by Scott Hill
Pop Quiz. Question 1: Name the man depicted on a bottle of Old Grand-Dad. Answer: Basil Hayden. Question 2: Have a pour of Basil Hayden’s and tell me the difference between it and Old Grand-Dad. Answer: $20. Ok, to be fair, $20 and maybe a year or two of age.
Old Grand Dad Bourbon was established in 1882 and is one of several historic “Old” brands still produced today. The brand originated in Kentucky by distiller Raymond B. Hayden, who named his new bourbon product “Old Grand-Dad” after his grandfather, Basil Hayden, Sr., a former distiller himself. The story goes that Basil Hayden, Sr. began distilling a recipe of whiskey dating back to 1796, and that product, then the Old Grand-Dad product itself after 1882, has been in production ever since. Today’s brand carries the 1882 origination date on its label, along with a portrait of Basil Hayden, Sr. himself.
Old Grand-Dad is owned by Jim Beam (since 1987). Shortly after its acquisition, Beam began production of a higher-end product called Basil Hayden’s, part of Beam’s “small batch” series of bourbons. Both Basil Hayden’s and the Old Grand-Dad products are produced using Jim Beam’s “high-rye” mashbill, consisting of 63% corn, 27% rye, and 10% barley.
Old Grand-Dad has never carried an age statement. Conversely, Basil Hayden’s once carried an 8-year age statement, which was dropped in 2012. Today, it is believed that Basil Hayden’s is likely around six years old. Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond must be at least four years by law (read more about the Bottled In Bond Act here), and distilled during one season (so it practically can’t be blended with anything much older, although it all may very well be in the 5-6 year age range). The remainder of the Old Grand-Dad products are “straight” bourbons (read more about the legal requirements of straight bourbon here), and therefore by law must be four years or greater as they don’t carry age statements. It is believed that all Old Grand-Dad comes out of the barrel the same (probably 4-6 years), and is simply blended and proofed down to the various offerings:
Old Grand-Dad 80 Proof
Old Grand-Dad 86 Proof – discontinued in 2013.
Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond
Old Grand-Dad 114
Basil Hayden’s is bottled at 80 proof.
What does this all mean? Well, Jim Beam won’t fully disclose, but likely all the Old Grand-Dad/Basil Hayden line are very, very closely related. How closely only a tasting will reveal.
For this tasting, I’ll spend two nights. The first night I’ll sample each of the bottles in order of proof, with the Basil Hayden’s to follow the 80 proof Old Grand-Dad. The purpose of this night will be try to best capture the characteristics of each, without regard to determining the “value” of Basil Hayden’s over the Old Grand-Dad line. The second night I’ll sample each of these bourbons blind. Here, I hope to provide some guidance on the value of each. My results follow.
Tasting No. 1 – The non-blind lineup.
Old Grand-Dad 80 Proof:
Palate: Rye spice, light caramel corn sweetness, fairly thin. Some vanilla, and faint fruit/citrus from the nose.
Finish: very light but slightly bitter oak and wet peanuts. Medium length but not necessarily inviting of a next drink; not off-putting, but not inviting.
Overall: The nose was very nice, but the palate and finish didn’t really hold up. I will say this one disappoints me. No, I take that back. This is $15. At that price it really impresses me. It’s flawed, but not fatally. At 80 proof and $15, I’ve had much, much worse. At twice the price and 80 proof I’ve had worse. I think the nose causes me to expect more, but the palate and finish still are better than par.
Basil Hayden’s Small Batch (80 Proof):
Palate: Rich vanilla, caramel, warm citrus, very little spice but maybe some light baking spice.
Finish: Light caramel and vanilla followed by a return of the fruit/citrus, and a bit of peanut at the end. Short to medium.
Overall: Just as I remember, one of the easiest bourbons to drink. I’m impressed with this over the OGD 80. Much cleaner and more defined flavors for sure. A resemblance, but not the same. 2-3x the price? Hmmm….
Old Grand-Dad 86 Proof (Discontinued 2013):
Palate: Rich caramel, corn, vanilla and leather.
Finish: Definite spice that accompanies the vanilla and caramel. Longer than either of the 80 or Basil Hayden. Lingering vanilla and rye spice.
Overall: A definite improvement from nose to finish over the 80 proof. Not quite the fruit and citrus of the Basil Hayden, but good wood influence throughout. The extra 6 proof does give a bit more kick, but also makes the flavors a bit more concentrated like the Basil Hayden. There is enough here to say I’m saddened that Jim Beam discontinued this in favor of an 80 proof offering (at, I believe, the same price, or even an increase). Supply and demand, I suppose.
Old Grand-Dad Bottled-In-Bond (100 Proof):
Palate: Rich, dark fruit, vanilla, brown sugar and caramel, leather, some hint of peanuts
Finish: Long, but the bulk of the finish fades quickly, caramel, vanilla and fading spice. A bit of peanut funk.
Overall: Overall, most like the Basil Hayden’s, but with a kick of 10% more alcohol, which I find enjoyable. Frankly, the biggest problem with the Basil Hayden’s is that it is boring. The additional kick of 20 more proof actually adds some excitement. It is a different beast than the Basil Hayden’s, but one which I prefer. Add that it’s half the price, and I’ll drink this every day. Did I say price? Yes, at sub-$20, I don’t think you can beat this (I think it is less flawed than anything else in that price range).
Old Grand-Dad 114 (For an additional post on Old Grand Dad 114, click here):
Palate: Peanuts, fruit, vanilla and dark caramel, rich.
Finish: Rich and long, fruit, vanilla and caramel and definitely peanuts.
Overall: This one won’t hide in a lineup. Everything about it is in your face. The nose pulls you in. The palate slaps you in the face, You say thank you. The finish says you’re welcome. It’s bigger and bolder than each of its lower proof brethren, and it manages to hide much of the flaws of the others with high proof and concentrated flavors. For many reasons, like the high proof and big peanut flavors, this isn’t for everyone. But I, for one, love it.
Tasting No. 2 – Blind.
For this exercise, I poured the five glasses evenly, and asked my wife to mark each glass with some of those wine glass charm rings (those metal markers that you can use at a party to help each individual identify their glass). Our markers are famous landmarks – the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, the Taj Majah and the Eiffel Tower. She then made a key, and I tasted. I’ll spare you the tasting notes on each, and just identify my conclusions:
Pisa – Guess: OGD86. Actual: Basil Hayden.
Big Ben – Guess: OGD80. Actual: OGD86.
Liberty – Guess: OGD100. Actual: OGD100.
Taj Majah – Guess: OGD114. Actual: OGD114.
Eiffel Tower – Guess: Basil Hayden’s. Actual: OGD80.
On the first pass through, I had these scattered a bit, but with a second pass I felt very confident on two of my selections: the OGD100 and the OGDBIB. As to the remainder, I believed the one with the fullest of palates would be the Basil Hayden, and therefore placed them in order of 80, 86 and BH. Interestingly, the BH was actually the one I rated as having the lightest flavors. Basil Hayden’s is light and easy to drink, but it surprised me a little that I had a clear preference for the OGD86 over either of the Basil Hayden’s or the OGD80.
Trying to summarize is a bit difficult. The OGD114 and the OGDBIB stand out as a result of the fullness of flavor and proof. These are my preferred bottles of the lineup. But of the remaining three, the Basil Hayden’s has the cleanest of flavors. I like it, and that surprises me. Beam has taken a good product and polished it. I wouldn’t say its worth 2-3 times the price of the discontinued OGD86, but it is a better pour than the OGD80 for sure. Beam does know how to polish its products, and even though I love the Old Grand-Dad line, it could be improved with a bit of polishing.
If Beam will take the OGD114, discontinue it (I’ve got several bottles bunkered), do the Basil Hayden hocus pocus, and re-release it as Basil Hayden’s 114, and do so at a reasonable price, then I’m all for it. I’m actually surprised. The extra time, or whatever magic is applied to the Basil Hayden’s, does make it “better.” But its flaws are its proof. Jim Beam can fix that. Give us a higher proof Basil Hayden’s please. But, be gentle on us with price.