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Cigar Spirits: Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

6 Mar 2013

My colleague recently listed five bourbons Maker’s Mark fans should try, in light of that spirit’s announcement—and subsequent retraction—that it was reducing its proof from 90 to 84. It was a timely article because demand for Maker’s will outpace the supply of fully aged Maker’s, which is why officials wanted to water down the bourbon in the first place.

Basil HaydensI like my colleague’s list, but one addition immediately came to mind: Basil Hayden’s. Maker’s is known for a smooth taste that emphasizes sweetness over spice. Likewise, Basil Hayden’s has built a reputation as an approachable bourbon with crispness over heat. So it stands to reason that many Maker’s fans might also like Basil Hayden’s, which is sold at a comparable cost ($35-40 per 750 ml. bottle).

Basil Hayden’s is the lightest bourbon in the Small Batch Bourbon Collection that’s made by Jim Beam. It’s 80-proof, as opposed to Knob Creek (100-proof), Baker’s (107-proof), and Booker’s (121- to 127-proof). And it probably has the most unique bottle of the bunch.

Basil Hayden’s is aged for eight years and has a high concentration of rye. That’s how Basil Hayden Sr.—a Catholic from Maryland who moved to Kentucky in the late 1700s—crafted the bourbon, when “Kentucky was but four years old and George Washington was president,” according to the bottle. “Today, we make Basil Hayden’s using the same skill and care that made it a favorite among America’s frontier settlers.”

Given the spirit’s low proof, I prefer to sip Basil Hayden’s with Whisky Stones which, unlike ice, won’t dilute it further. In the glass it has a light amber color and a clean nose of tea, eucalyptus, mint, and spice.

The flavor is predictably soft with only traces of pepper or heat. Instead, it’s characterized by honey, citrus, and some floral notes. The finish is brief and clean.

I’ve heard Basil Hayden’s classified as a bourbon for non-bourbon drinkers. I don’t think that’s fair. I consider myself a bourbon drinker, and I happen to appreciate it as a fine accompaniment to a mild, Connecticut-wrapped cigar. No, it doesn’t have the depth or complexity as, say, Booker’s. But it’s a nice change of pace and a smooth-tasting option for the open-minded.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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