Old Grand-Dad 114 is a 114 proof (57% ABV) Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey offering from Beam Suntory and is currently distilled at the Jim Beam Distillery at the Clermont, Kentucky plant. The Old Grand-Dad line is known for being made up of a higher rye content, rumored to be around 27%, although Jim Beam does not release its mash bill makeup. The age of the whiskey is not disclosed by the distillery either. The 114 line is one of the three offerings in the Old Grand-Dad line. The other two include a bottled in bond and an 86 proof bourbon. The 114 line was introduced by National Distillers, one of the previous owners of the brand, in the 1970’s. The Old Grand-Dad brand dates back over a century to the days before prohibition and was originally distilled at one of the earliest registered distilleries in Kentucky. More than just grand dad is old, but so is the history of the brand and people behind it.
Who exactly is this Old Grand-Dad though? He is much more than just a grandfather figure that made his way onto a bourbon label. The Old Grand-Dad line is in honor of the iconic Meredith Basil Hayden, Sr., commonly referred to as Basil Hayden. He was born on Wednesday January 2, 1743 in St. Mary’s, Maryland to George Hayden, Sr. (1715-July 10, 1754) and Charity Mary Morgan (1718- October 3, 1791). Basil’s family immigrated to the United States from England in the 1660’s, fleeing the religious intolerance for Catholics at that time in their country. In their effort to find refuge, his ancestors found home in St. Mary’s, Maryland which later became the birthplace of Basil himself. He married Henrietta Cole (born July 2, 1754) in 1771 and together they had fifteen children. Nearly a century after the great emigration, in 1785 Basil continued in the faith of his ancestors by leading a congregation of Catholics through the tough journey of hundreds of rugged miles from Maryland to Nelson County, Kentucky. During the time of this journey, Basil and Henrietta had already given birth to nine of their fifteen children, but unfortunately four of them passed away during the perils of the journey to Kentucky. Once the congregation reached the Kentucky lands, they settled and formed farm lands. Henrietta and Basil went on to birth six more children in the Kentucky settlement. Here Basil began small scale distilling in 1788 and was known for using higher rye content in his mash bill than what was typically being used by other distillers of the time. He continued distilling until his death on Sunday July 15, 1804 in Washington County, Kentucky. At the time of his death, Basil was ill. A month before passing he prepared for his death by having a will written that divided his belongings, including enslaved African Americans, to his wife and remaining living children. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Calvary, Kentucky in Marion County where his gravesite has no marker.
The Old Grand-Dad name was introduced to the world by Basil Hayden’s grandson, Colonel Raymond Bishop Hayden. Raymond was born on Sunday February 11, 1821 to Lewis Hayden (1795-1849) and Mary Polly Dant (1795-1879). Not only was distilling in Raymond’s blood from his grandfather Hayden, but his mother carried the Dant family name. The Dant family was also a predominant family with a history of distilling that still carries on to this day. The distilling tradition was passed down from Basil to his son Lewis and then onto Raymond. Along with business partner F.L. Ferriell, Raymond opened the R.B. Hayden & Company Distillery in 1882 in Nelson County, Kentucky. The distilled spirits plant number (the permit number given to a distillery that allows them to legally produce alcohol) for the state of Kentucky for the distillery was 14, making it one of the earliest registered distilleries in the state. There at the distillery the Old Grand-Dad brand was born, honoring the late great Basil Hayden. In the early days of production, whiskey was sold out of the barrel, but at some point in the 1890’s the company began bottling their product and the iconic image behind the brand began to appear on the labels. The image behind the brand was a portrait of Basil himself. This image has changed slightly over the years, but it is still seen today proudly displayed on each bottle’s label. Unfortunately just a few years after the start of the distillery Raymond committed suicide after struggling with mental health issues. He passed away on Thursday June 11, 1885 and was laid to rest at Saint Joseph Cemetery in Bardstown, Kentucky. He was never married and left behind no heirs to inherit his share of the distillery. Raymond can be credited with taking the family distilling heritage to the commercial spotlight, creating a brand that has persisted for well over one hundred years and preserving the history of the legendary Basil Hayden.
After Raymond’s death, his share in the distillery was sold to another investor and the distillery changed its name to Barber, Ferriell Distilling Company. The brand of Old Grand-Dad continued to live on throughout this phase as production of the line continued. The bourbon industry as a whole was shaken in 1897 when the Bottled in Bond act was passed allowing for distilleries to age their product in bonded warehouses supervised by government officials. Products labeled as bottled in bond under this act must have a minimum age of four years and must be distilled by the same distillery in the same distilling season. This allowed for consumers to have a guarantee on the quality of the products that they were getting. Old Grand-Dad’s line of bottled in bond bourbons still continues on to this day. In 1899, the distillery and its brands were sold to the Wathen family. The Wathen family, like the Haydens, had distilling in their blood. There were many family ties to distilling and many of the family members have either owned, worked or operated a distillery. During this transition, the distillery was renamed to Old Grand-Dad Distillery Company and as the name suggests, Basil’s history continued to live on. Tragedy struck not long after the sale to the Wathen family when a fire broke out in the distillery burning it down, but the persistence of the owners allowed for the distillery to be quickly rebuilt and back operational. Despite the success to get the distillery back up and running, nothing would be enough to prepare for the beginning of prohibition that was just around the corner.
During the prohibition era many distilleries shuttered and were forever lost and stockpiles of aging bourbon were destroyed or severe consequences would be incurred. However, the one sheer way for a distillery to survive the rough years of prohibition was to turn to the legal selling of alcohol as medicine. Medicinal alcohol was allowed to be prescribed to patients as a remedy to the ailments. Only a few select distilleries were allowed this special license issued by the government, and the Wathen family was in line. They formed the American Medicinal Spirits Company and were allowed to bottle their products legally during prohibition to be distributed as medicine. Distillation for Old Grand-Dad during this time period took place at the Old Taylor Distillery (DSP KY 19) and was distilled by Richard E. Wathen. The Old Grand-Dad line continued to be produced and bottled through the prohibition era, aiding in its name and brand to survive through one of the hardest eras in history for any distillery.
The American Medicinal Spirits Company was eventually purchased by National Distillers in 1929 several years before the end of the prohibition. National Distillers was a major spirits company that emerged strongly out of prohibition and throughout the years to follow. They continued to produce and sell the Old Grand-Dad line throughout its ownership. It was during this ownership that the 114 line came to market. The brand went through one more final sale in 1987 when National Distillers sold its spirits segment to James B. Beam Distilling Company, resulting in Beam taking over the Old Grand-Dad line, Old Crow and Old Taylor (later sold to Sazerac). Distillation at the prior plants ceased and all products began to be produced at the Beam plant in Clearmont, Kentucky. To this day the Jim Beam distillery still sells, ages and produces the Old Grand-Dad line. As an additional node to the legacy of Basil Hayden, when Jim Beam came out with their small batch line up they named a full bourbon line Basil Hayden.
To this day, Meredeth Basil “Old Grand-Dad” Hayden lives on in the history that’s behind such an iconic long standing brand that has withstood time and is there on the shelfs for us to enjoy. Next time that you are sipping on some Old Grand-Dad 114, think of the rich and long history behind what’s in your glass and all of the people that it took to make it happen.