Have you heard about “Old Grand-Dad” bourbon from Basil Hayden? If you have, you are certainly familiar with the brand name Hayden.

Basil Hayden, the amazing bourbon maverick discussed here today, laid out the foundations for the whiskey/bourbon industry almost simultaneously with the development of the colonies in the United States.

However, the Hayden family has very deep roots, tracing back to antiquity.

Find out more about the Basil Hayden whiskey brand here

Who Was Basil Hayden?

The Beginnings

The Hayden family’s history can be traced all the way back to England in the aftermath of the Norman conquest.

One of their ancestors, Simon de Heydon (Heydon being the original spelling of the name), was actually knighted by King Richard the Lionheart himself. This occurred in the late 12th century during the Third Crusade for the Holy Land.

Thomas de Heydon, who was his son, had been named Justice Itinerant by King Henry III.

In the 1400s, another ancestor by the name of John Heydon owned a large, prestigious estate found in Watford (Hertfordshire).

The property was dubbed “The Grove” and was set around 20 miles NW of London.

According to some researchers, he inherited the estate from his father, Sir Richard de Heydon, who himself had earned it thanks to his services during the French Wars. Sir Richard died serving in this same war.

The 16th Century

The 16th century was quite a tormented period for the Haydens.

England suddenly became very unwelcoming for Catholics, especially after King Henry VIII’s conflict with the Pope of Rome.

Consequently, the Heydons decided to emigrate and moved in the 1660s to the Virginia Colony in America.

The 18th Century

A couple of years later, they moved north to Maryland where the colony openly embraced Catholics.

The Hayden’s lived in St. Clement’s Bay in St. Mary’s County. Here, Basil Hayden was born in the mid 18th century. He was involved in mercantile trades, and historians believe he might have brought provisions for the Colonial Army.

Soon after America gained its independence from Britain in 1785, Basil led a group of 25 Catholic families out of Maryland.

He took them all the way South to an area known today as Nelson County, Kentucky. Nelson County is located next to Bardstown.


There they named the territory Greenbrier Station.


Their move sparked a starting point for agriculture in the land west of the Appalachian Mountains.

This is the place where Basil Hayden had set up a farm and cleared his plot. Apparently, this is the moment when he also started distilling (though on a minor level). According to some accounts, he was famous for using more rye in his bourbon than other whiskey and bourbon distillers.

Another thing which cemented his history is the fact that he donated land for a church.

This was the first Catholic church west of the Alleghenies and the first one in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The 19th Century

After he died, his son Lewis carried on the family’s tradition. This transition leads us into the 1820s.

Lewis married a woman named Polly who came from the Dant family. The Dants were also in the whiskey-making business.

The 1830 census shows Lewis as living somewhere in the Nelson County, together with his wife, 10 children and probably his mother.

In the 1840s, he died and one of his sons carried on the tradition. Raymond Bishop Hayden was born in 1821. The U.S. Census shows that he never married and lived with other family members.

He is a particularly important character and led the family business to financial success.

He founded the R. B. Hayden & Company distillery in 1882. The distillery was quite a big one, mashing 100 bushels daily and storing 7,000 barrels.

This is the point where we get the first Old Grand-Dad brand, which was named to honor R. B.’s grandfather and originator, Basil Hayden.

The Legacy


Basil Hayden

Source: Wikipedia

Even though R. B. had no heirs, the distillery was bought by another family who carried on the Old Grand-Dad brand.


Moreover, in 1992 Jim Beam started producing a small-batch bourbon with the Basil Hayden name. The bottle also includes a brief story about the whiskey maverick which many bourbon aficionados appreciate.

Why Is He a Legend?

Besides making history, together with his family, Basil Hayden also changed the traditional recipe.

At the time, most distillers made bourbon with a corn base.

However, in 1796 Hayden chose to add small grains to the mash. He thought that people would appreciate the spicy rye flavor of his favorite recipe.

Indeed, the taste complements the sweetness offered by the corn. As it turns out, he was right. The flavor became a success, ensuring the recipe would run well into the modern days in one form or another.


Not too many people are familiar with the history of whiskey legend Basil Hayden, but it is an interesting story nevertheless. Even better, enjoy it while sipping a glass of ol’ Grand Dad’s best.

Remember his name next time you look for a cheap bourbon to enjoy!

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