Rich Report Recommends: The Basil Hayden Smoked Bourbon is Worth Trying Even For Whiskey Nerds

Rich Report Recommends: The Basil Hayden Smoked Bourbon is Worth Trying Even For Whiskey Nerds
Courtesy of Knockturnal‍

Directly into the whiskey barrels were pumped fumes from the distillery.

It has always been a problem for bourbon drinkers with Basil Hayden, a whiskey from Jim Beam's Small Batch Collection, because the proof is too low. For experienced drinkers, it isn't strong enough at 40 percent ABV, the minimum for being called whiskey. It's not that they're looking to get blitzed, although some certainly do, but because 80-proof whiskey isn't as complex as higher proof whiskey in terms of flavor, mouthfeel, and overall complexity. All in all, bourbon enthusiasts must consider trying the new Basil Hayden Subtle Smoke, since the proof is lower.

My prediction for the initial reaction is based on the fact that this is a brand-new release and I have not searched Twitter for it. Bourbonerds will complain that Beam is going overboard with yet another "experimental" Basil Hayden release such as Dark Rye or Caribbean Reserve, trying out things that nobody will enjoy to boost one of Beam's lesser brands.

I would like to emphasize that most of these comments will be made before one has ever tried the whiskey themselves. When I tasted this bourbon with an open mind, I was delighted to discover that it struck a nice balance between the classic Bourbon flavor profile and the aroma of savory smoke, making it a truly interesting and unique bourbon.

Freddie Noe, the eighth generation Beam distiller who also is responsible for Little Book, was the driving force behind the new release. Here’s how the distillery accomplished this. It's no secret that he is incredibly passionate about pushing the envelope at the distillery. If you know anything about him and have tasted his work, then you know he is dedicated to doing just that. The high rye bourbon was smoked for six months in a lightly charred barrel instead of being smoked over the grain, as is usually done when making peated scotch, for example. It's not just about the age of the whiskey that is smoked in the barrel. The actual aged whiskey was smoked instead of the grain in the barrel due to the smoke that was produced by burning hickory-smoked wood chips.

The results are immediately evident when you sip this intriguing bourbon, which may seem gimmicky at first, but the results are instantly noticeable when you taste it. There are notes of leather and chocolate on the nose, as well as a hint of smoke that you might smell on your clothes in the morning after spending a few hours around a campfire. As far as the palate goes, you get a lot of savory barbecue sauce, cherries, orange and cinnamon, all accompanied by subtle smoke, as the name suggests.

Despite the fact that this is not the first smoky bourbon out there, it is hard to find an example of a smoked bourbon in the world. Wild Turkey's Longbranch comes close, but it is filtered through mesquite charcoal instead of actually being smoked. There is a peated bourbon made by Kings County, and several single malts made with smoked barley, including Colkegan, that uses mesquite smoke as part of the production process. There's no doubt in my mind that Basil Hayden Subtle Smoke would be a better brand if it was bottled at about 90 proof, but that isn't going to happen with this one. Although the smoke on this bourbon might appear to be subtle, the bourbon itself makes its presence known when used in cocktails. I recommend coming to it with an open mind, and experimenting with it.

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