Anatomy of a Drink: Wisconsin Old Fashioned - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Anatomy of a Drink: Wisconsin Old Fashioned

When ordering an Old Fashioned in nearly any bar around the world, one could expect to receive the standard build of whiskey, sugar, and bitters. Not so in Wisconsin. “The bartender’s going to ask you a series of questions,” explains Jeanette Hurt, a longtime Milwaukee reporter and author of Wisconsin Cocktails. These questions will include what type of soda you’d like in your drink (Lemon-lime? Grapefruit? Club?), preferred garnish (Cherry? Olives? Pickled mushrooms?), and, most importantly, whiskey or brandy? 

The oft-repeated story about why Wisconsinites prefer brandy points to the presence of California maker Korbel at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 as the origin. But Hurt found the tale didn’t hold up. A story published in the Milwaukee Journal the following year offered a revealing detail. “The most popular cocktail in Milwaukee in 1894 was the Old Fashioned made with whiskey,” Hurt recounts. “So at one time, Wisconsin drank Old Fashioneds like everybody else.” 

Rather, brandy entered the state like a tidal wave in the mid-1940s when Wisconsin liquor distributors purchased a massive cache of brandy from Christian Brothers in California—about 30,000 cases, or, as it was reported in the Milwaukee Journal in 1945, “enough brandy on hand to float a battleship.” This led more brandy makers to push their own bottles, Korbel included, which still sells more than half of its brandy in Wisconsin alone. “Once we like something,” says Hurt, “we stick with it.”

Wisconsin Old Fashioned

2 oz. brandy
1 to 3 sugar cubes
2 dashes Angostura bitters 
1 orange wedge
1 cherry 
1 to 2 oz. lemon-lime soda, sour soda, and/or seltzer, to top

Tools: muddler
Glass: rocks or Old Fashioned
Garnish: orange slice and cherry

Place the sugar cube(s) in an Old Fashioned glass and dash with the bitters. Add the orange wedge, cherry, and brandy, muddling together until it becomes a slushy, grainy mix, making 
sure to muddle the peel as well to release the aromatics. Add ice and top with soda of choice, and garnish.

Tip: A “sweet” Old Fashioned uses a lemon-lime soda like Sprite, while a “sour” Old Fashioned uses a grapefruit soda like Squirt, and a “press” uses half seltzer and half lemon-lime soda. In Wisconsin, preferences often lean toward sweet, as Hurt notes: “The further north you go, the more sugar cubes you add to a drink.”

Recipe courtesy of Aubrey Dodd, Badger Liquor, Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Wisconsin Cocktails

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