Ad of the Week: Old Overholt

A while back, I mentioned that Old Overholt rye was once bottled at 100-proof. Here, pardon the pun, is proof. Click through to view these in a larger size. oldoverholt-full



The biggest surprise in this ad might be how few of these bottlings are now “ghost” brands. Of them, only Mt. Vernon rye is currently out of production. The rest are still going, even if some of them are limping along. National Distillers didn’t fare so well; the Beam company bought its assets in 1987.

Don Draper’s no-nonsense old-fashioned for two

I have no idea why I have to special-order Myers Platinum Rum in Providence, but four liquor stores I checked didn’t have it. Installment 3 of the Month of Rum is delayed until after my order arrives on Friday, which in all practicality means until Tuesday of next week. Sorry, rum chums. Meanwhile, rye.

If you’re not caught up on Mad Men, you might want to stop reading right now.


It happens to all of us, eventually. You’ll be at the country club, at a party hosted by your boss, who’s in the midst of a humiliating midlife crisis. He’ll be the fool in blackface, serenading his new bride, who’s 30 years his junior. Disgusted, you’ll walk away and seek out another old-fashioned. Alas, no bartender will be on duty, and the famous hotelier who’s rooting around behind the bar will declare that he’s on the same mission as you, but to his dismay, there’s no bourbon.

With a James Bondian flourish, you’ll leap over the bar, rummage a bit, and find some good Old Overholt. You’ll take a couple of glasses, drop a sugar cube in each, and dash in some bitters. While the bitters soften the sugar cubes, you’ll find any old tall glass behind the bar and fill it about halfway with ice. Free-pour the rye over that, open a bottle of soda water, and splash some in. Muddle the sugar cubes. Roughly thrust a barspoon up and down in the tall glass three times, and then pour the drink, ice included, half into one glass and half into the other.

You’ll drop a wedge of lemon into each glass, then, but you won’t bother stirring the sugar into the drink, probably because you’ll be making out with someone else’s spouse by the time you’d reach the sugary sludge. And you’ll have yourself an old-fashioned rye cocktail. Hand one off to the hotelier and drink up.

At least that’s what you’d do if you were Don Draper, ad man. If you’re Michael Dietsch, sad man, you’ll scratch your head and laugh at how slapdash it all is. And then you’ll ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is a drink made this way any good?
  2. Just what kind of Old Overholt was Don Draper drinking anyway?

As to the first, well, I’m not sure. We don’t have any Old Overholt around, and either no one in Providence is ordering it, or there’s a shortage or something. The one place that reliably has it, hasn’t had it in over a month. I can get Beam Rye, Wild Turkey Rye, and, as I found out today, (ri)1, but not Overholt. I mixed it with the bird. Because the drink is barely stirred, and therefore barely diluted, it was strong. Not unpleasant, but nothing I’d want to drink several of in a day. Now you’re probably saying, “Wait a minute, Dietsch. Turkey’s 101 proof. Of course it was strong! And it’s an unfair comparison, since Overholt is 80. What gives, moron?”

Well, here’s what gives. Today’s Old Overholt is not the same product it once was. Y’see, Old Overcoat used to be, in fact, a 100-proof spirit. And when I asked the rye geeks on eGullet when that changed, the drinks historian David Wondrich told me that Overholt was bottled in bond (at 100 proof) until at least 1980. Which means Don was certainly drinking some hardnosed, 100-proof whiskey, not today’s 80-proof number.

Cardiac glow

photograph by Jennifer Hess

There is something about an old-fashioned
That kindles a cardiac glow;
It is soothing and soft and impassioned
As a lyric by Swinburne or Poe.
There is something about an old-fashioned
When dusk has enveloped the sky,
And it may be the ice,
Or the pineapple slice*,
But I strongly suspect it’s the rye.

–From “A Drink with Something in It,” by Ogden Nash

*Dear God, no.

Dear God, yes.

Cleanse me with hyssop

You might remember from my recent Amaro post that Jen and I picked up a couple of herbs at the farmer’s market–lemon balm and anise hyssop. I wanted to use both herbs in cocktails; I muddled the lemon balm, but with the anise hyssop, I chose to go a different direction.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that anise hyssop bears distinctive notes of anise in its aroma and taste. You probably also won’t be shocked to find that I chose to pair it with rye whiskey. After all, absinthe carries certain anise notes in its flavors, and absinthe pairs well with rye in such cocktails as the Sazerac. I didn’t, however, want to simply replicate the Sazerac using an infused rye.

Instead, I decided to poke around with another New Orleans classic, the Vieux Carré. This venerable cocktail calls for equal parts rye, cognac, and sweet vermouth, with a splash of Benedictine and dashes of Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters. I retained the basic flavors, but played around with the composition.

photograph by Jennifer Hess; oh, and I’m not really interested in taking the time to make my ice cubes crystal clear, so if cloudy ice offends your aesthetic sense, that’s your thing, not mine.

Neuf Carré

2 oz anise hyssop rye (recipe follows)
1 oz B&B
1 oz Carpano Antica vermouth
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Build in a double Old Fashioned glass over ice.

Anise Hyssop Rye

Wash and dry one bunch of anise hyssop. Place in a jar and add 4 oz. rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse 100-proof). Steep for 24 hours, or until the anise-rye flavor pleases you. Strain, and discard the anise hyssop.

Tawky Tawny

Yesterday morning, Jen was catching up on her blog reading and asked me, “Have you ever heard of the Ruby Rye cocktail?” I said No, and she said one of the food bloggers she reads had a drink by that name at Gramercy Tavern or someplace. All the blogger said was that the drink had port. I googled and found next to nothing. But a drink called Ruby Rye has to also have rye in it, I’d hope, so I decided to wing it.

I have a couple of bottles of Sandeman’s port that I received last month for review. I didn’t mix with them at first because I wanted to sample them on their own. Jen and I always like to have port on hand for Christmas and New Year’s, and so the arrival of the Sandeman’s was very timely.

Anyway, I didn’t get anything together in time for the Sandeman chat at Thursday Drink Night, but I wanted to mix with it, and this was a good excuse. I figured I’d make it easy on myself, because I am at heart a lazy bastard. So I went with a Manhattan variation, swapping out the port for the vermouth. It’s tasty, although I think a spicier rye might be better in it. (I used Old Overholt.)

AnonycocktailIt’s a simple recipe, and although I haven’t named it, I’ll give it to you here anyway.

The Cocktail with No Name

  • 2 oz. rye whiskey (I used Overholt)
  • 1 oz. port (Sandeman Founders Reserve)
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (Angostura)
  • Lemon twist, for garnish (I left that out, but I think it’s the way to go)

Technique: Stir briskly over cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

As if it matters, this photo’s actually my own. I figured I’d take a crack at the pretty picture-taking myself for once.

Ward, weren’t you a little hard on the Beaver last night?

MxMo logoIt’s time again for Mixology Monday. If you’re new to this, Mixology Monday is a thing we cocktail nerds do. Every month, a different blogger volunteers to host, picks a theme, and posts a round-up after everyone has weighed in. (My previous MxMo posts live here.)

Anyway, for installment 34, Craig, from Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments has chosen the theme Spice. I’ll let Craig describe what he’s going for:

Spice should give you plenty of room to play – from the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of paradise, nutmeg — what have you! I would like to stretch the traditional meanings of spice (as the bark, seed, nut or flowering part of a plant used for seasoning) to basically anything used for flavoring that isn’t an herb. Salt? Go for it. Paprika? I’d love to see you try. I hear that cardamom is hot right now.

So, there ya go.

I thought about this one a lot. Mrs. Bitters and I do a lot of home cooking–well, she does most of it, but I get a few things in from time to time. And we use a lot of spices in our cooking. Last night, we were talking about this challenge. Jen suggested that I should flip through some of her cookbooks to find spice combos that might work with booze. She also reminded me that we had a pomegranate in our fridge. This led us to one of her Middle Eastern books, since pom is a staple in some Middle Eastern cuisines.

I found a recipe for cooking duck with walnuts, pomegranate, cinnamon, and a few other spices. The recipe reminded me of a drink I had at Hearth, in New York’s East Village earlier this year. The drink was called the Jim Hogg, and it featured a pecan-infused rye. I’ve wanted to infuse nuts into whiskey since tasting that drink, and this recipe got my wheels turning.

I grabbed a bag of walnuts from the fridge, tossed a handful in a Mason jar, and threw in a couple of sticks of cinnamon. I added some whole rainbow and white peppercorns, not too many. Obviously, you need to finesse the pepper. I used whole corns; if you crush or grind them, you’ll have an entirely too peppery drink. Finally, I added a strip of lemon peel. Zest would have been better, but I was winging all of this. Call it the mania of inspiration.

I poured five ounces of Old Overholt rye whiskey over this mess, sealed the jar, and shook it well. I stored it in the coldest, darkest place in the apartment and agitated it several times over the course of the 24 hours.

After infusing this stuff for 24 hours (probably too little time), I strained it. I decided to mix it with grenadine and lemon juice, and then realized this was a Ward Eight variation. Why not just go with that? A lot of drinks are nothing more than subtle variations of other drinks.

The results were fine, although probably underinfused. The drink carried hints of walnuts, cinnamon, and pepper, but only very vague hints. I think 48 – 72 hours of infusion would have been better.

Nevertheless, I present the Ward Cleaver, with the caveat that it needs tweaking. I’m working on a longer infusion with the same spices but in 101 proof Wild Turkey bourbon. The higher proof will draw out more of the flavor, and I’m going to let it go a little longer. Anyway, enough gab. Recipe follows.

Ward Cleaver

  • 2 oz. rye, infused with walnuts, cinnamon, peppercorns, and lemon zest.
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. grenadine
  • Dash Fee Brother’s Barrel Aged Bitters

Shake ingredients over cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish? You could go decorative with a cinnamon stick or a bit of walnut, or you could go for flavor by twisting on lemon peel. You could also get crazy! Pulverize a couple of walnuts, mix them with sugar, moisten the rim of your glass, and dip the rim in the walnut-sugar mixture. I would never do that, but maybe you’ll want to.

MxMo in the Crescent City

Mixology Monday logoFor this month’s Mixology Monday, which has a New Orleans theme, I’m going with a couple of drinks, both inspired by panels that I attended at Tales of the Cocktail.

The first drink is the Sloppy Joe’s Mojito, inspired obliquely by the To Have and Have Another panel, on the drinking life of Ernest Hemingway. Whether Hemingway actually drank Mojitos appears to be in some dispute. The eminent Eric Felten argues persuasively that he probably did not, but it is clear that old Papa frequented the Havana bar that originated this version of the classic rum drink. He even apparently persuaded the proprietor of a Key West saloon to rip off the Havana original’s name. So, who knows?

Charles Baker, writing in The Gentleman’s Companion, describes the drink thus:

Put several lumps of ice into a 16 oz collins glass, toss in 1 tsp sugar or gomme, insinuate a spiral green lime peel about the ice, turn in 1-1/2 jiggers of Bacardi; white, or Gold Seal, and the strained juice of 1 small green lime–not a lemon. Stir once, fill with really good club soda and garnish with a bunch of fresh mint.

What I love about this variant is that a) it’s not too sweet, and b) it’s not too minty. I don’t feel like I’m chewing rum-spiked Doublemint gum.

The second drink comes straight from the Beefeater reception at Palace Cafe and also the Juniperlooza session. I had heard of this drink prior to Tales, but I had never tried it. It’s the Jasmine cocktail, devised by architect and booze writer Paul Harrington. It tastes remarkably like grapefruit juice even though it contains no grapefruit whatsoever. Honestly, this is one of those drinks that I often post where I’m sure the majority of my single-digit readership is thinking, “What! New to the Jasmine? He needs to crawl out from under Plymouth Rock or wherever the hell he lives and actually drink from time to time!”

No argument here, Skippy. I will say this, though. I’ve mixed a lot of cocktails at home, and I’ve had many others out. It’s a rare treat when something passes my lips and earns a spot in my regular drinks rotation. The Jasmine is right there. Jen and I both adore it. It tastes like an old-school cocktail, even though it’s not old enough to drive, let alone drink, and the ingredients are perfectly balanced. A new favorite.


  • 1-1/2 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz Campari
  • lemon twist for garnish

Technique: Shake, strain, add garnish, sip, and smile.

Many thanks to Paulernum Clarke for hosting.

Photos by Jennifer Hess.