Basil Hayden dark rye review

Basil Hayden Dark Rye Review

Meet Luke

Luke is a Level I Certified Whiskey Specialist with a passion for exploring and unearthing the best whiskeys around. Luke has a preference for Rye whiskeys but has tasted over 250 different whiskeys to date varying from bourbons to scotches. He continues to expand upon his whiskey knowledge by tasting dozens of bottles monthly and reviewing them here on Barrel and Brew as he pursues his Masters of Whiskey certification.

Basil Hayden is most known for their Kentucky Straight Bourbon, the lighter small batch selection of Beam Suntory. As someone who enjoys Basil Hayden Bourbon, I thought I’d give their Dark Rye a chance, especially since I have an affinity for rye whiskey. However, Basil Hayden Dark Rye threw me somewhat of a curveball.

I was expecting a dark rye whiskey, but that’s not quite what this is. In this Basil Hayden Dark Rye review, I’ll dive into what exactly this spirit is, the tasting notes, price, and more. Fans of both whiskey and red wine will want to keep on reading.

Basil Hayden dark rye review

Basil Hayden History

Basil Hayden, originally Basil Hayden’s, didn’t become a brand until 1992 as a small batch brand by Jim Beam. The tradition and history, though, dates back to the mid 1800’s. Meredith Basil Hayden Sr. began producing whiskey in the 1840’s where she crafted whiskey using a high-rye mashbill. Her whiskey was a hit, and the Hayden’s were able to continue their growth.

That growth allowed Raymond B. Hayden the ability to create a whiskey brand called Old Grand-Dad. First created in 1882, this brand is still producing whiskey for the James B. Beam Distilling Co. and Beam Suntory. Basil Hayden’s was created in 1992 as an 8 year old version of Old Grand-Dad.

Originally, the brand was known as Basil Hayden’s, but they recently redesigned their image and bottles. Part of this new design incorporated a slight name change to Basil Hayden – dropping the apostrophe and S.

Basil Hayden Dark Rye Overview

  • Spirit: Spirits Specialties / Whiskey Specialties
  • Owned By: Beam Suntory
  • Distilled By: James B. Beam Distilling Co.
  • Aged: NAS
  • ABV: 40%, 80 Proof
  • Mashbill: Unknown. (Blend of Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, Canadian Rye Whisky, and Port)

The first thing to note, is that this is classified as a specialty whiskey, which falls in line with flavored whiskeys. While it’s a blend of both American rye and Canadian rye whiskeys, they add port – or wine – directly to the blend instead of barrel finishing it in port casks. This allows the Dark Rye to have a stronger port flavor without having to let the whiskey sit in a barrel for an additional year+.

The biggest question here is certainly the blend. We know that the Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey has been aged for at least two years, so is it mostly that with a light blend of others? Or is there a lot of port blended in? Hopefully we’ll have an idea once we get to our tasting.

What is Port?

Okay, so, we’ve discussed that Basil Hayden Dark Rye is a blend that includes port, but what exactly does that mean? Port is a fortified wine produced in Portugal. Fortified wine is simply wine that is blended with some sort of distilled spirit – often times brandy. Port is similar to sherry, marsala, and madeira, their differences being primarily location of production.

More often, you’ll find whiskey that has been barrel finished in port, sherry, marsala, or madeira casks. These barrels add notes of dark fruits and chocolate, but Basil Hayden went the direct route of simply adding port to the blend.

If you’re interested in learning more about distilled wine – brandy or cognac – check out our article on D’ussé vs Hennessy.

Basil Hayden Dark Rye Tasting Notes

Alright, it’s time to figure out if this specialty spirit is any good. Is it more reminiscent of rye whiskey or wine? Or something else entirely? Let’s pour ourselves a glass and get to it!

Nose: Dark cherry, oak, a touch of vanilla and rye spice.

Taste: The initial flavor is decidedly that of port and wine. Plum and cherry stand out most with a touch of rye spice and whiskey. Sharp flavors that lack depth.

Finish: Short and sharp finish. A hit of dark fruit and spice quickly fades into dryness with fruity and chocolate notes.

Get Monthly Whiskey Recommendations
We review 10-15 whiskeys a month. Find new favorites to add to your liquor cabinet!
Featured Image

Taste Summary

Basil Hayden is known for being a lighter option at 80 proof. The Dark Rye fits that category. While the flavors are that of a darker whiskey, such as dark fruits and chocolate, the overall palate and finish is light and easy. The flavor of the whiskey isn’t bad. It’s not what I’d typically look for, but I it’s good enough, and I think plenty of people out there would enjoy it.

The problem for me is with the whiskey itself. I’m not one to be too picky about depth and complexity, but this falls a tad short for me. The flavors go just as fast as they come and the mouthfeel is a bit thin. Overall, the whiskey falls on the cheap side instead of the rich side in terms of the palate.

The finish doesn’t do it any favors either. Again, it’s quick and sharp, and it leaves a dry taste of cherry flavored chocolate in your mouth. Now, it doesn’t sound bad, and it likely wouldn’t be if the whiskey was of a little higher quality or aged a bit longer.

Basil Hayden Dark Rye Price

There is some good and bad with Basil Hayden Dark Rye – maybe a little more bad than good from my perspective – but taste isn’t the only thing that matters. Price is a big factor in our buying decisions, so let’s take a look at what a bottle of Dark Rye will cost you. We take a look at various Total Wine stores across the US to come up with an average price range.

Basil Hayden Dark Rye 750ml: $38-43

This bottle comes in at about the same price as their bourbon, so it’s certainly not an unfair or unexpected price.


Now that we’ve covered the taste and price, we can discuss the value of a bottle of Basil Hayden Dark Rye. I think the most valuable part of a bottle is simply trying something new. I’m always interested in trying out different whiskeys, and I like wine, so it was at least an interesting pour for me. If you like wine and/or sweet whiskey, you might enjoy this bottle as well.

Personally, I am not likely to buy a bottle of Basil Hayden Dark Rye again. I’d prefer to buy a bottle of real dark rye whiskey or just a couple bottles of wine. It’s not awful, I’d just recommend trying it before buying it. At the end of the day, though, it’s drinkable and it’s a $40 bottle, so you can always buy it and see how it goes. Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

Basil Hayden dark rye

Basil Hayden Dark Rye Summary

I recently tried and reviewed Sagamore Spirit Double Oak Rye and loved it. It’s a darker rye, and that’s what I was initially looking for in Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye. It’s not what I got. The Dark Rye is a blend of American rye, Canadian rye, and port wine, and the overwhelming flavor comes from the port. Their website describes the blend as “a touch of port”, but it seems to be more than that. I think they’d be better off barrel finishing their rye whiskey in port casks instead of directly adding port. This would add some age and depth to the flavors that it currently doesn’t have.

Part of my dislike for Basil Hayden Dark Rye comes from my expectations. I was hoping for one thing but got something totally different. Again, this isn’t an undrinkable whiskey by any means, It’s just not for me. Some people will probably enjoy it more than I have, but it’s by no means a thick, rich, and complex whiskey – flavorful at best.


Below are frequently asked questions regarding Basil Hayden Dark Rye, many of which have been answered in the article above.

Is Basil Hayden Dark Rye Sweet?

Yes, undoubtedly so. It is a blend of rye whiskey and port wine. Port wine adds many darker fruit notes such as cherry and plum.

How Many Carbs are in Basil Hayden Dark Rye?

Per 1.5 fl oz. there are 0g carbs, protein, and fat. It contains 97 calories per serving.

How Do You Serve Basil Hayden Dark Rye?

You can serve Dark Rye on the rocks, but I prefer it in a Manhattan. It’s already fairly flavorful, so you shouldn’t need to add too much vermouth or bitters.

Get Monthly Whiskey Recommendations
We review 10-15 whiskeys a month. Find new favorites to add to your liquor cabinet!
Featured Image

Similar Posts


  1. This doesn’t make any sense. If they add port wine to this whiskey in sufficient quantity to make the rye sweet, how can it have zero carbs? Port has sugar, and sugar has carbs. Please advise further. Thanx.

    1. Hey Bob,

      On a per barrel basis, or even a per bottle basis, there are sure to be some carbs and sugar due to the port. However, on a per serving basis of 1.5 fl oz, there are not sufficient levels of sugar or carbs.

      While we aren’t sure the exact breakdown of the blend, this is a specialty whiskey, so the primary makeup is whiskey. I know we talked about how sweet Basil Hayden Dark Rye is, but it would not take much port blended in to have this effect.

      Barrel aging in port casks can have a significant impact on flavor, so imagine what happens when you add port directly to the whiskey. Even though it’s just a touch of port, the flavor is dominant.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Hey Luke,
    Thank you for the great review. I enjoyed reading it.
    In regards to your response. I understand that it wouldn’t take a lot of port to get that flavor and color but if you had to guess how much port do you think is actually added per bottle?

    1. It’s hard to really say, but it’s not much. They haven’t and won’t release any info on the portions of the blend other than that it’s mostly Kentucky Rye, then Canadian rye, and a “touch of port”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *