Heads, Hearts, and

Whiskey Tales

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

Old Fashioneds Help Make New Friends 

April 2021

Eventually, we will emerge from COVID pandemic lockdowns. You will be able to gather your whiskey and non-whiskey drinking friends, in person, in the same room, close enough to hear the clink of ice cubes in their glasses. Zoom meetings will not disappear entirely but they will become an option rather than mandatory. You will need to dust-off your body language reading skills and wake up your face-to-face panache from the year plus nap. When that time comes, here is an idea. There may be better ways to encourage social interaction of people new to each other than the Old Fashioned cocktail, but I don’t know of one.  

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The South Mountain Cigar Club is a new group with an eclectic membership. We meet in the Wheelwright Shop of the historic Dill Tavern in Dillsburg, PA. The shop is filled with woodworking and blacksmithing tools and is no stranger to smoke.


At our first meeting, I cleaned out my liquor cabinet of every bottle with just 25% remaining and put it out as social lubrication. Members could start a cigar with a quaff of bourbon and a few puffs of their favorite puro and switch to a rye or Irish whiskey. They  could savor small sips of single malt through the body of the cigar and finish with a peaty, smoky Islay that stood up to the end of the cigar. But this time I wanted something different. I decided to mix and serve Old Fashioned Cocktails in pitchers.

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Around the beginning of the 19th century the word “cocktail “began to be used to describe spirits mixed with sweeteners, fruits, and spices. The cocktail was an individual drink with a punch bowl heritage. The name “punch” comes from the Hindi word “panj” which means five -- the five being spirit, citrus, sugar, water, and spice; but it was served in a communal bowl and consumed in mass quantities. In our time, passing a bowl where other’s lips touch is frowned upon… even in pre-Covid days! I used pitchers to mix and pour individual servings for safety and to avoid the need to craft bespoke cocktails.


I recently purchased the book The Old Fashioned by Robert Simonson. In addition to stories of the “world’s first classic cocktail”, there are numerous recipes and variations. I chose the authentic recipes using rye or bourbon as the spirit and a brandy Old Fashioned. Do not let the simplicity of the ingredients mislead you about the complexity of the tastes. 


2 ounces bourbon or rye

1 sugar cube

2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Orange twist



2 ounces brandy

1 sugar cube

4 dashes Angostura bitters

2 orange slices

2 maraschino cherries

 Splash of 7 Up

Simple and classic. Guests tried one, then the other, pouring into small glasses, garnishing with a twist of pre-cut orange. Individuals circled the food table or visited the humidor to choose a cigar. They joined a group by the fire or another by the workbench or ventured out to a fire-pit. Invariably, as they approached a new group, someone would query “which Old Fashioned you got there?” The conversations ranged from comparisons and contrasts of the contents of their glasses to how the spirits complimented or clashed with their chosen cigar. An unofficial tally was kept during the evening. Rye came out on top as the best base spirit. This was not surprising to me, nor does it take away from bourbon’s status. However, in this environment, the deck was stacked. The room had smoke from the wood fire, everyone was smoking a cigar …even the cheese was smoked! Bourbon makes a mellow, softer Old Fashioned -- perfect for in--laws and new neighbors, but it just could not stand-up to the overabundance of competing flavors and smells of this evening. On the other hand (or other pitcher), the spicier rye handled the smoke and surplus of flavors like a fireman rushing into a burning room to save a puppy. It got accolades! I used Old Tub (Jim Beam) bottled--in--bond for the bourbon and Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye. Some might rationalize rye’s advantage due to alcohol by volume, but in this case, it was 100 proof for the bourbon and 90 proof for the rye. Forget the nose. In the wheelwright shop that night it was difficult to see across the room much less nose baking spices! But the harsher, oaky, peppery rye flavors cut through the tempering flavors of bitters, sugar, and tinges of orange to achieve a balance of sweet and spice.

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The Brandy Old Fashioned pitcher was also empty at the end of the night. It was more a function of earlier empty bourbon and rye pitchers with more evening remaining. Fortunately, I had Dickel Superior 12 and Rittenhouse Rye in reserve. There were comments like “this is good” but they were more polite than enthusiastic observations like when a blind date looks nothing like his/her profile picture. Brandy Old Fashioneds might be the rage in Wisconsin, but the 7 Up made them even sweeter and out of their league with whiskey.


Overall, it was an enjoyable night. There were new friendships formed, good smokes shared, and several enjoyable cocktails which met the goal of stimulating conversations and meetings. It appears Old Fashioneds make it easier to make new friends.