In the world of the bourbon geek, there are few premium-priced bourbons that receive more derision than Basil Hayden’s. And it can be boiled down to a few main reasons. For some, it’s the proof. At 40% ABV it isn’t the monster that most of us seem to prefer. For some it’s the complexity. Or more accurately, the lack of it. For some it’s the price. It isn’t unusual to see Basil Hayden hovering near the $40 mark. And seeing as it shares a mashbill with the lower priced (and higher proofed) Old Grand-Dad line, it can be hard for some folks to take.
Basil Hayden’s was one of the first bourbons that my wife really liked. It was one that she bought on special occasions back when paying $40 for a bottle of bourbon seemed unusual. It was with a little glee that I discovered that it was made from the same stuff as Old Grand-Dad, a bourbon that was really much more in line with my desired price point. Coincidentally, Old Grand-Dad was one of the first bourbons I bought that I ever disliked. It was the 100 proof Bottled-in-bond version. On the first sip, I really didn’t care for it. But by the time I finished the bottle, I’d changed my tune. At the time it was a “have it in a glass if it’s handed to you, but probably don’t buy it.”
Oh, what a difference a few years can make. Old Grand-Dad 114 is now a staple at my house (or at least, as close as anything can come when you’re me). And I haven’t purchased a bottle of Basil Hayden’s in a few years now. And since we’ve talked about the rest of the Small Batch Collection over the last couple weeks, it made a good excuse to go back and revisit a former favorite and see how it stacks up next to it’s younger, cheaper, and higher proof brother.
Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Purchase info: $26.99 for 750 mL at Total Wine and Spirits, Burnsville, MN
Details: 40% ABV. No age statement so technically at least 4 years old, but previous bottlings were stated 8 years so it’s probably safe to assume that it at least trends that same direction.
Nose: Spearmint, cherries and honey with a hint of oak underneath.
Mouth: Gentle, uncomplicated. Sweet bubblegum and grain.
Finish: Lingering sweetness that slowly fades to bitterness. Spices and a minty-heat stay with you.
Thoughts: This is the most approachable bourbon in Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection. Pair that with an elaborate label and it is no wonder that it is a favorite of many people just making a step up from Jack Daniels. This is all about the nose and the finish. I find the nose very nice, and it has a better finish than any 80° proof bourbon has a right to. Overall maybe not a great value at the list price, but it is easy enough to find on-sale that it shouldn’t be hard to pick it up for less. If you’re like me and like a lighter bourbon on occasion, this might be for you.
Old Grand-Dad 114
Purchase info: $20.95 for a 750 mL at Zipp’s Liquor, Minneapolis, MN (on-sale)
Details: 57% ABV. Straight bourbon with no age statement so at least 4 years old.
Nose: Buttered popcorn right off the bat. After that dissipates, buttered toffee sweetness predominates. Then the yeasty smell of rising bread dough and some baking spices. This one changes as you go along with it.
Mouth: Hot. Sweet toffee. Corn. A spicy tingle on the sides of your tongue.
Finish: Long lingering warmth. Nice and Dry.
Thoughts: Hands down one of my favorite sub-$25 bourbons. Sweet and spicy is a good combo in my book and the dry finish adds some nice complexity. Plus, did I mention sub-$25?
Comparison thoughts: As I mentioned above, one of the knocks against Basil Hayden’s has always been its price. Whiskey geeks tend to scoff at paying up to $40 for “watered-down Old Grad-Dad.” But to me these bourbons, though they start out the same, are completely different animals. The Basil Hayden’s seems to be geared more toward the Jack Daniels drinker looking for something “special.” It’s got a similar light taste, but has much more going on in the finish. The Old Grand-Dad 114 seems almost positioned to be a geek favorite. It’s high proof, a bit challenging and has an amazing price. It really is a testament to the skill that people have in choosing barrels to fit a particular flavor profile. I can easily recommend both of these depending on mood. Especially if you can find ol’ Basil on sale somewhere.
Fun Fact: Old Grand-Dad's name was Basil Hayden. Old Grand-Dad was named after the founder's grandfather, Basil Hayden. Beam decided to honor that heritage when they released Basil Hayden.