Tales of the Dusty (Part 2) - Old Grand-Dad

In the next instalment of my continuing ramblings about vintage bourbon, I’m not straying too far from the last. Old Taylor, Old Crow, Old Overholt and Old Grand-Dad have a lot in common aside from sharing 50% of their brand monikers.  Marketed as ‘The Olds’ all four have followed the same change in ownership through the years when National Distillers sold to Beam Suntory in 1987. Old Taylor eventually flew the coup in 2009 moving to Sazerac for a bourbon makeover, injecting a new lease of life into the Colonel whilst the others remained to inspect their ‘Old Crow’s’ feet in the mirror.

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For every Dolly Parton though, there’s a Sean Connery wearing age like a boss and Old-Grandad is that brand and subject of my latest literary tribute. Today, OGD (let’s use its acronym from now on) is one of the ten best-selling straight whiskeys in the world and comes in three different bottling proofs: 80 proof, 100 proof (bottled-in-bond) and 114 Barrel Proof, all Beam juice and all stellar drinkers with the 114 up there as one of the best liquor store bargains around, punching way above its $25 price tag.

The brand itself was created by Raymond B. Hayden and named after his grandfather, Basil Hayden, Sr who was a well-known distiller in his lifetime and eventually honoured further with another Beam brand in 1992 when ‘Basil Haydens’ was created. The OGD label has remained relatively unchanged through the decades, maintaining a picture of Basil on the front of every bottle, representing the head of the Hayden family, their ‘Old Grand-Dad’.

It’s a brand that has stood the test of time, surviving 125 years from the birth of the Hayden family’s first commercial distillery in 1840 to present day. The first sale of the brand happened in 1899 to the Wathen family who later went on to create the American Medicinal Spirits Company which became the foundation for the National Distillers Group, producing ‘medicinal whiskey’ for sick patients during prohibition with operations in Cincinnati, Ohio and Frankfort, Kentucky.

It is the glut era in the 1970’s-early 1990’s that provides perhaps the greatest testament to the brand’s resilience. Through a period where the bourbon industry suffered extensively as a result of popular culture favouring trendier drinks, Old Grand-Dad was not something the ‘yuppie-du-jour’ would feel comfortable ordering at a bar. Whilst brands such as Four Roses and Jim Beam attempted to appeal to younger demographics with notably cringewothy advertising campaigns, the Mad Men of Old-Grand-Dad held steadfast and true to its loyal fan base assured in the knowledge that when America eventually woke up nursing their vodka fuelled hangovers, it will be Old Grandad-Dad they would come back to. Quality remained the focus and USP of Old Grand-Dad, with this advert from the 1980’s a shining example of product confidence:

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It was at a tasting hosted by the JW Steakhouse in London with Tom Fischer of Bourbonblog.com where I caught the bug that has now developed into a terminal condition. We tasted (amongst many others) an OGD distilled in 1960 and bottled in 1968 that just blew me away and instantly rewrote the script that my palate had been working on with bourbon up to that point.

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On an evening of epic pours, this for me stood on the shoulders of giants and I needed to climb the proverbial beanstalk for more. I’ve since acquired a number of bottles from various years and can say with a confidence in line with their own, that Old Grand-Dad from the National Distillers era is some of the best bourbon you’re ever going to have the fortune of tasting. What makes it so special is that it has a flavour profile so unique that you could pick it out in a gallon of water. Deep, rich caramel, vanilla and baking spices leading into a butterscotch finish that you’d be forgiven for pouring over your breakfast pancakes. Having tasted most of the National Distillers iterations, it’s Old Grand-Dad that wins the beauty parade and I don’t think it’s any accident. The best juice simply went into the best brand.

Words by TheBourbonator