While most states are content with having trees, flowers, and birds representing their state, Wisconsin (quite fittingly) has an addition to the usual flora and fauna: The Old Fashioned Cocktail. If you order this classic cocktail anywhere else in the U.S. you’ll get it made with bourbon, water, bitters, and garnished with an orange slice and maraschino cherry. That recipe changes without warning when you place your order in a Wisconsin supper club, where brandy takes the place of bourbon. And you should know that the bartender will ask whether you want yours sweet or sour. This doesn’t happen many other places; that of cocktail recipes changing based on your location. But one should know that brandy reigns supreme in Wisconsin, and has for over a century.
An Old Fashioned love of Brandy
Wisconsin’s love for the sweet tasting liquor distilled from wine came about during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Across a six-month period, more than 27 million people came together to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival to the New World and to experience people and cultures from 46 countries.
One of the booths at the fair hosted a few Czechoslovakian brothers by the name of Korbel. These men were wine and champagne producers from California and wanted to show case their new product: Brandy. Due to a European blight that destroyed many of the vineyards in France, the brothers decided that an American brandy would be a hit for the predominately German immigrants of the region. And what a hit it was. Known for loving sweeter wines and liqueurs (such as Rieslings and Apfelkorn schnapps), the Germans were enthused to have their old tipple back again and cases were brought back to Wisconsin. That love affair has continued to this day with Korbel shipping one-third of its annual production directly to the State, some 140,000 cases in all.
Wisconsin: Always Old Fashioned
Chalk it up to brand loyalty stemming from those cases of brandy brought back from Chicago or maybe stubbornness because “that’s how I grew up”, but that’s why the usually bourbon Old Fashioned becomes a brandy Old Fashioned when you venture into the supper clubs of Wisconsin. Also, they will always be made with Angostura bitters (you’re welcome for keeping you in business during prohibition by the way, guys). And if you’re lucky, a Luxardo Maraschino cherry or two will be hanging out with the ever present orange slice, though usually the neon red cherries are what end up in the drink.
I’ll admit to you that there are some bartenders in more popular locations have become accustomed to changing times and might ask you if you would like bourbon or brandy. But honestly, just like people who order fish at Famous Dave’s or their rib-eyes cooked well-done, you’re missing out if you ask to alter the ‘scansin State beverage.
Let’s make one!
Naturally being from Wisconsin, our kitchen has its own Old Fashioned recipe. I’m not very keen on alcohol forward cocktails, so Nathan and I have had entertaining evenings sorting out our own proportions of the classic Wisconsin ingredients. When you order your own, you should inform the bartender whether you want yours “seltzer” (with soda water), “sweet” (with Seven-Up) or “sour” (with Squirt*). The method of preparation and type of brandy used is up to the bartender. Just like any cocktail of few ingredients, the way in which it is prepared can change its taste dramatically.
I’ll include two recipes: the one Nathan tailored for me, which is sweeter than most, and the classic Wisconsin Old Fashioned recipe.
*Squirt is a regional sour flavored soda.
Wisconsin Old Fashioned – my sweeter version
- 2oz Korbel Brandy
- 2 big dashes of Angostura bitters
- 2 sugar cubes
- 1 orange slice
- 3 maraschino cherries
- 1tsp of maraschino syrup
Take your glass and add the orange slice, cherries, sugar cube, bitters, and a teaspoon of syrup from the maraschino cherry jar. Add a dash of 7up and then take your muddler (or a spoon) and mash all the ingredients up in the bottom of the glass. Pour in your brandy, add ice, and then top off with 7up. Garnish with another orange slice and maraschino cherry.
Wisconsin Old Fashioned – Classic recipe
- 2oz Brandy
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 1 sugar cube
- 1 orange slice
- 2 maraschino cherries
- Sweet, Sour, or Seltzer
Follow the directions from the recipe above.Print