We discussed recently how – in a world obsessed with youth and novelty – whiskey is unique in embracing the moniker “old.” Old Grand-Dad and its stablemate, Old Overholt, collectively marketing themselves as “The Olds,” have taken this concept to 11.

The Olds’ site opens with the sexist tautology that these are “for men who like their whiskey to taste like whiskey.” The rest of the frontpage is a potpourri of weird jokes that don’t really land, all with a heavy flavor of “crotchety old man.” Though long on malarkey, the Olds’ site is woefully short on information, even by the abysmally low standards of whiskey marketing. Per usual, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and do some independent research:

Old Grand-Dad is named after Meredith Basil Hayden Sr., also honored by the Basil Hayden’s brand in Beam’s small batch portfolio. Basil was an emigre from Maryland in the 1780’s, who brought to Kentucky some prior knowledge of distillation, as well as a reputed preference for a high rye mash bill.

The brand as we know it was started by Basil’s grandson Raymond, who in 1882 established a distillery near Bardstown, KY. Seeking to memorialize his forebear, he created the “Old Grand-Dad” label. Sadly, Raymond expired without issue just three years later.

The distillery and the name passed through another set of hands before it landed with the Wathen family in 1899. The Wathens rechristened the operations as “The Old Grand-Dad Distillery Company.” In a stroke of awful luck, the distillery burned to the ground the next year and was promptly rebuilt. It operated until Prohibition in 1919, at which point it was shuttered permanently and eventually destroyed.

The Old Grand-Dad brand carried on, owned by the Wathen family’s American Medicinal Spirits Company, itself acquired by National Distillers Products Company, which later sold out to Jim Beam in 1987. Old Grand-Dad is currently distilled by Beam Suntory, at its plants in Clermont, KY and Boston, KY.

Keeping with the eponymous Grand-Dad’s preferences, Old Grand-Dad is known for its high rye mashbill (on the order of 30%). The current range encompasses the core Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (43%, $19), as well as the Bonded 100 Proof (50%, $24). The top of the line is this 114 proof (57%) offering, called simply “114.” The 114 reportedly flirted with extinction a few years back but – like another great American old timer – reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.

Via social media and this site’s comments section, I’m frequently questioned by bourbon enthusiasts about where a given bottle sits on the price-quality scale. To establish some context here: this is higher proof than a bottled-in-bond expression, making it perhaps more similar to a “barrel proof” bottling like Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed. It sits between the more forceful members of Beam’s small batch stable, being stronger than Knob Creek (100 proof) but below Booker’s (120+). Price-wise, it is close to Elijah Craig Small Batch, but carries a bottling strength closer to the more expensive Barrel Proof. With all that for triangulation, let’s have ourselves a sip.

This is Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, 114 proof (57% ABV). I paid $30 for 750 ml.

Old Grand-Dad 114 – Review

Color: Rusty orange with rose glints

On the nose: Nose has a freshly floral aroma to start. There are some caramelized sugar notes that make way for a set of more bitterly spicy scents. Grass clippings, seasoned salt rub, and scoured stainless steel frying pan. There’s a subtle whiff of sarsaparilla and ground cinnamon at the very end of this.

In the mouth: Mouth-puckeringly tart at first. This really has an iron-like stiffness from the beginning to the end of the mouth. All throughout, there’s the burn of high ABV. Around the edges of the tongue you’ve got the spiciness of Big Red chewing gum. Some lightly oaky flavors of vanilla appear as this crescendos in the middle of the mouth. The rye notes dominate the back of the palate and the finish, which is otherwise marked by a metallic aftertaste and some slightly vegetal notes. Overall, this is stern to the point of bitterness in parts.

Conclusions

This isn’t flawed per se, but the exceedingly high rye style is pushed to an uncomfortable extreme here. There’s a nice variety of smells of the nose, but the palate is tightly gripped by a steely fist, yielding little in the way of expansive flavor.

If you’re a rye drinker who prefers your whiskey on the painfully dry side, this might appeal to you. For my tastes, I like my higher-proof bourbons to have an extra helping of sweetness, in order to balance things out. Stagg Jr. is perhaps a good example of this. I hesitate to say so in such a serious forum, but this could be the backbone of a really excellent Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

In all, this is good value for money considering the strength, and especially if this austere flavor profile appeals to you. I’m unlikely to be a repeat buyer but recognize that there’s an audience for this; if it’s you, have at it!

Score: 5/10

Image kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesAmerican
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

  1. Avatar
    Anders says:

    Tastes vary. This is true. But still, I am surprised no note of peanut or nuttiness of any kind graced your tasting notes. This, for me, is a defining characteristic of this one which assisted me in picking it out (my only victory) in blind tasting of six Beam products this past Saturday—always a humbling affair. It can be had for ~$25-28 here in the Twin Cities which is unheard of for this high proof. I think I’m one of those who must appreciate the dryness of this kind of dram. I’ve got a Stagg Jr. on the shelf as well, and while I do love it, I’d freely admit it leans a bit too sweet to be in my pantheon of all-time greats. Great to have options and something with a guilt-free flexibility to be used for cocktails or with a rock or two of ice!

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Anders, it’s funny. I was listening to a podcast this weekend where one of the hosts said he never tasted mint. Now, this guy runs an independent bottler, so it’s not like he doesn’t know his way around whiskey. All that to say: palates are surprisingly variable. I usually detect (and enjoy) nuttiness in a bourbon, but this one just didn’t show it for me. Batch variation, perhaps? In any case, de gustibus non est disputandum and all that. Thanks for dropping by!

    2. Avatar
      Dan says:

      I also get, sometimes overwhelmingly so, notes of peanuts and peanut butter. The cinnamon/big red and peanut butter notes I liken to a unsweetened improperly seasoned very angry peanut butter pie.

  2. John
    John says:

    I used to love this Bourbon. I often referred to as a poor man’s Booker’s since I thought they both shared the same mashbill. I was wrong though.

    I don’t know if the quality changed after the merger or if my palate just changed.
    I agree that this makes a kick ass Old Fashioned and a Black Manhattan.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      John, it certainly stands out from a value perspective, your personal tastes and preferences notwithstanding. I tend to like my bourbon a bit more plump, as noted above. My understanding is that Booker’s (which I like very much) is about half the rye content of this mash bill (15%). Cheers!

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Theon, welcome back! I was beginning to worry about you. This carries no age statement; I have seen it listed as being 6 years old but there’s no official confirmation of that. Would be keen to hear from anyone in the audience who knows?

  3. Avatar
    Jeff says:

    This is one of my favs. Your review makes me question everything I know about whiskey… hahaha. It tastes like hot buttered cinnamon sugar toast to me. Oh well, this definitely works in my favor. The less people interested in finding it the more there will be out there for me…and I guess my wierd pallet. Hahahah!

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