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Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon Review

Basil Hayden’s Small Batch Bourbon, 8 Years Old, 40% abv (80 Proof), $30-38

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is a part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch collection, which includes Knob Creek Small Batch, Baker’s 107, and Booker’s. Basil Hayden’s is the lightest bodied and highest rye recipe of the four, with as much as double the rye grain content. This bourbon is named after Mr. Hayden himself, who moved to KY in the late 1700s. He was a distiller and was reportedly one of the first to employ this very high rye mash bill for bourbon distillation. It yielded a very different flavor profile. So how does it fare?

Color: Light Amber/Golden

Nose: Clean, and crisp. Wildflower honey, mint, eucalyptus, loose leaf black tea, menthol, and dried citrus peel work in tandem with intense rye grain. Vanilla makes brief appearances. This nose could pass for rye whiskey, and it immediately put me into summer time.

Palate: Again, light with flavors of honey, mint, vanilla, candied lemon peel, and rye in spades.

Finish: We’re seeing a theme with this whiskey. The finish falls off sharply and dryly, but in proportion to what you’d expect for such a light bodied pour. Rye grain and minty warmth remain just to let you know it’s there.

Overall: It’s been noted by visitors to this website and others at just how often Jim Beam products can get brushed aside by “enthusiasts”. I suppose it’s tough to pull for the big boys, and you don’t get much bigger than Beam. Well, I beg of you to cast aside any preconceived notions and bias when you try this one. If you do, then a light and fresh whiskey with rye intensity and subtle sweetness awaits you. Basil Hayden’s refreshingly crisp quality lends itself well to warm weather sipping – it immediately reminded me of summer. I would like to see this offered around 90-92 proof (it would get lost above that). At that range I feel we’d see more of the heat, spice, and complexity that’s been diluted down a bit at the current proof.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)

33 Comments

  1. Andy E says:

    I agree that Beam products aren’t given their due by some ‘enthusiasts’. And I think some get more respect than others. I’d say most people think Bookers, Knob Creek, and Beam Black label are pretty decent products. My favorite thing about Beam products, especially for somebody new to the bourbon world, is that you can get the stuff pretty much anywhere.

    As far as Basil Hayden’s, at a glance you see the price tag for an 80 proof bourbon and I’m sure like me many just pass over it and keep looking. After your review, I’d like to try it, but I don’t see going out of my way to give it a shot for a while. Too many other’s in this range to try.

  2. Andy, it is a crowded market at these prices indeed. I’d like to see this priced firmly at $30. At that price it’s just a much better value. For me, I think the price for Basil Hayden’s and Baker’s are both a bit high. But it’s an interesting bourbon with great flavor and a really unique style.

  3. Dave says:

    Yeah, I think that’s “The Story” with BH. A good whiskey, at a bit too-high price point. Here’s another head-to-head request for the future, in case you run out of ideas. Basil Hayden’s vs Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond (AFAIK Basil Hayden was the name of the old grand dad referred to by the name OGD). Who knows, maybe ‘vatting’ OGD BIB and BH could result in the best of both whiskeys coming out… Never tried that…

    I myself enjoy the OGD 117 quite a bit, and you get a lot more for your money with the OGD label, in my opinion. Grand-dad is a way under-rated whiskey. It’s funny that so many of my fellow sophisticants wouldn’t think twice about ordering BH in a bar, but if you bring up OGD, they immediately think of a George Thorogood song, or spending the night in the gutter. I think they’re the same mashbill / distillery / yeast, just different ages and proofs. I could be wrong.

  4. Texas says:

    In the Scotch world you would not think twice about paying the price of BH for an 80-proof whiskey, but in the bourbon world it would be nice to see it at 90-proof. This is definitely on my list to try. Almost sounds like a Lowland Scotch.

    I have had OGD 114 (but not the BIB). It was different for sure..not bad, but it had some sort of quality that reminded me of varnish.

  5. Dave, the OGD114 is definitely on the short list. Good idea though with the comparison. OGD was started by Basil Hayden’s grandfather and the picture on the bottle is reportedly Basil’s likeness. And I think you are also right about the makeup. I believe it’s pretty similar stuff but it’s tough to confirm. Great idea and thanks for the suggestion!

  6. Texas, we American Whiskey lovers are spoiled aren’t we? Because you’re exactly right about the price point in relation to Scotch. Unfortunately with so many others in that price range that becomes more valid. I enjoyed it for what it was – a lighter, rye forward style. 5% more abv or so and I think it’s lift up in rating a bit – more flavor to be experienced. Cheers man!

  7. Texas says:

    Looks like I can get this for around $31.25 +tax. Going to pick it up next time I am buying.

  8. Joe Serapilio says:

    Basil Hayden,Price too high,alcohol too low.I agree with everyone,love to see this at 90.My 80 proof sippers are Four Roses Yellow&Old Charter(Buffalo Trace).Both under $20 a bottle.Order Basil out occasionally.

  9. Joe, I agree on price for sure. I’ve actually rated out the FR Yellow not far behind this and it’s 1/3 less expensive (or more). But on flavor along this is definitely an interesting whiskey and warrants a look if you want something subtle and easy sipping. There’s a crispness to this that’s difficult to describe but very alluring. Is it a pour that I want all the time – nope. But it’s a fantastic change up. I’m looking forward to sipping some of this with a big ball of ice this summer.

  10. sam k says:

    Well, consider that at any price point, scotch costs more due to shipping and duties. We consistently hear bourbon fans from overseas complaining about the price of American whiskey over there, so it’s pretty much all relative.

    That said, though I’ve owned Baker’s, Booker’s, and Knob Creek, I’ve never bought a Basil Hayden’s for all the reasons previously stated: too pricey, too weak, and much better value elsewhere. Hell I just got a few Elijah Craig 1.75s here in PA on closeout for $25, and a Thomas Handy for $38. Interesting take on the Old Grand-Dad BIB similarity, and I can get that for $18. Why buy Basil?

  11. Dave says:

    @Texas: I’m not going to sit here and honestly say to you that OGD BIB doesn’t in some way taste like varnish on the back of the palate. But I like it anyway. The thought of sniffing Minwax takes me back to my childhood…

  12. Sam and others, there are number of whiskeys that bring a lot more value if what you are looking for is big, rich, full bodied whiskey. So if we’re talking price and factoring that type of style – then there is no argument here. You will not be happy with Basil Hayden’s.

    On the other hand, if you like interesting and different whiskeys, even at that price, few have this kind of profile. The value equation beyond that is a tricky one and so that I’ll ultimately leave up to you.

  13. sam k says:

    Thanks for recalibrating my expectations, Jason. Maybe, just maybe…

  14. Texas says:

    “Well, consider that at any price point, scotch costs more due to shipping and duties. We consistently hear bourbon fans from overseas complaining about the price of American whiskey over there, so it’s pretty much all relative.”

    I am aware of that, I wasn’t knocking Scotch producers (except ones that charge $70 for 3-year old whisky), but regardless of the reasons, bourbon is simply a much better bang for the buck here. However I still usually have a bottle of a favorite like Laphroaig, Springbank, Talisker around.

    Since I work out of the country for 2-3 months at a time each year, sometimes twice in a year I am certainly aware of the costs of bourbon elsewhere. Bourbon in Australia is outrageously priced for example (actually so is Scotch)…if you can find it. Try $65-$70 AUD for WT 101 8 year, and of course right now 1 AUD is equal to 1 USD.

  15. Alan says:

    One of the best bourbons I’ve tried. It is light, but very well done. A little on the high side for price though. Under $35 would be better. Next up for me is EWSB that you scored very high Jason. Really looking forward to it. Keep the Prichard’s Double Barrel on your radar.

  16. Will do Alan. I am making my way to the Pritchards!

  17. Honestly Sam I don’t want to calibrate anyones expectations. I know your tastes and you know your stuff like many that post here and spend their time making great comments. So I’m not trying to curb your thinking one way or other. I do like to challenge folks to try things, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve had something or not at all. But most of you know what you like and it may not be this style.

    That said, I just really believe strongly that there is difference in what someone generally prefers and enjoying something new and different now and again. Take John Hansell’s latest blog post for example. I didn’t mention it in my comment over there but it really resonated with me. Why? Because frankly I had the same experience this weekend. That feeling where you purse your lips, lift your eyebrows in surprise and say, “hmmm, damn that’s good bourbon right there. What a nice surprise that I’m glad I revisited.”

  18. Alan says:

    Revisiting a bourbon that you first didn’t think much of will many times give you a totally different take on it. For me, Four Roses Small Batch wasn’t a standout the first try. A few days later made a world of difference. Very nice, complex expression. A must have in my bar.
    Really like your reviews Jason. Look forward to them. Thanks for all the knowledge and info you impart to us.

  19. sam k says:

    Your response is really what I was trying to refer to in my repoly, Jason. I find myself getting carried away with the comparing proof and price, and that usually works well for me…to a point. What I was trying to say was, thanks for making me think a bit differently and realize that it doesn’t always have to fit my pre-determined formula.

    Next time it’s on sale here in the People’s Republic of PA, I’m going to give it a shot on your recommendation, then let you know what I thought of the experience.

    It’s good to keep an open mind, and I appreciate your effort in keeping mine open, even if just a bit!

  20. Oz says:

    As I’ve explored the bourbon world, it was explained to me that Basil Hayden is light because it’s a wheated bourbon whereas, Booker’s and Bulleit are ryed bourbons.

    I tried Basil Hayden and couldn’t taste it because it was so light. But the person selling it to me swore that he loved it but couldn’t handle Booker’s or Baker’s because he found them hot and overwhelming.

    In that context, I’d disagree with the part of your review that suggests how the complexity could be brought out. If you’re right, then there’d be less for those who prefer light bourbon, and more for us who want big complexity. Do we really want to take that away from them? :-)

  21. Oz, you are so right about this from the standpoint that Basil Hayden may very well not be made for the “proof hounds” looking for the higher alcohol stuff. So from that standpoint, I believe my comments were more observations based on what I’d like to see. Clearly, there has to be something for everyone.

    As for Basil Hayden, it’s actually a rye-based bourbon. it’s soft and light in body, but has some nice spice to it. The proof really does a lot to make it lighter in flavor, but otherwise it’s a very high rye bourbon. Bookers and Baker’s are “hotter” because they are at 120+ and 107 proof respectively, or about 50% and 25% more alcohol. That’s a great deal and probably why he says they are overwhelming. Adding water allows you to control that though.

    Cheers and thanks for the comments and for checking out the site.

  22. Oz says:

    Thanks for the reply. I’ve learned something and may have been mislead about the rye vs wheat issue.

    I guess I’m a “proof hound.” LOL!

  23. Dan E says:

    So out of curiosity, what other bourbons would you recommend to someone who enjoys Basil Hayden’s but is seeking a lower price point? I’ll be honest… I picked up Basil Hayden’s mostly on a whim (I was eyeing up some bottles at the liquor store when a complete stranger recommend it to me). Turned out to be a great suggestion; I enjoy bourbon but I’ve never been a fan of the harsher brands, so this was a perfect fit for me. But as a student I can’t afford to buy this on the regular. Are there any similar, but cheaper brands?

  24. Dan, appreciate your comment. Glad to hear you enjoy Basil Hayden. I want to say the mashbill is around the high 20-30% rye. Old Grand-Dad is the same mashbill. The “grand-dad” referred on the bottle is actually Basil Hayden. His grandson started the distillery. I’ve reviewed it on the site and it’s inexpensive and delicious. The one I reviewed is 100 proof, but there are some lower proof offerings as well.

    In addition, I’d look at Four Roses Small Batch (about $5-10 less expensive than Basil Hayden) and a blend of higher rye bourbons. Bulleit is also a higher rye (35%) bourbon as well. All of these are very good whiskeys. Perhaps a bit bolder than Basil, but worth trying.

  25. Feel like I’m just reiterating what has been said, but the price point is what keeps this whiskey out of my cabinet. That said, there is definitely a saving grace in the fresh, clean, minty flavor profile for me.

  26. Martha Klein says:

    Jason,

    Found your website through a Google search after my son received a bottle of Basil Hayden for Christmas from my brother, Tom Hayden. We are descendants of Basil Hayden, and have done a little bit of research on Basil. We have not opened the bottle just yet. Sounds like we are in for a treat. Thanks for your review and interesting facts on Basil. Enjoyed it!
    And just one more thing….I learned over the weekend that Basil is pronounced with a short A, (think Basil Rathbone) not a long A ( like the herb)!

  27. Martha, thank you so much or the comment. You definitely need to open a bottle – it’s good stuff. That’s interesting about the pronunciation. That aligns well with my Grandmother’s (one of my inspirations) brother’s name. His name was pronounced Baah(like a sheep)sil. I’ll have to remember that.

    Cheers and let me know your thoughts on the bourbon when you try it.

  28. iskch1 says:

    Tried a small 50 ML bottle and I was dissapointed. The taste is acerbic, very light and not a whole lot going on. I hate to say this, but sipping Basil Hayden’s reminds me of 7 Crowns. I believe Four Roses Yellow label is a whole lot better I.M.O

    I’ll give Basil Hayden’s another try mixing it with something because by itself is not worth it.

  29. Jamie says:

    Is it like Old Grand Dad 86. Oily, coats tongue,savory thing and grains while being light.

  30. iskch1 says:

    Mixing Basil Hayden’s with Ginger Ale works. Delicious.

  31. Jamie says:

    Bought it. Dont get it. Maybe I should try 4 Roses 100 proof. Is that like Old Grand Dad since they use a orange yeast strain and a high rye mashbill too.

  32. Jamie, it’s definitely not for everyone. The Four Roses Single Barrel is excellent stuff. It is not like Old Grand Dad. It’s fruitier for sure. Also Four Roses has a fruity yeast strain that gives off more berry notes than orange notes for me.

  33. Jared says:

    I’ve tried basil Hayden and am not a whiskey, bourbon, or scotch drinker. However I do have to say I did enjoy it! I’ve since been handing it out as Christmas presents to share the secret

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