I took a blood oath with myself, when I started writing about Whiskey, that I would avoid the word “smooth” at all costs; would treat it like a cobra lying in my path. Then, inevitably, I violated that rule because there are times, much as it pains me to admit it, when smooth is the best way to say it. It just is.
“Smooth” gets under my saddle because it really has no meaning. It’s one of those squishy concepts that pretty much cannot mean the same thing to one person as it does to those on either side of them. Some people describe Budweiser as “smooth“. I describe it as “watery, insipid shite” and “beer for people who don’t really like beer”. Many people in this area (Seattle/Tacoma) say Starbucks House Blend is “smooth“. I say “coffee for people who don’t like coffee“. And so it goes.
Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon is smooth. I reviewed it, back in February, in this post, “Basil Hayden’s and Baker’s: Balls-Out Bourbon, Refined“. And there, in the first graph of my review, ninth line, fourth word in…”smooth”. Unavoidable. I felt like a sell-out, like a cheap ‘ho, but Clarity is All and Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is smooth…
What is generally not smooth is Rye Whiskey. Rye Whiskey is the rambunctious bad boy, the juvenile delinquent, of the booze world. Many, many people, even some Whiskey lovers, won’t touch the stuff. I am a certified Rye Freak. I adore Rye in everything except…rye bread. Cannot stand the stuff. But put that same rye into a beer or a Whiskey and I’m There, wide-eyed, red Solo cup at the ready.
How? Flawlessly. Much as I love and seek out Rye Whiskeys, I don’t even think of them as smooth when I go to buy one. I expect somewhat the opposite: a oral tilt-a-whirl, a hang-onta-somethin’ roller coaster ride of pleasure and pain. Then I sipped the new Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey and my whole paradigm changed.
This stuff is Smooth. No, let me rephrase that: “Smoooooooth“. Lotsa of that frisky, unbridled, earthy, whiplash-inducing Rye character but delivered on a Roll-Royce chassis, instead of a Yugo with blown shocks. The Usual Suspects of the Kentucky Whiskey flavor profile are all there – caramel, vanilla, wood, intimations of coconut and roasted nuts and baked apples – overlaid with peppery, spicy, chewy rye flavors that are every bit as emphatic as what you’d find in a bottle of one of the Rye Stalwarts like Templeton or Michter’s. It even shows a bit of the resonance and roundness that comes from Michter’s “shearing” technique. The white pepper and nutmeg and even a touch of sumac flesh out this flavor profile into something complex and engrossing.