The Old Grand-Dad brand was created by Raymond B. Hayden and named after his grandfather Meredith Basil Hayden, Sr. The bourbon has been in production since the 1800’s, including during Prohibition when it was produced by American Medicinal Spirits Co., a pharmaceutical company. The brand has changed ownership numerous times since it was originally created and is now owned by Beam Suntory and marketed as part of their “The Olds” Collection which also includes Old Overholt. Old Grand-Dad is currently released in three different bottling proofs: 80 (changed from 86 in 2013), 100, and 114.
The bottle in review is the 100 proof variant, and is labelled “Bonded” which is short for Bottled in Bond. To be labelled Bottled in Bond, the whiskey must be the product of one distillation season and one distiller at a single distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years, and it must be bottled at exactly 100 proof. Additionally, the Bottled in Bond label must clearly identify the distillery where it was distilled and where it was bottled, if different.
A wave of cinnamon leads the charge, followed by sweet caramel, vanilla, and a hint of burnt oak. Cinnamon dominates overall, but the balance of sweeter scents along with the oak keeps it manageable. While it comes across as somewhat one-dimensional, it's still inviting.
Big cinnamon spice pops upfront with a flash of Fireball candy potency. Dark fruit and baking spices follow, along with a touch of rye spice. It has a nice intensity, and like the nose, the cinnamon dominates and is also quite pleasant. It's medium-bodied with a nice mouthfeel.
Sweet flavors of caramel candy and raw sugar develop first, followed by baking spices and a very light display of seasoned oak. The finish is medium-length and has just the right amount of intensity. Enjoyable overall and leaves a good impression.
Old Grand-Dad is one of the oldest and most storied brands on store shelves, but despite this, the brand seems to receive little fanfare among bourbon enthusiasts and very little marketing effort from current owner Beam Suntory. The higher 114 proof version was even rumored to be discontinued in 2017, though it still exists today and pops up in discussions from time to time.
Old Grand-Dad bourbons are made from a high rye mashbill containing 27% rye, which is likely the source of its heavy cinnamon spice flavor found throughout the 100 proof Bonded variant. It also falls in between the lower 80 proof and higher 114 proof versions, and to that end, balances flavor and drinkability the best of the three.
Jim Beam also produces another brand that honors Old Grand-Dad, which is aptly named Basil Hayden’s after the man himself. Made from the same high rye mashbill, the standard Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is released at 80 proof and marketed as a premium bourbon in ultra-premium packaging. I find it’s often one new bourbon drinkers refer to as a favorite, but more seasoned bourbon drinkers complain about its price, low proof, and the fact that its best quality is the effective marketing strategy behind it. By comparison, Old Grand-Dad Bonded packs a lot more punch at 100 proof, giving it a leg up on its premium lackluster counterpart, and also helping it more successfully stand apart from the crowd.
I tasted this recent batch in review against an older open bottle of Old Grand-Dad Bonded I had purchased in 2013 or so. While I never disliked the particular bottle, I often relegated it to mixing or just an occasional pour simply because it had "been a while." By comparison, the newer batch is quite a bit more enjoyable, albeit cinnamon-heavy against its more ethanol-heavy and less balanced 2013 counterpart. In fact, I found the two to not even taste like the same brand when sipped side by side.
Like a rising tide, we’ve watched bourbon’s prices climb with many new releases, but less so with existing brands. This is true of Old Grand-Dad, which has maintained low prices across the brand.
While Old Grand-Dad Bonded is readily available and sees widespread distribution, it’s not a bourbon that’s on every liquor store shelf, and often when it is there is only a small supply of it. The brand’s storied history and familiarity seems to resonate with long-time fans, yet I doubt many new bourbon drinkers reach for a bottle of Old Grand-Dad on liquor store shelves, instead reaching for Basil Hayden's, Old Grand-Dad's pricier (and fancier) counterpart...or just simply any other brand with a snazzier bottle. I remembered an article from years ago where theoretical packaging designs were created for the brand as part of a design project, and at the time I remembered thinking how much better they were than the bourbon’s current packaging design, which has changed quite a bit over the years.
Getting past packaging design reveals a pretty tasty bourbon that’s readily available for a good price, sometimes even under $20 if you look in the right place. Based on the batch in review, what’s being bottled today is quite a bit better than what was being bottled just six years ago. So while Old Grand-Dad Bonded might not engage us with effective packaging design, it holds its own against others in the price range including its higher proof and somewhat unbalanced brother, Old Grand-Dad 114.
Old Grand-Dad Bonded might not have the snazziest packaging design, but at $25, this quality, storied bourbon should have a place on every bourbon drinker's shelf.
Old Grand-Dad seems like a brand that everyone respects, but rarely talks about. Maybe it’s the name, the packaging design, or the fact that its low price and general availability make it somehow seem less exciting. Given the quality of this recent batch of Old Grand-Dad Bonded, I’m going to make it a point to reach for the bottle more often. And at only $25 or so for a bottle, it’s worth visiting, or revisiting, if you don’t already have it in your regular rotation.