Compared to the recent hubbub about cutting the proof of Maker's Mark, which was subsequently rescinded, drinkers have largely been silent about the cut from 86° proof (43% ABV) to 80° proof (40% ABV) for the lowest-proof expression of Old Grand-Dad bourbon.
Although the change took place more than six months ago, it has only recently appeared on the radar, thanks to folks on the straightbourbon.com discussion board.
Old Grand-Dad's bottled-in-bond (100° proof/50% ABV) and 114° proof (57% ABV) expressions remain unchanged. In fact, the culprit in the proof cut, according to Beam, is the bond.
Asked to comment, Beam provided the following statement: "This was an adjustment that happened mid-year 2012 to address certain factors particular to the Old Grand Dad brand, including maintaining a competitive retail price amidst higher input costs, while continuing to meet surging demand among bartenders and consumers in Old Grand Dad Bonded – which is 100 proof and one of very few bonded products out there. It should also be noted that Old Grand Dad’s signature high-rye mash bill – which has certainly set the brand apart from most other Kentucky Straight Bourbons in the last few decades – has not changed (and will not change)."
Incidentally, 80° proof is effectively the floor for straight spirits such as whiskey. Producers are permitted to bottle whiskey at lower alcohol levels, but are required to label it 'diluted whiskey.' That tends to be off-putting to consumers, even though virtually all whiskey sold is, in fact, diluted for bottling.
Old Grand-Dad is a brand established in the late 19th century. After Prohibition, it returned as part of National Distillers. It became a Beam brand when the two companies merged in 1987. Of the many bourbons Beam acquired in that transaction, the original recipe was retained for only one; Old Grand-Dad. The rest (Old Crow, Old Taylor, etc.) became Beam juice.
The Old Grand-Dad recipe was retained because its mash bill contains about twice as much rye as Jim Beam and other standard bourbons, and a consequently smaller proportion of corn. It was also, at the time, commanding a premium price, so the higher cost of preserving its integrity was deemed acceptable. The Old Grand-Dad recipe is also used for Basil Hayden bourbon, which Beam recently announced saw sales surge in 2012.
When bourbon sales collapsed in the 1970s and '80s, brands whose names start with 'Old' took the biggest hit. It remains conventional wisdom among producers that legacy brands, especially the 'Olds,' deserve only minimal support, as they are only bought by long-time fans and aren't capable of attracting significant numbers of new consumers.
That may or may not be true, but if you're a bourbon enthusiast and haven't tried Old Grand-Dad yet, you should -- while you still can.