Review: Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye

Ready for the absolutely craziest thing to come out of whiskeydom since Alberta Rye Dark Batch? Get ready for Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye!

The gist:

Like Basil Hayden’s flagship bourbon, Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye stands out from the crowd. Blending Kentucky straight rye whiskey and Canadian rye with a splash of California port, Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye is packed with harmoniously layered flavor, while maintaining the trademark spicy finish and smoothness of Basil Hayden’s Bourbon. At 80-proof, Dark Rye offers an unparalleled sipping experience and makes for the perfect base to any modern-day twist on a cocktail, including the Boulevardier.

This is a permanent addition to the Basil Hayden’s brand, not a one-off.

Well, let’s give this crazy concoction a try.

The nose is immediately exotic — if not bizarre. Distinctly like an Amontillado sherry, it has those old furniture polish, oxidized fruit, and candied walnut aromas that quickly come across as austere. An undercurrent of raisins and prunes adds more of a sweet note to the nose.

On the palate, the whiskey is downright kooky. Flavors of fresh figs, raisin, salted caramel, and cocoa nibs all mingle to create a syrupy concoction that winds its way toward notes of maple syrup (a dominating flavor), coffee, and more of that Amontillado character. The finish sees a bit of rye spice — mainly sweet and gingerbread-like — before fading into more of a simple brown sugar character.

All of those aromas and flavors sound may interesting on their own, but they don’t all go together cohesively, and what they are really lacking is much in the whiskey department. The classic notes of rye are largely lacking here, replaced by a surfeit of sugary sweetness and overblown fruit flavors. The maple note is particularly off-putting, and while I could see mixing a cocktail with this, on its own it’s a product that is simply too far gone into its own little world.

80 proof.

B- / $40 /

Drinkhacker’s 2017 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

It’s our tenth anniversary, and our tenth holiday gift guide!

After more than 5500 posts — the bulk of them product reviews — we’ve written millions of words on all things quaffable, and as always, we select the cream of the crop to highlight in our annual holiday buying guide. Consider it a “best of the year,” if you’d like — though we do try to aim the list toward products that are actually attainable (sorry, Van Winkle family!) by the average Joe.

As always, the selections below are not comprehensive but represent some of our absolute favorite products. Got a different opinion or think we’re full of it? Feel free to let us know in the comments with your own suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting. None of these sound any good to you? Not enough scratch? Teetotaling it in 2018? May we suggest a Drinkhacker t-shirt instead?

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! Here’s to the next 10 years of kick-ass drinks reviews!

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 20162015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Bourbon – Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2017 “Al Young 50th Anniversary” ($500) – I’m not the only one to have fallen in love with Four Roses’ one-off Small Batch bottling, which was made in honor of longtime employee Al Young and his 50 years on the job. While this exquisite small batch hit the market at $150, you’re more likely to find it at triple the cost… which means you can expect triple the thank yous should you buy one for a loved one. If that’s not in the cards, check out this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection Single Barrel Bourbon 11 Years Old ($300+), A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon ($40/375ml – hard to find), Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask Limited Edition ($55), or Hirsch High Rye Straight Bourbon Whiskey 8 Years Old ($40). All of these will make for unusual, but highly loved, gifts.

Scotch – Kilchoman Red Wine Cask Matured ($110) – So much good Scotch hit this year that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but for 2017 I simply have to go with the magical combination of Islay peat and red wine casks that Kilchoman just released. It’s an absolute steal at this price; buy one for your best bud and one for yourself, too. Of the many other top bottlings to consider, the ones you should be able to actually find include: Caol Ila Unpeated 18 Years Old Limited Edition 2017 ($100), The Balvenie Peat Week 14 Years Old 2002 Vintage ($93), Bunnahabhain 13 Years Old Marsala Finish ($80), and Glenmorangie Bacalta ($89).

Other Whiskey – Kavalan Amontillado Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky ($400) – I’m not thrilled about dropping another multi-hundred dollar whiskey in this list, but Kavalan hit it out of the park with its finished single malts, the top of the line being this Amontillado-casked number, which is as dark as coffee in the glass. Also consider The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old ($70), Amrut Spectrum 004 Single Malt Whisky ($500, apologies again), and the outlandish Lost Spirits Distillery Abomination “The Sayers of the Law” ($50, but good luck).

Gin – Cadee Distillery Intrigue Gin ($36) – It’s been a lighter year for gin, but Washington-based Cadee’s combination of flavors in Intrigue are amazing. A close second goes to Eden Mill’s Original Gin ($40), which hails from Scotland.

Vodka – Stateside Urbancraft Vodka ($30) Philadelphia-born Stateside Urbancraft Vodka was the only new vodka we gave exceptional marks to this year. Is the category finally on the decline?

Rum – Havana Club Tributo 2017 ($160) – As Cuban rum finds its way to the U.S., your options for finding top-quality sugar-based spirits are better than ever. Start your collection with Havana Club’s Tributo 2017, which you can now find for much less than the original $390 asking price. More mainstream options: Mezan Single Distillery Rum Panama 2006 ($43), Maggie’s Farm La Revuelta Dark Rum ($35), Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum ($32), or, for those with deep pockets, Arome True Rum 28 Years Old ($600).

Brandy – Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2006 Cognac ($140) – Hine’s 2006 vintage Cognac drinks well above its age and is just about perfect, a stellar brandy that any fan of the spirit will absolutely enjoy. Bache-Gabrielsen XO Decanter Cognac ($100) makes for a striking gift as well, given its lavish presentation and decanter.

Tequila – Patron Extra Anejo Tequila ($90) – No contest here. Patron’s first permanent extra anejo addition to the lineup hits all the right notes, and it’s surprisingly affordable in a world where other extras run $200 and up. Siembra Valles Ancestral Tequila Blanco ($120) is actually more expensive despite being a blanco, but its depth of flavor is something unlike any other tequila I’ve ever encountered.

Liqueur – Luxardo Bitter Bianco ($28) – Who says amaro has to be dark brown in color? Luxardo’s latest is as bitter as anything, but it’s nearly clear, making it far more versatile in cocktails (and not so rough on your teeth). I love it. For a much different angle, check out Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur ($25), a sweet coffee liqueur that’s hard not to love.

Wine  A bottle of wine never goes unappreciated. Here is a selection of our top picks from 2017:

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop us a line or leave a comment here and we’ll offer our best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Cocktail Recipes for Thanksgiving 2017

Pumpkin spice mule

Here at Drinkhacker, we are thankful for you—our drinking readers! Among the other things we’re thankful for are good food, good friends, and good cocktails. May these cocktails and snack recipes be among them on your holiday table.

Baileys pumpkin caramel apple

Caramel Apple
created by NYC mixologist Allison Kave of Butter and Scotch
2 oz. Baileys Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream
1 oz. Dickel Rye
1 cup apple cider
apple cider doughnut holes for garnish
caramel apple slices for garnish
whipped cream for garnish
caramel drizzle for garnish

In a saucepan, combine Baileys Pumpkin Spice, Dickel Rye, and apple cider over medium heat for ten minutes. Stir well. Pour contents into a coffee mug. Top with skewer of apple cider doughnut holes alternating with caramel apple slices. Garnish with whipped cream and caramel drizzle. This makes 2 servings.

‘Tis The Spritzer
created by Cody Goldstein, Founder of Muddling Memories
2 parts Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila
1 part blood orange juice
1/2 part Aperol
1/2 part cranberry juice
champagne, to fill
cranberries, to garnish

Add all the ingredients into a shaking tin and fill with a handful of ice. Shake for 5 seconds and strain into a Collins glass. Top with champagne and garnish with a few cranberries.

Hot buttered cachaca

Hot Buttered Cachaça
courtesy of Amanda Platt of The Public House by Evans Brewing Co.
2 oz. Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça
pureed real butter
1/8 cup brown sugar
cinnamon sticks
star anise
apple cider (we used Strongbow)

In a small pan, bring the apple cider, cinnamon sticks, and star anise to a boil. Mix the pumpkin, butter, and brown sugar. In a mug or hot coffee glass pour the Cachaça and whisk in a tablespoon of the roasted pumpkin mix. Top off with the spiced cider and serve hot.

Brockmans Berry Fresh
2 oz. Brockmans gin
1 oz. Lejay Lagoute Triple Sec
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. cranberry juice
1 bar spoon of Allspice Dram
frozen cranberries

Shake all ingredients together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker; strain into a tumbler of crushed ice layered with frozen winter berries (note: use cranberries or other edible berries because true Winter Berries are poisonous); then top with a little more crushed ice. Garnish with a few more frozen cranberries.

Pilgrims punch

Pilgrim’s Punch
created by Pamela Wiznitzer of Seamstress NYC
1 oz. Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur
1 oz. aged rum
4-5 oz. boiling hot chai tea
6 oz. fresh heavy cream

Mix the Kerrygold and fresh heavy cream. Stir in the hot chai. Top with the rum and serve hot.

Americano in Appennino
by Jacopo Misiano of Alchimista Pistoia
1 oz. Bitter Tuvè
1 oz. Vermouth Drapò Rosso
½ oz. bourbon
½ oz. honey
4 smashed blueberries
chopped chestnut
sparkling soda

Stir all ingredients except the soda, chestnut, and blueberries. Strain in a low tumbler; top with the soda and garnish with the chestnut and blueberries before serving.

Full Harvest

Full Harvest
created by Shaun Meglen of Péché, Austin, TX
2 oz. Basil Hayden bourbon
3/4 oz. limoncello
1/2 oz. orange juice
1/4 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. cinnamon simple syrup
1 dash of cranberry bitters
1 egg white

Shake all ingredients hard with ice. Strain into and serve up in coupe glass.

Pumpkin Spiced Mule
3 oz. Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka
1 1/2 oz. cinnamon pumpkin maple puree
1 oz. lemon juice
4 oz. ginger beer
4-6 cinnamon sticks
1 qt. simple syrup
2 Tbsp. real maple syrup.

Take 1 ½ oz. of cinnamon pumpkin maple puree and mix with Smirnoff and lemon juice. Stir to combine, then pour into copper Moscow Mule mugs filled with ice. Top with ginger beer; garnish with a lemon wheel and grated cinnamon. This recipe makes two.

To make the cinnamon pumpkin maple puree:
Toast 4-6 cinnamon sticks in a 2 qt. sauce pan until aromatic. Add 1 qt. simple syrup; heat until boiling. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Blend on high for about 20 seconds; then filter through a fine sieve. Add 1/4 cup pumpkin puree and 2 Tbsp. maple syrup. Whisk until smooth.

Evening in the Empire
by Meaghan Levy of Rose Hill Bar & Lounge, HGU Hotel
1 1/2 oz. BenRiach 10 Year Old Peated Curiositas
3/4 oz. Neversink pear liqueur
1/2 oz. Cinnamon and cacao nib infused Laird’s Applejack
1/4 oz. Del Professor sweet vermouth

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, stir. Serve in a tulip glass and top with hazelnuts.

Winter Hill Punch
8 parts toasted hazelnut-infused Drambuie
4 parts Glenfiddich 12 Years Old
1½ parts Cardamaro
4 parts pomegranate syrup
4 parts fresh lemon
8 dashes Angostura Bitters
16 parts club soda
20 parts Brut sparkling wine

In a punch bowl add all ingredients and slowly stir with large ice block. Add garnishes and serve well chilled. Garnish with Lemons wheels and 1 inch rosemary sprigs. Serve in punch cup.

To make toasted hazelnut-infused Drambuie:
Toast nuts over medium heat until browned and you can easily smell toasted aroma. For every 1 part of Drambuie, add ½ part of toasted nuts. Let infuse in airtight container for 24 hours. Strain and reserve for use.

Because everyone has their traditional recipes for the turkey or ham Thanksgiving dinner, we decided to give you a couple of recipes for things you can use for a party or just parked in front of the television watching football or a movie. Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip and Sweet Potato Chips are both easy to make and very yummy.

Pumpkin cheesecake dip

Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip
courtesy of Melissa Russo at
8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
15 oz. can of Libby’s pumpkin
2 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. pure vanilla (we used 1 Tbsp. of bourbon instead!)

Add softened cream cheese and sugar to a mixing bowl. Mix until smooth. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice; then mix well. Transfer to serving bowl; cover and chill for 4 hours. Serve with apple slices, pear slices, ginger snaps, or graham crackers. (We used salted caramel Biscotti, pictured.)

Marigold Sweet Potato ChipsSweet potato chips
courtesy of
2 sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp. plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 package edible gold glitter (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash your sweet potatoes and slice very thin using a mandolin (We made ours thicker because we just like them that way; they did take longer to bake.) In a large mixing bowl, add your sweet potato slices, olive oil, and salt. Mix well to coat all sides of the potato slices. Place onto large sheet pan in a single layer. Bake for about 10 minutes or until crisp. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, toss the chips in 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and glitter. Serve right away with salsa, guacamole, or sour cream and enjoy the magic!

Tasting with Ferrari-Carano, 2017 Releases

It’s been two years since we hung out with Sonoma’s Ferrari-Carano, but recently the winery invited us to sample its latest releases, a quartet of wines spanning a wide range of styles in production here. Led via a live, online tasting by Associate Winemaker Rebecka Deike (the red wine specialist here), we started with chardonnay and finished with a fun little dessert wine — all poured in honor of the recently departed Don Carano.

Let’s check them out!

2015 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Sonoma County – Fairly standard Sonoma chardonnay, chewy and on the burly side, all rather typical of Ferrari-Carano’s house style. (This is the entry level bottling.) Some almond notes make for an interesting counterpart to the buttery apple pie character that dominates. B / $23

2014 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – Restrained but perfectly drinkable, this is a plum-heavy pinot with notes of cola (an F-C standard) with some meatiness in the mix. It’s slightly sweet on the palate, but the finish is dry enough to be approachable, its notes of graphite and some licorice providing nuance. B / $38

2013 Ferrari-Carano Tresor – This is a classic Bordeaux blend made from 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc — nearly the same blend as our 2015 tasting. Lush and decadent, it’s loaded up with currants, chocolate, and a wisp of tobacco notes that meld together into a soothing and seductive whole. This is Ferrari-Carano’s most opulent wine, and this vintage is already firing on all cylinders, the silky chocolate making for a lovely finish. A- / $55

2015 Ferrari-Carano Eldorado Noir Russian River Valley – A 100% black muscat dessert wine. Sweet with notes of Christmas spice and tons of menthol atop a blueberry and blackberry core. It’s gooey but not overwhelmingly sugary, which makes it surprisingly approachable even at cocktail hour instead of with a big hunk of chocolate. I find myself gravitating heavily to its cocoa-covered-blueberry palate. A- / $30 (375ml)

How to Analyze, Score, and Review Whiskey

The first time I watched Ralfy on his YouTube channel, it was a revelation. With the right glass and some experience you can learn to get so many different notes out of a whisky! Then you could score it, and share it, letting others know what you think.

Many believe that this dark art of reviewing is reserved for whisky professionals, bloggers and nerds. This simply isn’t true. Anyone can review whisky, and their opinion can be just as valid as anyone else’s.

There are two great examples of this. The first is quite well known among whisky people in Europe: This is a database of whiskies that you can use to search for bottlings, build a collection, and review whiskies. Thousands of people use Whiskybase, and that gives it a huge advantage over one-man reviewers (like Ralfy or Jim Murray) because when loads of people review the same product you build more of a consensus.

Another is Reddit. Reddit tends to be bigger in America and Canada, and is more of a forum for discussion and reviews. It can be a little intimidating at first (always read the rules before posting!), but again, everyone contributes and adds to a database of reviews. I could be just a tad biased as a moderator of r/Scotch, but I think it’s a fantastic and friendly community, and a great place to start reviewing. The network consists of r/Whisky for discussions, r/Scotch for Scotch related reviews and posts, r/Bourbon for American Whiskey, and r/WorldWhisky for whisky from anywhere else. Not only that, but people also swap samples of whiskies they have on r/ScotchSwap, allowing you to try a lot of whiskies pretty quickly.

In either case, it doesn’t matter if you’ve only tasted a few whiskies — your experience can be shared and other people can get something from that.

* * *

So, how do you review a whisky?

  1. You need the right glass.

In a tumbler, all the aromas of the whisky are going to be able to spill all over the place. You want something that can concentrate those aromas towards your nose, so you can appreciate them. A Glencairn is probably the best option if you’re just starting out, then maybe try some other tasting glasses.

  1. Write what you think.

Don’t let anyone tell you what to smell and taste. That includes the back of the whisky box or label or a rep standing across the table from you. Don’t be afraid to write down lime, even though the box says lemon. That said, someone or something to guide you when you’re first starting is no bad thing. Have a look at other people’s reviews and see what they think — but don’t take it as gospel but rather inspiration.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If there is someone else with you while you’re reviewing, just ask them, ‘What does this smell like?’ ‘What do you get?’ You might not get the same impressions as them, but it could give you inspiration or you might suddenly recognise a new note because of what they said.

  1. Experience and knowledge will help.

This part takes time. Tasting lots of different whiskies and knowing more about the distilleries they are made at is going to help massively. Eventually, you’ll know an Islay whisky just by smelling it or a Bourbon by tasting a sip. Even further on, you might learn to recognise a particular distillery, age, or cask type!

  1. Drink it your way (water can help).

Again, don’t let anyone dictate how you like your whisky. But for reviewing, to get the whisky to open up, avoid ice, as it can cause the whisky’s flavors to retreat. But don’t be scared of adding a drop of water (particularly to stronger whiskies). A small drop of water can help to develop the whisky’s flavors and reduce the alcohol level (which in itself offers no flavor). Usually I taste a whisky neat first, write some notes, and then add a drop off water to see if I get anything different from it afterwards.

  1. Comparison works!

This is something the famous Serge Valentin from advocates. It’s not something everyone can do, but if you have a few whiskies and a few glasses, you can set up a comparison of them together. This will bring out the differences all the more prominently.

  1. Think before you score.

Ah, the tricky business of scoring. As a beginner I would stay away from it, but it’s alluring in its simplicity: Summing up your experience of the whisky with a grade. If you feel that you can do it, go right ahead — but really think it through before you start scoring. There are many different methods and a host of pros and cons to each one. An exam style A-F grade like Drinkhacker uses or a numerical score ranging from 0-100, 0-10, or 0-5. One of my favourites is the ‘three questions’ scale: Would I buy this? Would I order it in a bar? Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass?

* * *

Some people genuinely don’t care about reviewing or reviews. They can taste a whisky and go “Yeah, I like that” or “No, I don’t like this one.” That’s absolutely fine. But personally, I feel that I’ve gotten so much more out of whisky from reviewing it, from just the fun of it, making better purchasing decisions, meeting friends online, and then starting to write here. It’s become a passion and something that has really added something to my life.

So give it a go!

Review: Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey 12 Years Old (2017)

This is our third go-round with Knappogue Castle’s entry-level bottling, a 12 year old Irish single malt. (See also 2010 and 2014 reviews.) The labeling has changed since our last encounter — but judging from our review, not much appears to be different inside the bottle since ’14.

Some fresh thoughts follow.

Quite malty on the nose, the cereal notes settle down to reveal some dusky cloves along with notes of baked apples, giving it a lively dessert-like character. The palate remains on the youthful side, but the spice is more up front here, with notes of orange peel, coriander, and more cloves leading toward a bolder mid-palate that hints at coconut and pineapple. The finish remains grain-focused, but not overwhelmingly so, with enough sweetness to temper would could otherwise be rather bready.

80 proof.


Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Blueberry Dogpatch Whiskey and Saison Dolores Whiskey

Recently we got our hands on two new releases from microdistillery Seven Stills of San Francisco. Both of these are collaborations with Almanac Brewing, a San Francisco contract brewery.

Seven Stills of San Francisco Blueberry Dogpatch Sour Whiskey – The blueberry part is in the fine print: This is the second release of Dogpatch Sour and the first done with Almanac Brewing. For this batch the distillery distilled 500 gallons of Almanac’s sour beer, aged the whiskey for six months in New American Oak and then removed the finished whiskey and aged it in an Almanac Blueberry Dogpatch Sour barrel for an additional four months. It is bottled at cask strength. Utterly scorching on the nose, it’s hard to get too far into this one without a splash of water. That helps to reveal a lot more charm, though the blueberry is understated on the nose, taking a back seat to notes of cereal, mushroom, and barrel char. On the palate, you needn’t look far for the missing fruit: It’s here, in droves, with a strong berry thread running through it, a moderately sour grip on the back of the throat, and a smattering of green herbs. Ample sweetness helps to dull some of the brash wood influence (a common thread in Seven Stills releases), and adds some complexity. But the blueberry alone gives this whiskey staying power. It’s fun stuff. 119 proof. A- / $49 (375ml)

Seven Stills of San Francisco Saison Dolores Whiskey – The first of Seven Stills’ whiskeys in its Experimental Series. Distilled from Almanac’s base Saison Dolores, it is aged in new American oak for eight months. It is not part of the regular rotation, so snap it if it sounds up your alley. There’s tons of fruit and some hops on the nose here, a complex aroma of spicy citrus, bitter cedar wood, and apple pie spice. There’s a touch of smoke on the palate, which quickly dives into a strong, racy apple cider note. The base beer character comes through more clearly as the palate develops, with ginger, baking spice, and more of that boozy apple character hitting even harder here. The finish offers significant heat and a maltiness that again belies its brewery origins before settling into a chocolate caramel note, and while a drop of water wouldn’t be out of place, it drinks fine without it. 94 proof. B+ / $36 (375ml)