Basil Hayden Toast is not a buttered toast-infused whiskey meant for pre-noon consumption, but that’s no reason to be disappointed. Rather, it’s a new straight bourbon whiskey from the Kentucky label that swaps out the rye in its mash bill for American-grown brown rice, and finishes parts of its blend in toasted barrels. Though it’s the latter feature that gives the whiskey its name, I was much more interested in the spirit’s inclusion of brown rice, as I’d recently had an eye-opening look at using rice in whiskey.
Basil Hayden Toast pours a bright bronze in the glass and has a woodsy nose that lives up to its “toasted” title, replete with plenty of dry oak but also rich maple syrup and lighter, fruity flavors including orange peel and apple slices in cinnamon.
It’s round and mellow on the palate without much heat, and starts with those fruity flavors of orange and cinnamon-dusted green apple. This makes for a pleasant start, but what comes next separates it from the pack: a light, sweet note of tropical fruit that manages to conjure both Juicy Fruit bubblegum and shredded coconut, which I suspect is the influence of brown rice in its mashbill.
Afterward it gets richer and rounder still with caramel, butterscotch and maple syrup. Eventually, what’s been a patient and inviting ride hits oak at last. While it delivers some toasty barrel notes, they remain mellow, manifesting in a finish that provides a long, slender note of spice to nuzzle.
True to its marketing, Basil Hayden Toast is a different breed of bourbon. It’s sweet and mellow, but not in the ways you may have ever experienced from a whiskey before. And although it’s comparatively easy-going to bring newcomers aboard, it’s no bore: There’s still plenty of oak, though in a way that’s not typically expressed by a bourbon.
Decades into the category’s resurgence, it’s refreshing to see a big-name label make a bet that bourbon drinkers are willing to try something new that isn’t just another barrel finish. By making a brown rice whiskey, Basil Hayden produced something that ought to lure in long-time aficionados and newcomers. Fortunately, Basil Hayden Toast is a permanent expression, so there should be plenty of time to get acquainted.
— 40% ABV