Just in time for the Olympics, we review two American whiskeys from Jim Beam’s Small Batch portfolio, which includes Basil Hayden, Knob Creek, Booker’s, and Baker’s. Bourbon is easily the most patriotic American spirit so we’ll also share a bourbon cocktail recipe, Basil Hayden’s Summer Gold, to toast after each US gold medal.
First up is Knob Creek Rye Whiskey, which is a 100 Proof masterpiece that hit store shelves earlier this month. Back in the early 1900’s, rye whiskey was easily the most popular spirit in America, but during prohibition, palates were forced to change and the rye category shrunk while bourbons, Canadian whiskeys, and Irish whiskeys overtook the world of brown spirits. Over the last decade, however, driven mostly by the cocktail scene, rye has re-emerged and there’s been an eruption in demand with several new rye offerings from brands like Wild Turkey, Bulleit and Woodford Reserve.
To be categorized as a rye whiskey, at least 51% of the whiskey mash must consist of rye. Finding a balance is a challenge and most rye whiskeys come off as too hot and far from subtle, making it difficult to drink neat. That’s definitely not the case with Knob Creek Rye. The light amber liquid has tremendous balance with subtle spice and fantastic rye notes, supported by hints of vanilla and American white oak. The finish is clean with an enduring spice. It’s one of only a few ryes that I would consider drinking neat and at only $39.99, it’s a can’t miss.
Overall grade: 9/10
Next up is one of my favorite premium bourbons, Basil Hayden. Despite being only 80 Proof, it’s known for having a spicier finish than most premium bourbons, primarily due to its use of twice as much rye than traditional bourbons. The recipe dates back to 1796 when Basil Hayden himself, who originally made whiskey from rye, found his way to Kentucky and started making bourbon from corn, but added a higher portion of rye.
It’s aged in new American white oak barrels for eight years and is then charcoal and chill filtered. The result is an ultra-drinkable whiskey, both neat and in cocktails. At $36.99, it’s also rather affordable, making a nice contribution to your home bar.
Overall Grade: 8/10
Olympic Cocktail: Basil Hayden’s Summer Gold
1 ½ parts Basil Hayden Bourbon
½ part Pimm’s No. 1
½ part Cold Black Tea
½ part Simple Syrup
Ribbon of Orange Peel
1. In a metal tumbler, muddle mint into the simple syrup until mint becomes aromatic
2. Add remaining ingredients and ice
3. Stir together until tumbler gets cold
4. Top off with more ice and garnish with fresh mint and orange peel twist.
Recipe by Daniel Hyatt, San Francisco