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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Old Grand-Dad 114 Straight Bourbon Whiskey

I was going to review a pair of Ardbegs this week, but I'm pushing them a couple weeks down the line.  Since it's the week before the Super Bowl -- seemingly the American-est week of the year -- I'd like to review a few bourbons, all of which are much cheaper than anything Ardbeg puts out.

Today, it's Old Grand-Dad 114, one of the most affordable high proof whiskies on the market.  Beam Inc., now owned by Suntory, distills and produces the Old Grand-Dad (heretofore shortened to OGD) line.  The range includes the regular OGD, OGD Bottled in Bond (BIB), and OGD 114, rising in proof (80 or 86, 100, 114) and price ($15, $20, $25 approx.).  They all utilize the same high-rye mash bill that Beam uses for (the more expensive) Basil Hayden straight bourbon and for good reason.  Mr. Basil Hayden was the old granddad himself and a distiller who preferred a higher rye content in his mash.

Some history in a snapshot (much of it courtesy of Chuck Cowdery):
1796 - Basil Hayden moves to Bardstown, Kentucky from Maryland.
1882 - Old Grand-Dad distillery is built, overseen by Basil's grandson Raymond Hayden.
1885 - Raymond passes away.  Distillery purchased by the Barber Family.
1899 - Distillery sells to the Wathen family.
1920-1933 - During Prohibition, OGD and many other distilleries are consolidated into American Medicinal Spirits.
1934 - American Medicinal Spirits is sold to National Distillers. The brand is re-released but the distillery is never reopened.  Instead the spirit is distilled at K. Taylor Distillers.
1987 - Fortune Brands purchases OGD, along with a number of other National Distillers brands, moving the distillation to their own facilities.
2011 - Fortune Brands is split up, its spirits division named Beam Inc.
2014 - Suntory purchases Beam Inc.  Much xenophobia ensues.
About 15 months ago, I reviewed OGD BIB.  I wasn't impressed by its flavor, though I liked its nose, and the bourbon made for a decent Old Fashioned.  Otherwise, I really couldn't recommend it.  Ever since then I've been pondering purchasing a bottle of the OGD 114 blindly because the price was so darned reasonable.  But luckily for me, my friend Florin supplied me with a sample to test it out first.

Owner: Beam, Inc.
Brand: Old Grand-Dad
Distillery: Booker Noe Plant
Location: Boston, Kentucky
Mash Bill: High rye, 30% rye
Age: NAS (It's not young. It's not old. I'm not helpful.)
ABV: 57% ABV

I tried it neatly, then reduced it to 50% ABV, then reduced to 43% ABV.

The color is an orangey dark gold.  The nose leads with charred oak, bark, and artificially-flavored maple syrup.  Then lemon peel, corn syrup, and vanilla.  There's lots of young spirity stuff like chlorine and ethyl in there.  After some time, a baked banana + caramel + cayenne pepper note arose.  But overall, sawdust seems to be its main characteristic.  The palate is warm, but not as hot as one would anticipate from such a high proof.  Lots of corn syrup is backed by toffee, milk chocolate, and fresh cherries.  There's also a little bit of salt and some peppery rye spice.  It finishes with lots of caramel and Corn Pops.  Then black pepper, sawdust, and barrel char.

REDUCED TO 50% (modeled after OGD BIB)
The nose smells like a rear end, and not a clean one.  Then some buttery (yes I said buttery) oak, white fruits (mostly apple), varnish, and sawdust.  The palate is pleasant and mellow.  All toasty grains, caramel sauce, and barrel char.  The finish is brief and mostly just that barrel char.

REDUCED TO 43% (modeled after OGD)
The nose is all caramel, corn syrup, oak pulp, and marshmallows.  The palate is lightly sweet and lightly bitter.  Corn and oak.  It finishes briefer and a little dry.  Oak and banana.

Firstly, I was impressed by how flexible the whiskey was.  I don't think I've had a bourbon that withstood so much added water and still came out flavorful.  Ignoring the quirky nose at the 50%ABV level, there were times that I preferred the lower ABVs.  It doesn't have much character at 43%, but makes for very easy pain-free drinking.

While I like the 114 much more than the BIB, nothing about it knocked me over.  I kept waiting for some more rye character to show up, but all I found was a little bit of pepper here and there.  The dominant sawdust note might be a turnoff to some folks, but I didn't mind it much.  So the bourbon neither sins nor shines.  But, again, its flexibility is a big plus for me, so I'd still order it at a bar as long as its price isn't out of whack.  Speaking of price, the bottle still costs about as much as it did five years ago.  I hope it holds...

(For another take, see Chemistry of the Cocktail's review.  Jordan's OGD 114 experience held much more rye-ness than mine.)

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $22-$30
Rating - 80