Monday, April 25, 2022

New Basil Hayden Release May be a Good Choice for Fans of Extremely Old Bourbon

Very old bourbons, say 15-years and up, are not for everyone. Wood dominates, especially the acrid notes of char and ash. If that sort of thing appeals to you, and it does to many, the present limited availability and high cost of those products may be a source of vexation. Now comes a possible solution in Basil Hayden Subtle Smoke from Beam Suntory. 

The suggested retail is $49.99, but it seems to be running in the $60-$70 range. Even at that price it is more affordable than genuine very-olds like Elijah Craig 18 or Eagle Rare 17, if you can even find those at retail. It is a one-off, but it should be generally available until it’s not. (Their limited editions are not all that limited.) Point is, if you act now, you might actually get to drink it.

Make no mistake. This is not a very-old. It is standard Basil Hayden bourbon, most likely 6- to 8-years old (the 8-year age statement was dropped a few years back), with a secondary barrel finish. The finishing barrel is toasted and lightly charred, then they pump hickory-chip smoke into the barrel and through the whiskey. Nobody is claiming this as a ‘rapid aging’ technology, but it has that effect on the flavor. It tastes old-ish.

They maybe didn’t need to go to so much trouble. The end result is similar to Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, which they get by soaking, heating, and agitating freshly emptied barrels, then mixing that wash with the straight whiskey.

Like most work-around solutions, this one has drawbacks. Although Basil Hayden has become an almost-anything-goes experimental platform for Beam Suntory with secondary barrel finishes, flavorings like port wine and other innovations, they are sticking with the brand’s 80° proof hallmark (40% ABV). This, they say, is what makes Basil Hayden ‘approachable,’ one of the brand's key attributes, and while that is generally true they might want to pause it for this product. Despite the name, the effect is not that subtle, which is all to the good for folks who like this sort of thing.

Another deficiency is the body. It comes off thin because char overpowers the vanilla and wood sugars a high-rye bourbon like Basil Hayden relies on for backbone.

As for it being ‘smoky,’ it is smoky in the way that a very old bourbon is smoky. It is nothing like a smoky scotch. That is peat smoke and there is nothing like that here. It is hickory, after all, campfire smoke or, if you prefer, bacon smoke. (But it doesn’t taste like bacon either, more’s the pity.)

There are some blends out there that also simulate that very-old effect. Whether it's Beam Suntory's Little Book or American craft blends from independents such as Lost Lantern and 50 State, expanding your search beyond known double-digit age statements and opening your mind a little to different ways of getting there might just yield the taste you are looking for at a price you can afford from a bottle you actually can go to the store and buy, and wouldn't that be a nice change-of-pace?

1 comment:

Ben D said...

I really liked this. I only dinged it a quarter point because of the lack of mouthfeel. It reminded me of drinking a good bourbon while sitting and minding the smoker on a Sunday afternoon. I think I might like the Peg Leg Porker just a bit more. It is Dickel Whisky that doesn't get the Lincoln County Process that is filtered through Hickory Charcoal from Peg Leg Porker restaurant just prior to bottling. Similar result, but with a more substantial mouthfeel and a higher proof.