Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bourbon and Dad

A recent article in a magazine, “Wine Spectator” discussed the tastes and features of various bourbons, the “American drink.”  One of them brought back a whole bunch of memories for me, and as it would happen, I then inflict these musing on you guys.

I had to throw out my dad’s hat that I had kept since his death in 1990.  Over the 22 years on the shelf, the old Stetson (it was a Western gentleman’s hat, not a cowboy style) had developed some mold problems.  It was a definite symbol of Wallie, since he came from a generation that wore hats routinely for work and for dress, and he often said that he felt uncomfortable to be outside without a head covering of some sort.  Ergo, after his death, I made sure he would have a hat if he ever showed up.

Back to bourbon.  My dad bought Old Grand-Dad bourbon by the case, and it had to be a specific one of their bourbons, I think the 86 proof.  That brand had several, and I think the 100 proof is the one I see most often, but he liked the taste of the lower alcohol level.

His older brother, Martin, died of a tonsillectomy at about age 8 (my brother had the same operation at about the same age which had to spook my grandmother), so he was essentially an only child.  Except that he had a friend, Jake, also an only child. They were about the same age (Jake was adopted, so the age was not certain) and like the brother neither of them had. They grew up together, were close until Jake died about two years before Wallie, and they would enjoy some Old Grand-Dad, or as they said it in some sort of old country accent, they “drinked a little.” Neither drank to excess, but the ritual was two high balls before dinner—you see, one wasn’t enough because “you can’t get home on one leg.”

The magazine talked about the “spicy” and “classic” and “smooth” general tastes of the whiskey they featured, and Old Grand-Dad, which is apparently owned by the Beam Distillery (as in Jim Beam), is a very moderately priced spirit.  They list it as “spicy,” and I have no way or reason to dispute this, but this is what else they have to say:  “You’ll find sweet cinnamon and cornbread mingling with minty, peppery rye aromas.  It’s authoritative in the mouth, a solid punch of hot corn and robust oak is accented by a hint of anise and a long, spicy finish.”  Wallie and Jake would have laughed and called BS on all that. For them, sippin’ whiskey isn’t about “finding peppery rye aromas” or a “long, spicy finish.” Sippin’ whiskey is just about one thing—friends. Just friends.

Whenever I have a taste of Kentucky bourbon, I think of my dad and those times.  It is a taste that is unique, for sure, and since the hat is gone, I will have to keep a jar of it around.  We will enjoy some sips in their memory.


  1. After reading your post, I figured (I am from Genoa after all) that I should go out and buy some Old Grand-Dad. I purchased a bottle of the 86 and was actually surprised how good it is. I then was watching the movie "Bad Santa" and what do I see the great thespian Billy Bob Thorton drinking? I couldn't believe it. I have actually started to really explore whiskey (or whisky if your Scottish) and find that there really isn't a bad one, just some are better than others.

  2. Kevin,

    Thanks for the comment, and you have hit on one of my favorite movies. I like the thought, "...not really a bad one, some just better." I got a jar for Christmas. From the real Santa, not Bad Santa.