It’s been an interesting few months for the “Beam” portion of Beam Suntory.
Back in October the had a full worker strike at Jim Beam, it only lasted a single week before both sides reconciled their differences but it also happened to be the same week that Booker’s Rye was named Jim Murray’s World Whiskey of the Year.
The prestige of that super allocated release, as well as the price tag, seemed to add fuel to Beam’s announcement at the end of last year that standard issue Booker’s Bourbon was going to see a production cut and double in price in 2017. This announcement was met with such backlash that the company quickly back tracked, now saying that the price would more gradually increase over the year with only a $20 increase to start off the year. This about face has left many people disgruntled, feeling that they were some how manipulated into snatching up bottles. As if they were forced into buying the whiskey by the announcement.
Add this to the Maker’s Mark brushfire in 2013 where the same company announced that they’d be cutting the proof of Maker’s Mark to increase supply only to quickly change their tune due to community pushback and you seem to have a company with an inte
rnal struggle between the accountants and the physical producers.
Amidst this kerfuffle yet another beloved friend has bit the dust with out much fanfare: the Grand Dad 114. The lack of a dustup might be proof that the company was right to discontinue this expression of Old Grand Dad but I personally disagree.
Old Grand Dad is old. Not as in an age statement but in terms a brand. And even if you don’t think you’re familiar with the brand you’re wrong. You just know him by another name: Basil Hayden.
Basil Hayden was part of a great migration into the heart of modern day Bourbon Country. He was, like almost everyone else, a farmer first. He distilled to preserve excess grain, just like his neighbors did, with little thought to mashbill or long term aging.
After the civil war whiskey went industrial and around 1882 Basil’s grandson, Raymond, founded a distillery and named it after his Old-Grand Dad and slapped a portrait of him on the label.
After Hayden’s death the distillery passed into the hands of the Wathen’s who made medicinal Old Grand Dad through-out Prohibition and their company, American Medicinal Spirits, became the backbone for National Distillers after repeal which was one of the largest and most influential bourbon makers in American History.
After Prohibition, when whiskey stocks were nearly non-existent, a higher rye content was added to Old Grand Dad’s mashbill in an effort to make it taste and feel like those ‘old style’ distillers in an effort to appeal to the new drinkers.
Flash forward to the late 80’s, National Distillers merged with Jim Beam and amazingly, the mashbill for Old Grand Dad has seemingly been left unaltered. And they even added to the family by introducing Basil Hayden’s in 1992.
I’ve always loved the 114. 114 proof (duh) it is spicy, powerful, dusty leather and a nutty presence that leaves your mouth bone dry, hunting for more. And even if the claim that Basil was known for making bourbon “with a high rye content” is completely unsubstantiated it is still damn good whiskey.
By now Basil Hayden’s far outshines its older iteration, at least in terms of press and sales. And with supply unable to keep up with demand a family sacrifice has been made. So good by 114.
That’s the history, but what about the future of Old Grand Dad? Well, let’s look back at the little ol’ Maker’s mark fiasco and Booker’s Rye awards.
A few months after Beam Suntory announced that the would in fact not be lowering the proof of Maker’s Mark the suddenly released Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. The release was originally very limited and sold exclusively in small format but proved so successful that it’s a full time release now, for a majorly popular brand that carries a higher price tag and slightly more prestige.
Add that to the success, and price tag, they’re having with super limited releases of major brands like Booker’s it’s hard not to see the super allocated Cask Strength Basil Hayden’s wait in the pipeline. And to not see the massive price tag it’ll carry on the shelves and even more gargantuan one it’ll have on the secondary market.
This is the dark side of the whiskey boom. What helped fuel this boom was availability and price. Bourbon was unpretentious and everyone could afford a great bottle. Now, value is harder to find and more of the fans are being priced out of something they love. If we’re lucky they’ll go the Maker’s Mark route on this one and turn it into a permanent line extension but who can say? The company itself seems to have a hard time making up its mind.
I can’t tell if the glass is half full or half empty but, for tonight at least, it’s filled with Old Grand Dad 114