Heads, Hearts and
Sharing stories of good whiskey, good friends, and good memories
You Wanna’ Have a Whiskey?
Sudden, unexpected events force contemplation. So it was with the death of my friend George Platts – Buddy George.
I stepped through the gate in front of the stone tavern. The sun was bright making it difficult to see the source of the voice greeting me. It was a man dressed in colonial garb. “Do you want to take a tour”, he asked. I did not. I had my eye on some “drops” or short ends of hand-hewn logs lying behind a log barn that was being re-constructed. I wanted them for bases for some artwork. “It’s a great tour of a really cool historic site and it’s only 5 bucks”, he offered. “Sounds great”, I answered as I searched for a pathway to the back of the barn, trying to hide my true intentions. Like a used car salesman with a hot prospect walking onto the lot, he persisted. “Matthew Dill moved here in 1742. His grandson built this tavern in 1794. The next building on site is going to be a distillery and we are going to make whiskey like they did prior to the Revolutionary War”. My attention shifted from wood to whiskey. “Where?”, I asked. “Right here, actually, there behind the Wheelwright Shop”, he gestured. “You want to take the tour”? I pulled a crinkled 5 dollar bill out of my pocket and handed it to the tenacious tour guide. George’s tenacity turned out to be not economically motivated but a genuine infectious, enthusiasm for this historic site. He was also a blacksmith and metal worker who produced tools and items used around the tavern and did historic blacksmithing demonstrations. He shared the Scots-Irish architecture and the role of Dills Tavern as the center of social and economic life in a small town in Pennsylvania as the American frontier expanded westward.
"Buddy" George E Platts III
After touring the tavern and barn, we entered the Wheelwright Shop where wagons were maintained for their frequent trips to Baltimore to deliver whiskey that was distilled on site. It was near the end of scheduled tours for the day and I was the last “tourist”. “You wanna’ have a whiskey?”, he asked as he threw another log on the fire. Most WBSE readers would react in the same way I did. “Sure”. George produced a partial bottle left over from a visit by some Highlanders during a recent visit. It was probably a Scotch but I really don’t recall. The social lubricant of the whiskey worked its magic and we discussed history, philosophy, craftsmanship versus artistry, and opportunities to get involved in living history. Our conversation was only interrupted to add another log to the fire or pour another dram. Several hours later, I realized I was going to be late for dinner and I had found not only a new friend, but a new home to explore my interests.
I joined the Northern York County Historical and Preservation Society (NYCHAPS) and later became a board member. I found a niche that had not been developed prior to my chance encounter with Buddy George. I became the tavern keeper and whiskey historian for the site. I would stop in late on Sunday afternoons. “Do you wanna have a whiskey?” was generally met with an affirmative and led to a few more tardy dinner arrivals. These impromptu sessions led to the development of “Whiskey Tastings” in the Wheel Wright Shop for First Friday events. New friends joined our whiskey circle. New ideas flowed with the drams, and soon we were doing presentations for other historical societies about the role of whiskey in the economic development of agrarian societies in the local South Central Pennsylvanian region. Our presentations were popular because they included practical exercises of tasting whiskey and historic drinks we found had been served at the tavern during the late 18th and early 19th century and were documented in a ledger book by the tavern keeper and owner of the tavern.
We went through a Scotch and Irish phase and as we explored the history of whiskey in Central Pennsylvania. But, we never made it to a bourbon phase! The early Scots-Irish and German distillers who inhabited the local area made whiskey from the grain they found grew well in the area. Their mash bills contained an abundance of rye. Other grains like corn and barley were added but it was not until their grandsons arrived in Kentucky that corn became the focus of the spirit they produced. Rye became our go-to whiskey and we explored the growth of interest and new brands that re-introduced Rye Whiskey to the market.
“You wanna have a whiskey?” was no doubt a common query in the 18th century tavern as men did deals, heard the news, discussed current events, and lived their lives in the unfolding history of the country and this region. Enthusiasm for our project grew. We raised enough money, and with a small grant from the South Mountain Partnership Mini-Grant program we built a small distillery from recycled material, volunteer labor, and historical research led by a historic/traditional builder named Sam McKinney. We could now produce historically accurate whiskey like early Pennsylvania distilleries produced. I mention “could” because we could not get permission from the town to operate the distillery on a property that has become zoned “residential”. The dream continues as NYCHAPS continues to raise money, pursue grants and plans to build a historically accurate distillery on a recently purchased adjacent property zoned “commercial”.
“You wanna have a whiskey?” is an offer from one friend to another. It really means can we take some time to sit together and enjoy this moment. Marvel at the craftsmanship that goes into making the spirit. Enjoy the conversations that will certainly follow the pours. Cherish those moments as you share them with new friends and old. Because, maybe it’s a moment that will never happen again. Rest in Peace, Buddy George. I’m glad I had whiskey with you!