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Basil Hayden’s Straight Kentucky Bourbon

Whiskey Review: Basil Hayden’s Straight Kentucky Bourbon  90/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on January 5, 2011

This review is based upon a small sample provided to me from the personal collection of J. L. Wheelock, who is part of the Beam Global team here in Alberta. The sample was smaller than my normal 200 ml minimum sample size, and the reader should be cautioned that I was not able to give the sample my normal rigorous tasting regimen of five independent tasting sessions. Instead I completed two tasting sessions of the sample and did no cocktail explorations.

Basil Hayden’s is part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Bourbon Collection. This collection is composed of Knob Creek, Booker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Baker’s, and is considered by Jim Beam Distillers to be a selection of ‘ultra-premium’ bourbon whiskeys. This selection of bourbon whiskeys was created to establish a high-end category for bourbon, and thus to appeal to the serious whiskey aficionado.

Basil Hayden’s is unique in that it is produced from a distilling mash which has an especially high rye content, twice as much rye in fact as would normally be used in a Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey. The Basil Hayden’s is aged in American white oak for 8 years, and then bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

In the Bottle  4.5/5

Although I was not given a full bottle of Basil Hayden’s for review, I did manage to find a nice photo of the bottle on the Jim Beam Website. Permission to use  this photo was provided by the above mentioned J. L. Wheelock.

As you can see the presentation is attractive. I like the innovative label design and admit that I am intrigued enough that I may seek out this bottle for my own collecting purposes.

In the Glass  9/10

The Basil Hayden’s Bourbon Whisky has the colour of light golden straw, and the initial nose represents a lighter style of bourbon than I am used to. The strong aroma of freshly fallen timbers which I always find in bourbon is muted as if a light rain has fallen to dampen the effect. A distinct, but mellow note of honeycomb rises from the glass giving the bourbon a light candied flair, and deeper down a gentle and mildly spicy caramel toffee springs up and greets me as well.

In the Mouth  54/60

My oh my…. this is a gentle bourbon that caresses the mouth with honeycomb cereal, vanilla and mild toffee on the entry.  Spicier tannins from the oak build and gather strength in the mouth but they never reach a point where they overwhelm the other flavours.

At the mid-palate I taste the rye in the mash and a sweet corn which seems to be gathering a little strength. I like the balance I taste between these flavours, and I like that there is enough complexity to keep me wanting to return for another sip. This is silky sublime stuff.

In the Throat  13.5/15

At the exit, the oak timbers re-gather themselves into a nice, but somewhat mild, rush of oak and baking spice that tastes great. Indistinct trails of sweet honey, vanilla, corn and rye are left in my throat, and I wish I my sample had been larger so that I could repeat this all over again.

The Afterburn 9/10

I have a feeling that persons who like an assertive, robust flavour profile in their bourbon are going to be disappointed with this one. Basil Hayden’s has a milder, more gentle bourbon profile. Your mouth and throat do not get all clogged up with oak timbers, and if that is what you drink bourbon for, then you will find Basil Hayden’s to be thin and uninviting. But, if you are more like myself, and want to taste the other nuances of sweet corn, rye, vanilla, and honeycomb, and to relish them as they play in and out of those oak timbers, then this bourbon will delight you. It delighted me!

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


10 Responses to “Basil Hayden’s Straight Kentucky Bourbon”

  1. PatM said

    I saw you mentioned that you are a fan of Canadian whiskey. I am thinking of gifting some BH to a friend who mostly drinks Canadian whiskey to see if he’d like it. How do they compare in your opinion and is this much of a stretch?

    • It is difficult to compare any Bourbon to Canadian Whisky because they really are two very different sorts of beasts. However, I would not be adverse to saying that if you do want to try your friend on Bourbon, Basil Hayden would not be a bad place to start. Wild Turkey would be another good choice as each of these bourbons carry more rye forward which should appeal to a Canadian Whisky drinker’s palate.

  2. CliveGains said

    Is it like Old Grand Dad?

    • Hi Clive

      I am not really sure how similar they would be. Basil Hayden’s is considered by my contacts at Beem to be the lightest bourbon that they produce. Having never tasted Old Grand Dad (Which I believe is a reference to Basil Hayden) I cannot say how similar they are.

  3. Ryan said

    Hi Chip, I just tried Basil Hayden’s today, and I picked up on a quite bitter, funky-corn note on the finish that really turned me off. I was expecting to possibly be bored by the low ABV, but I was not expecting any bitter off notes, considering my enjoyment of the rest of the Jim Beam lineup. Do you remember tasting anything like that? I am wondering if I got a bad sample somehow, because it was really quite unpleasant.

    • Your bitter note has me a little flummoxed, as I do not recall tasting anything bitter at all. I’ll tell you what though, I am about to retire to my hot tub tonight and I will take at bit of the Basil Hayden’s with me. It’s a new bottle and I will see if any bitterness rears up. Look for my comment in the morning.


      I loved your Posting, Whisky: a golden calf?. An adventurous posting. I tried to comment on your blog but my reply vanished into the nether world of neverspace. (My comment basically said I loved the posting although I cautioned that you should not be so firm with respect to your interpretations of the good book. Greater men than both of us have debated its meanings for millenia. Having said that, I completely respect where you are coming from. Great Post!!

      • Ryan said

        Thanks, both for checking up on Basil Hayden’s (rough work, I know!) and for your comment about my recent post. I agree that we all should keep an open mind. The Bible is such that it contains an answer to any given problem, but every person’s problem and answer can be a bit different. Only through reading the Bible combined with your own conversation with the Lord can you find the answer to your question. I hope that in my post, it was clear that I was simply describing what I found for me at the time. I did not want to imply that similar circumstances as mine are an automatic recipe for idolatry; I only hoped that through reading my experiences, it might spark others to think of situations in their own lives in a way that might improve their relationship with our good Lord. I am certainly interested in how this post was interpreted, and if you think it could easily be misinterpreted, please let me know and I will try to amend it!

        • Hi Ryan

          I think your post spoke well to the angst which you honestly feel towards your relationship with God versus the relationship your have with your website and other things in your life. Are we so wrapped up in our lives that we are neglecting something far more important? Asking that questions is very important, and dealing with it even more so. That is why I loved your posting. it seemed very heartfelt to me.

          In my comment I was only cautioning that we (and I include myself in this) should never assume we have the answers to these types of questions. In some ways I believe the search for the answers is far more important than the actual answer is; but then again, this might be hubris on my part for even believing that I can come to this conclusion.

          I think you are in a good place Ryan, and my respect for you has grown.

          • Anyway, back to the whisky. I sampled the Basil Hayden tonight and found myself in complete agreement with my earlier review and my decision to name it the Best America Whisky I have sampled in the previous year. I did notice a certain tannic bitterness, which comes through in the finish which kind of puckers the palate, but in my mind this was counterbalanced very well by the lovely sweetness of the corn and the spiciness of the rye in the exit. Bitterness in of itself is not bad, if it is balanced by sweetness and in my mind that is the strength of the Basil Hayden Whisky.

            I understand that others who do not appreciate the level of sweetness which I do (remember that I love Canadian Whisky) may find that the balance of sweet to bitter is not as perfectly in balance as I think it is.

            BTW: Next time you try some Basil Hayden’s allow it to decant in your glass for several minutes, you may find that the whisky changes and grows in the glass more to your liking…. or not!


            • Ryan said

              Thanks Chip! As for the whiskey, I agree that bitterness is not all bad, and I would not even rank Basil Hayden’s as one of the most bitter whiskies I’ve had. But, for some reason the bitterness in BH was very unpleasant for me to the point of not enjoying the whiskey, whereas some more bitter whiskies (an example that comes to mind is Buffalo Trace) do not detract from the experience quite so much. Perhaps, as you said, I am more used to a fuller body of sweetness in my bourbon that I need to balance it out, whereas BH is too light otherwise.

              As for the other, I think I understand what you are saying, and I think you might be quite right. You’re kindof highlighting that the Lord does not expect us to be perfect or follow “the law” perfectly, but instead He wants our hearts to search for Him and to be closer to Him. So, in searching for the answer, you’re accomplishing this goal better than you would in finding the answer.

              Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

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