The Dark Rye is a winner, though it’s very odd, especially for an American distiller. Part of that may be because not all the liquid in the bottle comes from Jim Beam.
Dark Rye sounds very much like a nonsense concoction your friend would make at 4 AM, but if that’s what happened in the research lab at Beam, good on them. It’s a clever blend of three liquids: Beam’s own whiskey, rye from Canada’s Alberta Distillery, and a splash of California port (actual port, not just finishing barrels). Using fortified wine is a style of whiskey making typically found in Canada, and rarely seen in the U.S., so they definitely checked the box for a unique whiskey.
The surprise, though, is that it’s really tasty. The dark liquid is syrupy and earthy, with notes of dried fruits and tons of caramel. The rye really only comes out at the end, like a satisfying little finishing flourish to remind you what you’re drinking.
Basil Hayden’s is part of a trio of sister bottles from Jim Beam that includes Booker’s and Baker’s. But after the success of Booker’s Rye a few years ago, Beam has been testing the waters with line expansions under these names.
This is actually the second rye released under the Basil Hayden’s name this year. In the late spring a second, much lighter rye was released in limited supply. It had a low overall rye content (by law rye is required to contain a minimum of 51 percent rye grain) and we’ll admit that we weren’t its biggest fan (we elected not to write about it after tasting it). But someone had to like it: it won a few awards this year including one at the San Francisco Spirits Competition.
This Dark Rye bottle, on the other hand, won us over.
We found it to be a flavorful ingredient in a couple of whiskey cocktails, specifically the old fashioned and particularly the boulevardier. In both cases, the syrupy texture and the earthy, molasses flavor made for tasty beverages.
It definitely works best in spirit-forward cocktails, but we could see it making a very satisfying highball for the right audience.
But it also must be said that, as whiskey enthusiasts start to back away from drinking cask strength for the sake of cask strength, this is an 80-proof bottle that seems intentionally designed for neat pour by a winter fire.