Thursday, April 17, 2014

“Old Grand-Dad” Descended from the Hayden Family

One of America’s most familiar liquor labels is that of “Old Grand-Dad,”  a brand of whiskey has been around for almost 122 years.   Look closely at the portrait below taken from a current bottle of Old Grand-Dad.  It is the likeness of Basil Hayden who is accounted there “Head of the Bourbon Family”  and, it may be added, head of the Kentucky distilling Hayden family whose roots lie deep in antiquity.

According to Wikipedia, the Haydens can be traced back to England during the period shortly after the Norman conquest:  “One ancestor, Simon de Heydon, was knighted by Richard the Lionheart in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade in the 1190s. His son, Thomas de Heydon, was made Justice Itinerant of Norfolk by Henry III. Around 1400, another ancestor, John Heydon, appears to have been associated with "The Grove"– a large estate in Watford (Hertfordshire), located about twenty miles northwest of London. Some researchers have speculated that John Heydon was given the estate for his father Sir Richard de Heydon's services in the French Wars, where Sir Richard perished.”

Things changed radically for the family during the 16th Century.  After Henry the Eighth broke with the Pope of Rome,  much of England became increasingly inhospitable to Catholics.  As a result the Heydons (soon to change to “Hayden”) emigrated to the Virginia Colony during the 1660s.  After a few years they moved to Maryland, a colony more welcoming to Catholics.  They settled in St. Mary’s County on St. Clement’s Bay.  There in the mid-1700s, Basil Hayden was born and raised.  Apparently employed in the mercantile trades,  Basil is said to have supplied provisions to the Colonial Army.

Not long after American independence in 1785 Basil led a group of twenty-five Catholic families from Maryland into what is now Nelson County, Kentucky, near present day Bardstown.  They called the area “Greenbrier Station.” Their move likely was motivated by the opening of land for agriculture west of the Appalachian mountains.  There Basil cleared his plot and established a farm.  It appears that he also began distilling on small basis.  Some accounts say that he was notable for using a larger amount of rye in his whiskey than other distillers in the area.   Basil also was noted for having donated the land for the first Catholic church west of the Alleghenies and the first in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

After Basil’s death, the distilling tradition was carried on by a son, Lewis, sometime about 1820. He was married to a woman named Polly who was a member of the Dant whiskey-making family.  Lewis is recorded in the 1830 census living in Nelson County with his wife, eight sons, two daughters, and an elderly relative, likely his mother.   Sometime during the 1840s Lewis died and was succeeded by one of his sons. Raymond Bishop (R.B.) Hayden.  R.B. had been born in 1821, the second son.  The 1850 U.S. Census found him living at home, age 29, with his 70-year-old mother and other family members.  R.B. never married.

The distilling operation R.B. Hayden had inherited was a small one. He continued to pursue the liquor trade while engaged in major farming activities.  In the 1870 Census the value of his property was counted at $30,000,  the equivalent of $1.2 million in today’s dollar.  Seeing the growth of the whiskey industry in Kentucky and particularly Nelson County,  when he was in his late 50’s R.B. became the Hayden who took the family business into full-scale commercial production.  In 1882 he built the R.B. Hayden & Company Distillery at Hobbs Station in Nelson County, shown here.  He took as his partner in this enterprise F.L. Ferriell, himself the offspring of a line of Kentucky distillers and a former Federal revenue agent.  Their distillery had a daily mashing capacity of 100 bushels and could store 7,000 barrels for aging.

It was whiskey from the distillery of these partners that was first branded as “Old Grand-Dad”  It historically has been believed that R.B. Hayden named the whiskey in honor of his grandfather, Basil, and that tradition has been honored up to the present day.  As will be seen here, however, the image of the elderly gentleman has been altered from time to time. 

Only three years after creating his distillery,  R. B. Hayden died, leaving no heirs.  His share of the facility was sold to a wealthy furrier and stock breeder and for a time the company was known as the Barber, Ferriell Distilling Company.  It continue to feature Old Grand-Dad as its flagship brand.  In 1899 the distillery was sold to the Wathen family.  The Wathens, like the Haydens, were heirs of a distinguished distilling tradition.   At the time of their purchase the Wathens also had become a major force on the Kentucky bourbon scene.  They changed the name of Hobbs facility to “The Old Grand-Dad Distillery Company.”  They also opened a sales office for the brand at 110 West Main Street in Louisville.

Nace Wathen became the distiller and manager of the Hobbs distillery only to see it destroyed by fire in 1900.  It was quickly rebuilt to accommodate a 400 bushel mashing capacity and operated up until 1919 and the advent of National Prohibition.  Then all the whiskey was removed to the Wathen’s federally regulated “concentration” warehouses and bottled for medicinal use.  The distillery R.B. Hayden had built was allowed to fall into disrepair and today, it is said, no ruins remain to be seen.

Shown here are images of artifacts bearing the name Old Grand-Dad.  It is doubtful that any of them date from the Hayden era.  The Wathens were known for their vigorous merchandising and  the pre-Prohibition artifacts here would have been issued during their ownership.   After Repeal the Old Grand-Dad brand name went through a series of owners. Today the label is produced by the Jim Beam Company.

Although the Hayden distilling line disappeared more than a century ago, its major figures have not been forgotten.  In addition to Basil’s face gracing the Old Grand-Dad label,  Jim Beam since 1992 has produced a small-batch bourbon called Basil Hayden Bourbon.  It comes in a fancy bottle with a paper “bib” that bears a short narrative about him.  Aged eight years at 80 proof,  it has been called “a nice sipping whiskey.”  Nor did the distilling industry forget about Basil’s grandson.  For a time before Prohibition, a brand of  Kentucky whiskey was sold under the label, R. B. Hayden.  A pocket mirror advertised it as an “Old Style Sour Mash” from Nelson County.  Raymond Hayden, a detail of his graveyard monument shown here, likely would have been pleased with the recognition.


  1. I work in an old building that is being renovated and we found an old bottle in the basement that looks very similar to the one pictured here, I've been looking for more information on it, thanks!

  2. Dear Shady: I am not sure what you found. Some "Old Grandad" bottles are not that old. If you send me a picture at, I will try to be of help. The only bottle shown in this post is a back of the bar bottle. If yours is similar, it might be a good find. Jack