Tonight I was invited to get to know a little more about Basil Hayden, a smaller whisky distiller that has branched off from the popular Jim Beam, the world’s #1 Kentucky Whiskey.
Our informal meet and greet was held at the infamous Aquafarina, well known for their fine dining Italian fare, and most recently as a Michelin guide restaurant.
Our evening’s festivities had us gathering in their heated patio annex, a separate space made perfect for this private affair. As guests sauntered in we were welcomed with a cocktail featuring the spirit of the hour, during “golden hour”.
The Golden Hour cocktail with Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Lillet Blanc, Aperol Aperitif, and grapefruit peel. Created to emphasize the copper golden colour of the whiskey that carried into the cocktail. And much like its softer hue, this was an easier sipping citrus forward beverage, ideal for the mixed pairing of the small bites that made itself around the room.
Our second Basil Hayden cocktail came mid dinner. This is the Basil Hayden Boulevardier, a Kentucky cocktail with French ancestry. The twist on this classic is with the use of Aperol Aperitif for a lower ratio of base spirit. A better mix to highlight our Basil Hayden Straight Bourbon Whiskey, alongside Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth, and orange peel. Noted for its slight tingle of bitterness.
As the room began to fill and guest to their seats, small bites were passed around to get the appetite going, like the Bruschetta with burrata marshmallow. This tangy refreshing bite of tomato over crostini was given new life, with the accurately coined “marshmallow” as the star. The latter was creamy, cheesy, gooey, and wonderful.
I liked the Mini margarita pizzas as they reminded me of the frozen mini pizza bites given to me as a child, for after-school snack, but a lot more refined here. Although, I would have loved more sauce and toppings on these miniatures.
The Arancini balls were made to order. A firm rice filling adhered together by gooey strands of cheese, all wrapped in a crispy golden-brown battered shell. I just would have liked a tomato-based sauce on the side for dipping.
The Fig jam with duck confit mousse came in two platforms one with a wedge of bread and the other, an airy crisp. Both creamy and lush with the dense mousse flavoured with a hint of duck, balanced out by the fig jam for some sweetness.
The sit-down portion of our meal began with a shared serving of Fanny bay oysters house accompanied by house made hot sauce and red wine shallot vinaigrette. And as we slipped and slurped our history lesson of Basil Hayden began.
The man was the Master Distiller for Jim Bean. His line was done as a small batch due to his desire to try something new, to experiment. The initial release was his baby and was so well sought after that it became its own brand by right. Basil Hayden is a high rye bourbon due to the distiller’s accessibility to vast amounts of hay grain. It features 51% corn grain complimented by other grains, garnering a beautiful sweetness that comes through with corn. The use of rye and toasted new American oak barrels gives the original spirit fall notes and baking spices like clove, pepper, and cinnamon. The Original Basil Hayden finishes on toasted vanilla notes with stewed fruit like peaches and pears, coupled with caramel and toffee.
From here the experimenting continued and we got Basil Hayden Toast, their newest expression that is aged traditionally. Not in charred oak, but approached more like wine or cognac, where your heat source is held against it and the micro sugars are allowed to caramelize. Similarly, the use of brown rice instead of rye makes this expression softer by nature.
Our tasting ended with the 10 Year Old flagship line, which enforces a lot from the first original taster, but is more aged and with that age comes more sharpness, where everything is heightened. More toasted vanilla, more stone fruit, more caramel and toffee. You can feel it all throughout its full bodied texture. This allows us a look at where our whiskies can be with a few extra years.
All three different whiskies exemplified different flavours, each able to stand alone with a place each their own. This is Basil Hayden’s love letter to whiskey, a gentle kiss not heavy in spirits.
Continuing on with our hosted Acquafarina multi-course dinner, we were given a choice of appetizer between the following. Many opted for the Wagyu carpaccio with truffle, egg yolks, shallots, radish, and black truffle. This was stunning presentation with tender cuts of thinly sliced beef that practically melted in your mouth.
I went light with the Pomodoro E Burrata with beets and burrata di puglia, figuring I will have steak for my entree. This was a sweeter start with colourfyl beets and more of the creamy burrata above. Although when I saw the carpaccio, I did start to regret my decision. This was good, but certainly lacked the umph of truffle.
Our next course was Acquafarina’s Caserecce served family’s style. This, I am already very familiar with, having had it in the same fashion last visit. However, this time on top of the locally foraged wild mushrooms and house made aglio e olio (olive oil and garlic pasta), the restaurant indulged us with freshly shaved slices of white truffle to christen it, and this made all the difference with its fragrant umami essence.
For mains our choice was between the Merluzzo with sablefish, peperonata, and fingerling potatoes; which no one at our table opted for. Instead everyone (myself included) went for the Tajima Wagyu striploin with potato millefoglie, and porcini jus. This was a hearty plate centered around the perfectly rare cut of beef. The fat leaned into the tenderness of the meat. And the slices of buttery potato and woodsy mushroom offered classic accompaniments in an elevated way.
And for dessert we had tiramisu done in a different way. A pile of peaked cream over the coffee and liquor-soaked cake. A wonderful interpretation and a visual treat, shame I am not a fan of the dessert, due to its predominately soft and mush-like texture.
And today we had a birthday, and the restaurant was kind enough to prepare a celebratory treat for her. This included the Basil Hayden band as decoration and a homage to us all being gathered here tonight.
What a wonderful introduction and way to learn more about this multi-faceted spirit, and what a memorable meal alongside so many great like-minded individuals.
425 W Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6B 5A1, Canada