The buzz began to spread among bourbon and whiskey aficionados in late October 2017. Jim Beam’s Basil Hayden was coming out with a new release that was to become a permanent addition to the portfolio. With the title Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye, the special spirit was a blend of Kentucky straight rye whiskey, Canadian rye whisky and California port style wine bottled at 80 proof. The regular Basil Hayden bourbon is a high-rye mash bill, and it won double gold in the 2017 New York International Spirits Competition, so getting behind this new blend of Kentucky and Canadian rye whiskeys seemed like a no brainer.
It wasn’t simply finished in a used port barrel – port was actually poured into the recipe. What was this going to taste like? Could a blend of three vastly different ingredients even come close to being as delectable as its flagship brand? As one might imagine, reviews have been divided. Whiskey purists won’t go near the stuff, confused about the addition of port, the blending of rye whiskeys, the low proof and how it even relates to regular Basil Hayden.
Whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery believes it tastes more like port than rye — which he says isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And even Alcohol Professor editor and author Amanda Schuster had a few concerns, one being the low proof. “It makes for a decent cocktail base, but cask strength/higher proof would give it more life in drinks.” she says. “Also, I can’t comprehend why it’s blended with Canadian rye when Basil Hayden’s is such a great whiskey in its own right and they must have some terrific casks in the warehouse to work from. Why?”
Bourbon historian and writer Michael Veach went on record as liking the Dark Rye as well. “Think of it as an old Maryland-style rye that was highly rectified. It is sweeter than most rye whiskeys as a result, but it is not a bad product just because it is rectified,” he said.
Also, the flavour note of raw cookie dough wasn’t too far off — “Spice cookies is the way I would describe it,” Veach continued. “I think it would pair well with a mild cigar as a result of that sweet and spicy combination.”
Many said they could detect sugar, spice and everything nice — from brown sugar to nutmeg — and only one other person pointed out the finish of cookie dough, and it just so happens she owns her own chocolate store. She described it as having a flour-like note at the end, which is most likely triggering my memory of eating raw sugar cookie dough as a kid.
If you’re looking for a recipe to make with the Dark Rye, here it is in a Boulevardier, which adds some bitter components to balance out the sweetness.
Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye Boulevardier
Strain into a chilled Spiegelau short drink glass and serve up. Garnish with an orange peel.