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Wisconsin Old Fashioned

Wisconsin Old Fashioned garnished with an orange slice and brandied cherry
Image:

Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

Many classic cocktails are tied to a particular place. The Manhattan was created at New York City’s Manhattan Club, for example, and the Singapore Sling hails from the Raffles hotel in Singapore. While those international cities are two of the world’s best-known drinks destinations, there’s another cocktail that’s equally linked to its birthplace: the Wisconsin Old Fashioned.

Also known as the Brandy Old Fashioned, this variation on the traditional whiskey-based Old Fashioned is practically Wisconsin’s official drink, and it’s what will get placed before you in bars all over the Badger State. In addition to featuring brandy, the cocktail is differentiated by its specifically calling for muddled fruit and a dash of lemon-lime soda or sparking water. Serve a classic Old Fashioned with whiskey and an orange twist to a Wisconsinite, and you’re likely to get the drink sent back.

The cocktail’s exact origin is unclear, but there are a few points in history that shed some light on its provenance. During the time that the Old Fashioned was gracing American bar tops, the Midwest was turned onto Korbel brandy, which appeared at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Wisconsinites attending the fair—many of whom were German immigrants with a taste for brandy—took note of the new spirit and made it a regular staple in their drinking diets. Given the Old Fashioned’s ability to work with a variety of spirits, it’s likely that, in Wisconsin, brandy usurped whiskey’s place in the cocktail.

Once Prohibition rolled around, quality spirits were difficult to source. Not to be deterred, thirsty drinkers continued to imbibe, but often utilized fruit, sugar, syrups and mixers to mask the flavor of subpar booze. In the case of the Wisconsin Old Fashioned, locals relied on fruit like oranges and cherries to flavor the cocktail, and they topped it with sparkling water or sodas like Sprite. The practice stuck around throughout the decades and is still the preferred method today.

Old Fashioned purists might scoff at the muddled fruit and bubbly topper, but the Wisconsin Old Fashioned is as traditional as cocktails get—even if it’s rarely found outside the state.

Ingredients

  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 orange slices
  • 2 brandied cherries
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 ounces brandy
  • 1 dash 7Up, Sprite or club soda
  • Garnish: brandied cherry
  • Garnish: orange slice

Steps

  1. Add Angostura bitters, orange slices, brandied cherries and the sugar cube to an Old Fashioned glass and muddle to combine.

  2. Add ice to fill the glass, then add the brandy.

  3. Top with the 7Up, Sprite or club soda, and stir to combine.

  4. Garnish with a skewered cherry and an orange slice.