2018 has really been a great year for new whiskey drinkers to step up to the bar. And in a year when there have been a surprising number of novice-friendly bottles, Basil Hayden Two by Two Rye may be the best we’ve tried so far.
Mellow rye whiskeys are hard to come by. The higher the percentage of the grain, the spicier and more aggressive rye can make the final whiskey. But Two by Two is a smart blend of Kentucky straight ryes and bourbons (two of each) that finds a perfect balance to bridge the gap from bourbon to rye for a lot of newbies (and it’s pretty tasty for the rest of us, too).
But grains aren’t the only thing that can make whiskey less welcoming to newcomers, and part of what makes Two by Two so approachable is the proof point. One of the biggest criticisms of the recent Basil Hayden releases—and a fair one—is that the proof points have been low. It’s been true of most of these rye releases, including Dark Rye last year.
At a time when most people are demanding cask strength and non-chill filtration (in other words, as close to straight-from-the-barrel whiskey as you can legally bottle), the decision to release whiskeys like Two by Two at 80 proof may seem like a strange one.
But it’s not. While Reddit and the commenters may spin their wheels over unmet demands, these lower-proof whiskeys are actually at ideal drinking levels. Two by Two is a soft, modest, sippable blend that has entirely dissipated the trademark spice of rye grain that you feel in the back of your throat.
The ages of the whiskeys involved are somewhat disparate: The ryes were 5 and 7 years of age; the bourbons were 7 and 13. It leaves enough youth in the bottle to keep the whiskey fresh and crisp, but not so much as to make it harsh or overly young.
From our perspective, this is the ideal low-rye rye whiskey: hints of fresh cut corn and brown sugar on the nose, with a touch of candied orange peel, and once it hits your lips, the whole thing goes syrupy and soft. The finish: It’s explosive, but it does go on for some time, bringing in some hints of nutmeg, toasted oak, and a sort of pumpernickel bagel note.
Some whiskeys don’t have to put you to bed after a long meal. Case in point: We tried it before breakfast, before 10 a.m., and continued sipping it throughout the morning.
This whiskey isn’t for everyone, but in a surprise turn of events, the people it’s for aren’t the veteran, hard-drinking types who like their whiskey to taste like a bottled supernova. This is rich and balanced, it gives aficionados plenty of complexity to dissect, and it doesn’t hurt on the way down.
For bourbon devotees, the simplest way to explain this bottle is that it’s rounded, restrained, and refined. At $45, it’s an essential bottle to have on hand for your less-advanced drinking buddies, or for earlier in the afternoon, when you’re easing into your first round.