Heads, Hearts, and

Whiskey Tales

Sharing stories of good whiskey, good friends, and good memories

A Bottle and an Honest Friend

June 2021

There are many sources for a whiskey enthusiast to acquire technical information about whiskey. Tasting notes, self-proclaimed experts on You Tube channels, ratings and marketing material just show up in my Google feed. I no longer need to search for information! Somehow, “they” know and provide endless esoteric articles with a whiskey focus. But, Whiskey Bourbon and Scotch’s (WBSE) online magazine has a monthly section called Heads, Hearts and Whiskey Tales where TW and I share observations and tales of men and women interacting while drinking whiskey ... and occasionally what it means!

It may be the loss of a second whiskey drinking partner in a year that has brought contemplativeness to the surface. Steve Pancoe, aka Colonel Clapham, a re-enactor of the French and Indian War era, recently passed away. Not only an endless source of historical information, whiskey, and tales, he was generously involved in fund-raising for the construction of the Eichelberger Distillery at Dills Tavern. This historical site will accurately depict an 18th century Pennsylvania distilling experience with the sights, sounds, smells, and feel … in addition to the taste … of early American Whiskey. Colonial America was a time when whiskey was free from marketing campaigns, fighting for shelf space, or competition between big distillers and small distillers. In the mid to late 18th century, everyone knew their craft distiller used "locally sourced grains”.   They probably helped grow them! Small farm distilleries dominated American whiskey production. Groups of farmers worked together to turn excess grain into a product which was easier to store and transport -- whiskey.

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German immigrants were good whiskey makers and innovative, efficient farmers who provided much of the abundance of grain for food and distilling. But it was the Scots--Irish immigrants who brought passion to the craft. They spread out across the Mid-Atlantic, mostly following the Appalachian Mountains as they sought freedom to produce spirits with grains that grew well in America. Whiskey and the opportunity to make whiskey was freedom! This concept was spliced into the genetic code of Scots--Irish immigrants and captured by the poet Robert Burns in “The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer (1786) where he stated, “Freedom an’ Whisky gang thegither!”. They brought the thirst for freedom and whiskey with them. Small distilleries were prolific.  At the turn of the 19th century; one county, York County, Pennsylvania, had 280 distillers. They supplied spirits to neighbors and local taverns which were the epicenter of social and business life. Even breaks during Sunday worship included a “bracer” or “pick-me-up” as respite from the pew of an extended day-long service. Taverns and churches were often conveniently co-located! A quick perusal of 18th or 19th century tavern ledgers or day books, like the one from Dills Tavern, confirm the pivotal role of whiskey in daily affairs. 

Spirits, more specifically whiskey, have been a timeless social lubricant. It inspires, enhances, and extends conversations from the heads and hearts of those eager to talk of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or just tales from the routine grind of daily existence. Sharing a whiskey is a starting place for the creation of a common bond. This simplicity of partaking in a dram with another person at a specific spot on the space-time continuum is a once in a lifetime experience. Recognition of whiskey’s role in initiating, strengthening, and maintaining the bonds of friendship is worthy of respect… and another repartee from the Ploughman Bard Robert Burns:

There's nane that's blest of human kind, 
But the cheerful and the gay, man, 
Fal, la, la, &c. 

Here's a bottle and an honest friend! 
What wad ye wish for mair, man? 
Wha kens, before his life may end, 
What his share may be o' care, man? 

Then catch the moments as they fly, 
And use them as ye ought, man: 
Believe me, happiness is shy, 
And comes not aye when sought, man.

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Cheers, 

Murray