Jim Beam continued its Basil Hayden’s special release series this year with Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye.
What is this stuff?
First, let’s start with Basil Hayden’s. You can read more about Basil Hayden himself, and the origins of the brand, here. Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is part of Jim Beam’s small batch series, along with Knob Creek, Booker’s, and Baker’s. Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is known for being a “gateway” bourbon. That is, it is an ideal introductory bourbon, due to its low alcohol content (80 proof) and inoffensive profile (sweet and smooth). At between 6-8 years old, it has just enough age to not taste young, but also not enough age to have an overwhelming oak flavor.
In 2017, Jim Beam expanded the brand with the release of Basil Hayden’s Rye. Basil Hayden’s Rye contains a four-year rye that is aged an additional seven years in quarter casks. This aging technique using a smaller cask is to try and accelerate the natural aging process by exposing more of the liquid to the oak container. Basil Hayden’s Rye, like the bourbon, is bottled at 80 proof.
That brings us to Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye (don’t worry, we did not forget the intervening release of Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye, which we will cover another time). Released in 2018 as the newest iteration of Basil Hayden’s, the Two by Two Rye is a blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys. The blend contains an unknown proportion of 5 year Kentucky straight rye, 7 year Kentucky straight rye (with a higher rye mash), a 13 year Kentucky straight bourbon, and 6 year Kentucky straight bourbon. And, as always, it is bottled at 80 proof.
At first blush, it may seem like Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye cranked up the age compared to the previous releases. This is misleading for two reasons. First, we do not know the proportions in the blend. Second, even assuming the blend is equally proportional, the average age is still 7.75 years – essentially the same as the original Basil Hayden’s bourbon’s current blend of between 6-8 years.
Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye, though unique to Jim Beam, is not plowing any new ground in the American whiskey scene. Wild Turkey and High West have ventured into blending bourbon and rye for years, with Wild Turkey Forgiven and High West Bourye.
With that background, we decided to review Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye alongside Basil Hayden’s Bourbon and Basil Hayden’s Rye.
Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
Nose: Hardly a trace of ethanol, but the other scents are also difficult to pick up; honey, caramel, vanilla, a bit of citrus (lemon) and some faint apple. Overall, a traditional bourbon profile nose, with an underlying sweetness most of all. It’s simple, inoffensive, and straight-forward.
Palate: The nose carries through to the palate, with corn, vanilla, and caramel up front; a bit of oak that flirts between cardboard and just dry wood; some apple and a bit of lemon zest. This is like a diluted sweet tea, with sweetness throughout and just a bit of tea, but is all so diluted that nothing stands out strongly.
Finish: In addition to the profile of corn sweetness, caramel and vanilla from the nose and palate, there’s a bit of herb and rye spice, faint pepper, and some cardboard. A medium finish, this does not really enhance the experience, but is also hardly something that is memorable.
Overall: Though the low proof works against this bourbon from start to finish, something should be said for how balanced it is. There is a reason that Basil Hayden’s Bourbon has the following that it does. If you want something easy to sip like a diluted sweet tea, then this is for you.
Value: For what it delivers, the retail price of around $45 is difficult to justify. Throw an ice cube in a glass of Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond, trade out a couple of years of age for about a $20 savings, and you probably won’t complain.
Basil Hayden’s Rye
Nose: Even more evasive than the bourbon. To say it is delicate cannot be overstated. There is some cornbread and spearmint with a trace of dill and raw rye grain, but otherwise the nose is almost completely absent.
Palate: Corn, cardboard, some diluted caramel syrup with a trace of some sort of savory and salty flavor. Some old chalky bubblegum.
Finish: Blink and you miss it. Left with a trace of pepper and clove.
Overall: This takes away the balance and traditional profile from the rye, replaces it with a trace of some rye attributes, and then falls apart. To think that this would be someone’s introduction to rye would be a tragedy.
Value: If it was hard to justify the bourbon’s price, this falls flat on its face. This delivers nothing more than Old Overholt, which can be found for about 1/3 the price.
Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye
Nose: Diluted caramel, fresh bread (just as much wheat as rye), molasses, more oak than cardboard, which makes it smell older than the rye. A very old and stale orange Starburst. More of a bourbon profile than rye, though it does have some rye bread character. 2/5
Palate: An initial rye spice on the front end that quickly disappears before being able to further identify it and ends up seeming like unfulfilled potential. Then transitions to corn sweetness, some oak, vanilla extract, and diluted caramel syrup. A waxpaper/cardboard flavor also emerges, with some peanut shell. 2/5
Finish: Becomes more dry than the bourbon or rye. The tannic finish seems like a cruel joke after enduring the diluted flavors throughout. 2/5
Overall: This could be described at best as “unfulfilled potential.” But more accurately, it seems to suffer an identity crisis. 2/5
Value: Just don’t. For the same price as store pick Knob Creek rye or bourbon, this is insulting. 1/5
Stephen is a regular writer at FlightClubICT.com