Old Grand-Dad Bourbon has a long and storied past, and could arguably be considered a pillar of American whiskey, given the names of the people and companies involved in its history. The Old Grand-Dad in question here is actually Basil Hayden. And yes, that’s the same Basil Hayden that Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is named after, how many Basil Haydens do you think there are in the whiskey world? Basil Hayden was farmer-distiller of some renown in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s. His son Lewis carried on this tradition, as did Lewis’ son Raymond. Raymond is reportedly the one who actually went pro with this whole distilling thing and established a commercial distillery in 1882, in Kentucky. The bourbon produced at this R.B. Hayden & Co. Distillery became known as Old Grand-Dad. As an interesting aside, the image of Basil Hayden which adorned these first bottles of Old Grand-Dad joined a then-new industry trend of using the kindly old Southern gentleman from days of yore to sell bottles. It’s a little discomfiting to realize how little things have changed in that department.
Ol’ Raymond passed away shortly after he founded his distillery, which then passed into the hands of his partner, E.L. Ferriel, and a new investor, P.S. Barber. About 14 years after that, in 1899, the distillery was bought by another famous Kentucky whiskey family, the Wathens. Because of the success of bourbon in general at the time, and the proliferation of poor quality, “counterfeit” alcohol, many bourbon makers formed consortiums or syndicates to protect their interests. The Old Grand-Dad distillery was part of one of the larger ones, the Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Co., and this played a part in the brand’s growth and success.
Unfortunately, when prohibition reared its ugly head, the Old Grand-Dad Distillery was shuttered and would not re-open. Around 1920, the Wathans created the American Medicinal Spirits Company, bought up brands like Old Crow and Bourbon Deluxe, and consolidated all the stocks into what became the biggest “medicinal” whiskey warehousing business in Kentucky. By 1929, the American Medicinal Spirits Company was absorbed by another larger industrial distiller/warehouser, National Distillers Products Company. The history of these late 1800’s/early 1900’s American whiskey conglomerates is somewhat fascinating, if not somewhat prohibitively complicated. Either way, it’s a subject worthy of its own post…so, moving on!
After the nation was legally allowed to drink again, the Old Grand-Dad brand continued to be produced, although not always in the same location. In 1940, National Distillers purchased what was then known as the K. Taylor Distilling Company just north-east of Frankfort. It was re-named the Old Grand-Dad Distillery and produced Old Grand-Dad bourbon until 1987 when National Distillers was swallowed up by the Jim Beam juggernaut.
Today, still owned by what is now Beam Suntory, Old Grand-Dad is produced at both the Clermont, KY plant and Booker Noe plant in Boston, KY. The brand is available in 80 proof and 114 proof versions, and this 100 proof, Bottled-in-Bond version. The high-rye (allegedly between 27%-30%) recipe for Old Grand-Dad has been more or less the same since National Distillers reintroduced the brand after the demise of Prohibition. Indeed, it’s reportedly the only bourbon from Beam’s 1987 purchase of National Distillers that’s produced from its original recipe, all the other brands involved in that sale were reconfigured to fit Beam’s production process.
The Nose: Much like an intimidating looking but actually kindly grandpa, there’s quite a bit of alcoholic heat fronting this one. But, if you’re brave and wise enough to see past that initial bluster, you’re rewarded with a classic-feeling high-rye bourbon nose. There’s lots of vanilla – both bean and ice cream – and lots of brown sugar and caramel sweetness. Jellied orange slice candies and a little banana that’s been plucked out of a banana split sundae. Peppery rye and sweet corn chowder reflect the mash-bill, while newly varnished oak, cinnamon, black pepper, and a hint of smoked paprika show off the wood.
The Palate: Along with the continued caramelized sweetness, there’s (briefly) a lot more juicy citrus as well. The rye shows up a bit more forcibly compared to the nose. Then things turn towards the wood and spice: young, bright, tannic oak, clove, cinnamon, ground black pepper…and some heat. A little burnt popcorn and barrel char leads to the finish.
The Finish: Along with a little tannic, oak-y barrel char, the spicy, sugared rye lingers on with black pepper, a bit of mint, and a touch of pickled ginger.
Thoughts: A classic, rugged, great bang-for-your buck bourbon. There’s some young, high ABV heat, but this is complex, balanced, and shows off its ingredients nicely. Even though the brand has recently undergone a label “upgrade” and has taken advantage of the bourbon craze by raising its price by four or five dollars, this is still a great bargain. It used to be around $20/liter and relatively easy to find for less, now it’s closer to $25/liter. While I’ve not tried any from a newly labeled bottle I’ve read elsewhere and been told by a Beam rep that the whisky inside hasn’t changed, just the label and price. If that’s truly the case, it’s still a darn good buy, and pretty much required reading for bourbon fans. Recommended.
- Cowdery, Charles K. “Haydens, Wathens and Old Grand-Dad.” Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey. Chicago, IL: Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 2004. 47-56. Print.
- Cowdery, Chuck. “The Chuck Cowdery Blog: The Good and Not-So-Good of the Old Grand-Dad Reboot.” The Chuck Cowdery Blog: The Good and Not-So-Good of the Old Grand-Dad Reboot. N.p., 22 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-good-and-not-so-good-of-old-grand.html>.
- Regan, Gary, and Mardee Haidin Regan. “Old Grand-Dad Bourbon.” The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys. Shelburne, VT: Chapters Pub., 1995. 174-75. Print.