Whiskey Review: Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye Whiskey

Basil Hayden’s is a high-rye American straight bourbon whiskey and one of the core brands in Beam Suntory’s Small Batch Collection. Whereas Booker’s is a high-octane, cask-strength bourbon, Basil Hayden’s is bottled at a much more gentle 80 proof, and is generally considered the lightest and softest of the Small Batch collection.

Late last year, Beam Suntory introduced a new permanent offering in this collection in the guise of Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye Whiskey, a blend of American rye, Canadian rye from the Alberta Distillery, and a dose of California port to, I suspect, add a fruity note to the finished spirit, as opposed to simply finishing the rye in port barrels (as this one we have previously reviewed.) How much of each is a mystery, but I would posit that there is as much port in the whiskey as they can get away with. It’s a combination reminiscent of the Alberta Rye Dark Batch release, which mingled Canadian 100% rye with Kentucky bourbon and Oloroso sherry.

For many hardcore rye enthusiasts, myself included, this may come across as simply too much port. When combined with the already sweeter Canadian rye, I fear the combination may bury those trademark pickle notes that often accompany the lean spice of American rye. Let’s find out if my suspicious are confirmed.

Basil Hayden's Dark Rye

Tasting Notes: Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye Whiskey

Vital stats: A blend of American rye from their Kentucky distillery, Canadian rye from the Alberta Distillery, and an addition of California port. Bottled at 80 proof, selling for around $40 to $50.

Appearance: The color of freshly roasted chestnuts.

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Nose: Sweet notes of ruby port that lean into hints of oak, fresh leather, pickling spice, and dried dark red fruit.

Palate: Port overwhelms the palate, with light notes of rye spiciness and briny pickles, chocolate, some oak, finishing with a slightly cloying hint of caramelized corn syrup.

The Takeaway

This is a rye for people who have little to no experience with rye whiskey and usually drink sweet alcohol. It's almost like a high-end flavored whiskey geared towards those who are interested in moving from light to dark spirits. Not the rye for aficionados, but great for adding to maple syrup, frappes, or using as a mixer in a cocktail. I would not drink this one neat.