’s fan I meet, I can show you five more people that don’t want to waste their time with this (what they consider to be) watered-down whiskey.
For a prime example, look no further than Taylor’s review of Basil Hayden’s Rye Aged 10 Years, a limited edition offering from the Basil Hayden’s line which should have drawn a decent amount of buzz. Like Taylor points out in his review, the way these bottles are priced and labeled seems to convey the assumption that they deserve serious consideration as something worth a place on your home bar. So far, however, fanfare has been quite limited.
That sentiment isn’t any different for me. This is a bottle I own, but not necessarily on purpose; I received this as part of the Jim Beam Barreled and Boxed program, which is currently only available in Kentucky and Washington, D.C. I’ve had different Basil Hayden’s offerings a handful of times so far, and each time feels like one time too many. I’m apprehensive about this to say the least.
In fact, my skepticism is worsened by the fact that it’s been selected for the Barreled and Boxed program. Getting shipments through this program isn’t cheap by any means, and their own website states that the bottles in each box are considered either “limited editions of [their] most celebrated whiskeys” or at least something new, exciting, or extremely sought after. I have some concerns about this point, however. Basil Hayden’s 10 Year Bourbon has been around for a few years already as – at minimum – an annual release (at least since 2018, based on a quick internet search). As far as I can tell, the only thing new about this bottle is the packaging. The recipe and age statement appear to be the same, so unless there is something different we don’t know about, this isn’t a new product.
The bottle shape is the same, but the labels have gone from their former overalls-style cover to a more typical sticker label, while retaining the metal band around the middle.
Let’s get into the review. I feel like I should say, “wish me luck!”, but I’ll keep an open mind and hope for a new perspective on this brand.
Basil Hayden’s Aged 10 Years – Review
Color: Orange-brown; knowing the proof, I can only imagine the deep color this would have if it were bottled at a higher ABV.
On the nose: Earthy, slight citrus, honeysuckle, soda, sarsaparilla candy (I know, this was weird for me too). So far, I’m intrigued. It’s been a while since I nosed a Basil Hayden’s, so I can’t recall if this is a uniquely good nose or if that’s normal for them.
In the mouth: This has a cool, refreshing note; almost thirst-quenching. I get why someone would be happy with this, honestly. There’s a slight amount of oak, and a note of fruit that I feel like I may just be imagining. I could probably identify more notes, but they really drop off quickly; frankly, I’m not sure I’m patient enough to search for them. The flavors are generally quite weak for me, but I acknowledge that I like big, punchy flavors that typically come from higher proof whiskeys. For someone else, this might be considered very smooth, which is something I’ve heard before from Basil Hayden’s fans.
Overall, I am somewhat pleasantly surprised. This was better than I expected, but not dissimilar to Taylor’s experience with the 10 Year Rye noted above. The nose was very attractive, but the lack of delivery on taste is a disappointment. All told, this is the most palatable Basil Hayden’s offering I’ve ever had but I still don’t think this justifies the expense. This would be a good buy for a Basil Hayden’s fan, but if you’re on the fence, I’ll say that you can find better options at lower prices. If you’re like me and own it from the Barreled and Boxed program, try this again in the summer when you might want something more light and refreshing.
As a reminder, the scoring approach here on Malt has been recently updated; check that link out for more information on what the number means.
Photos courtesy of Beam Suntory.