All September on VinePair, we’re turning our focus to America’s spirit: bourbon. For our third annual Bourbon Month, we’re exploring the industry legends and innovators, our favorite craft distilleries, new bottles we love, and more.
Old Grand-Dad is praised by bartenders and bourbon drinkers alike for being one of the best bottom-shelf bourbons on the market. With its humble price tag and distinctive rye spice notes, the Beam Suntory-owned brand is a classic choice for bourbon drinkers both old and new.
The brand’s origins date back to the early days of Kentucky bourbon making, when a historic bourbon maker known for his high-rye whiskeys introduced his son and, eventually, grandson to the business. From this family, Old Grand-Dad was born.
Here are 10 things you should know about Old Grand-Dad.
Yes, it’s named after an actual grand-dad.
Old Grand-Dad was created by Raymond B. Hayden, a third-generation distiller, in 1882. He chose the name to honor his own grandfather — and the family’s first-generation distiller — Basil Hayden Sr. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because another bourbon label popularized it. Basil Hayden’s bourbon was crafted by master distiller Booker Noe in 1992. While he had no relation to the Haden family, he was inspired by Hayden Sr.’s expertise in the field and named the product after him.
Grandpa Hayden’s face is featured on every bottle.
Bottles feature a prominent portrait of Hayden Sr. posing with a soft smile and glass of bourbon in hand. The phrase “The Grand Daddy of Bourbon” is emblazoned underneath. Hayden Sr.’s portrait has evolved as Old Grand-Dad’s packaging has. Some past bottles featured a stoic shot, while others had variations of the friendly face that adorns bottles today.
It’s been around for over a century.
Old Grand-Dad has a long history in the Kentucky bourbon world. It has been produced at multiple distilleries, gone through multiple ownership changes, and experienced a slew of packaging redesigns in the nearly 140 years it’s been around. Through it all, the brand name and recipe have remained the same.
Old Grand-Dad was once prescribed by doctors.
Unlike most in the bourbon industry, the brand thrived during Prohibition. At the time, Old Grand-Dad was owned by the Wathen family. The Wathens were key players in the formation of the American Medicinal Spirits Company, which produced and sold whiskey that was prescribed to ailing patients in the 1920s. Old Grand-Dad was one of those whiskies. Physicians sold it for roughly $3 per pint (the equivalent of $45 today) to help patients manage pain.
It was a former president’s favorite bourbon.
Former President Harry S. Truman drank his fair share of bourbon while in the White House. Truman’s biographer, David McCullough, wrote that the former president started his mornings with a 5 a.m. shot of Old Grand-Dad bourbon that — in Truman’s words — “got the engine running.” He accompanied his morning whiskey fix with toast, eggs, bacon, and milk.
Notice a hint of spice? That’s the rye talking.
Traditionally, bourbon mash bills contain around 8 to 10 percent rye. Old Grand Dad’s rye percentage is over double that, at 27 percent. The higher the rye content, the more spice a bourbon has, making Old Grand-Dad a bold drink with a bit of a bite. It shares a mash bill with Basil Hayden’s (the bourbon Booker Noe named after Hayden Sr.), but Old Grand-Dad’s spicy kick comes at less than half the price of its fellow high-rye competitor.
You can buy it in three different proofs.
Old Grand-Dad is available in proofs of 80, 100, and 114. The 100 proof, named Old Grand-Dad Bonded, is the most popular seller and only bonded expression the brand offers. This bottled-in-bond bourbon, in accordance with the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897, is distilled by one distillery in one season and aged for at least four years in a federally bonded warehouse before its release.
It’s held onto its beloved spot on the bottom shelf.
At only $25 per bottle, Old Grand-Dad is one of the few fan-favorite bourbons that started out as an affordable bottle and has stayed that way. Many bourbons suffer different fates, and price hikes are common as consumer demand grows and unicorn bourbons become, ironically, less rare. Old Grand-Dad has escaped these hikes unscathed and continues to be an available, affordable, bottom-shelf bourbon for the masses.
Old Grand-Dad is a bartender favorite.
Old Grand-Dad’s low price point and versatility makes it an easy choice for bars to stock. The hint of heat from its high rye content, along with a flavor profile that includes notes of caramel and vanilla, make it a great liquid to serve neat or in a Manhattan.
It belongs to a collection of ‘old’ bourbons.
In a 2010s-era marketing campaign, Beam Suntory attempted to drum up business for three under-performing whiskey brands: Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, and Old Overholt. A mini-website was launched for “The Olds,” which housed tongue-in-cheek content and promoted the bottles. The campaign worked, and Old Grand-Dad is still thought of as part of “The Olds” family of bourbons. As to why there are so many bourbons with “old” in their names? That’s a whole other story.