Since its initial release in 1992, Basil Hayden has amassed a devoted following among bourbon drinkers who appreciate a lighter edge to their liquid of choice. This is precisely what Booker Noe set out to achieve when he conceived of the 80-proof whiskey. It’s remained remarkably consistent ever since. The 6th generation master distiller passed away in 2004. But today, his grandson, Freddie Noe, stewards the Basil Hayden label as part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection. As of late, he’s been introducing innovation into the line while maintaining its hallmark approachability. The latest example: Basil Hayden Red Wine Cask Finish.
To craft the limited-edition bourbon, Noe blends the flagship 80-proof Kentucky straight with a bourbon, which was partially aged in California red wine casks. It differs from a more traditional finishing process, wherein all the whiskey would just be re-racked into wine-seasoned barrels for a secondary aging. Noe also isn’t providing any details on exactly where the casks came from, nor what type of red wine they formerly held.
Nevertheless, the release is hardly some sort of marketing ploy. It carries currant in the nose and drags dried berry fruit across the palate—not the sort of stuff you’d suss out of a standard pour of Basil Hayden. What it does deliver that’s true to form, however, is the signature smoothness.
Yes, “smooth” is a term that some spirit sippers despise. But that’s their problem. This dram goes down without a fight, as nature—and the Noes—intended. Indeed, Freddie crafted this whiskey with aperitif-hour in mind. So Basil Hayden Red Wine Cask could very well serve as entry bourbon for seasoned wine drinkers. Or maybe it’s cocktail fodder for wine-curious whiskey lovers. Either way, it’s light, easy-drinking bourbon. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
“We are creating new avenues for consumers to enjoy our light and inviting expressions through unique cask finishes and innovative releases,” says Jonathan Marks, from the global small batch bourbon team at Beam Suntory—Jim Beam’s parent company. “Basil Hayden Red Wine Cask Finish continues the Basil Hayden mission to [open] up the category to new drinkers and occasions.”