A new Basil Hayden’s release has hit the market. This time, it is is not a bourbon like the original Basil Hayden’s (8 year and then non-age stated) or the latest 10 Year Bourbon release. Instead, it is labeled as a “rye,” following the spring 2017 Basil Hayden’s Rye release, the fall 2017 Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye, and the summer 2018 Basil Hayden’s Two-by-Two Rye (which was a Rye and Bourbon blend). It is the Basil Hayden’s Caribbean Reserve Rye, and it is a “rum finished” 80 proof Rye from Jim Beam.
While the front label seems to indicate a “rum finish,” the back label clarifies that this Rye marries “Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey with Canadian Rye Whisky and a subtle touch of Black Strap Rum.” It is blended, not rum barrel finished. This is something Jim Beam has done before with the Dark Rye, which was also Kentucky Straight Rye and Canadian Rye, but there it was blended with Port.
I was exited when this was announced earlier this year. When it appeared on a shelf while I was on a trip out of state, I couldn’t resist picking it up.
Basil Hayden’s Caribbean Reserve Rye (80 Proof)
Nose: This is a nose you can peg from across the table, as the molasses note immediately fills the surrounding air after only a slightly aggressive pour. As you approach, surprisingly, the molasses yields a bit to traditional bourbon notes (yes, I realize this is a Rye) of caramel and vanilla. But just beyond those traditional barrel notes comes more molasses, this time combined with a distinct burnt sugar note (as if someone over torched the top of a creme brûlée). These notes dominate from then on. The diluted rye grain notes and the dill/herbal notes that are prevalent in the standard Basil Hayden’s Rye are also present, along with a slight lemon sweetness. The sum of these parts is an odd combination of punchy sweetness, but otherwise muted character. (2/5)
Palate: So . . . much . . . molasses, maybe in a blackstrap rum sort of way, but more so just a pure flavor of molasses from a jar. Very sweet, with a bit of pasty/cookie – think gingersnap without the ginger and triple dose of molasses. More of the burnt sugar appears aside the molasses, but those flavors are so powerful that any rye notes are but a scavenger hunt. If you can find it, there is a bit of herbal rye character behind (more of the dill and a bit of rye grain). (2/5)
Finish: More molasses, this time taking the form of fresh pumpernickel bread. Brown sugar. Burnt sugar. Some herbal and ginger notes, along with some vanilla and finally a bit of pecan. Finally these molasses notes seem to have a place. (2.5/5)
Overall: I struggle to view this a merely a “finished rye.” As I described above, despite a front label note of “rum finish,” this appears to be two Ryes blended with Black Strap Rum. It comes across as flavored – if you like some of the brown sugar bourbons that are on the market, maybe you will like this. But it feels artificial. And cheap. I’d not buy this again, and I’m not sure I’d drink it again (2/5)
Value: I picked this up for $46. This is a huge miss. Even in Basil Hayden’s standards, this feels overpriced. Check our our reviews of the other Basil Hayden’s products, which we don’t often view too favorably on value. But those all seem to be a better value than this. I can’t say I’ve tried many brown-sugar flavored bourbons, but I feel like this should fall in a $20-$25 range like some of the others I’ve seen. (1.5/5)
“But it feels artificial. And cheap. I’d not buy this again, and I’m not sure I’d drink it again.”
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.