Brandy Old Fashioned

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For a little background info before you read this post, you can watch me ramble on in front of a camera below. If 7you don’t want to listen to my nonsense, skip it and read on.


In my opinion, one of the greatest triumphs of the cocktail renaissance is the rediscovery of the classic Old Fashioned. I’ve often spoken of how at some point after the repeal of Prohibition, the Old Fashioned became lost and possibly confused with a long-forgotten drink called a Smash (basically a tarted-up Mint Julep covered in fruit), a mere husk of its former, glorious self.

For decades, bartenders just like me served a limp, weak concoction consisting of a half-muddled sugar cube, a mashed-up neon red cherry and orange, a splash of whiskey, and some soda water drowning the results.

With a little luck, and a lot of hard work, that’s all changed with the renewed interest in classic cocktails. Now at any given night at my bar you can find literally a dozen people sipping on two ounces bourbon touched with a teaspoon of sugar and two dashes of bitters, garnished with a simple orange twist over a couple big ice cubes.

But don’t try to pull that bullshit with the good people of the Great State of Wisconsin, where the Brandy Old Fashioned rules supreme. It’s not the same drink as above, it just shares a name. And if you make it right, really right, it’s a damn delicious cocktail and worthy of examination.

Being located in a hotel, we’re used to serving folks from all over the world. And the first time I witnessed a guest from Wisconsin stare blankly as one of my bartenders handed over two ounces of Cognac touched with a teaspoon of sugar and two dashes of bitters and garnished with a simple orange twist over a couple big ice cubes, I knew some further training was in order.

So in the name of making cocktails – all cocktails – with as much of our hearts as we can offer, I present to you what I believe to be the perfect Brandy Old FashionedWisconsin-style.

I start with an old fashioned glass I’ve chilled in the freezer. Call it a tumbler, call it a double rocks glass, or call it a bucket, it’s a glass you’re familiar with. To that I add two dashes of Angostura bitters and a teaspoon of sugar. If I’m in a hurry I use a 2:1 simple syrup, but if I’m going to spend some time, I use a sugar cube. The sugar cube is preferable here because it’s going to add some friction to the muddling we’re about to do. Brace yourselves, cocktail “nerds”.

Next I’ll take a thick-cut orange wedge, and a cherry. The usual suspect here is a grocery store maraschino cherry, but I always choose a brandied Amarena cherry. Remember, you’re going to get out what you put in, so a quality cherry is going to make the drink that much better.

I muddle the sugar, bitters, orange wedge and cherry into a thick paste, careful not to touch the orange peel too much as it’ll bring unwanted bitterness to the party – just work around the peel and pulverize that orange meat.

Your standard Brandy Old Fashioned brandy of choice is Korbel: cheap California brandy. Considering the hundreds of thousands of cases they ship to Wisconsin every year, it might be considered sacrosanct to use anything else. But if you want to do this right, really right, then do yourself a favor and use some good Cognac. I have my preferred brandy, you have yours.

At this point your typical Wisconsinite barkeep is going to add ice and finish the drink in one of two main ways: sweet or sour. Those who take it sweet will ask for a splash of Sprite or 7-Up, those who take it sour get a dose of Collins Mix or Squirt. To me, it’s just a way of watering down the drink, so I leave out the soda and take a more… cocktail-y method.

Crushed ice is a must for me whenever I whip up a Brandy Old Fashioned. I always skip the soda and let the tiny shards of ice do the work, taming those strong, sweet flavors and turning this into a drink you can sip slowly.

As for a garnish, most will throw a “flag” of an orange wedge and a cherry spiked through with a wooden toothpick, but my take here is that those things are already in the drink, so I skip ‘em. Besides, how pretty does that look without the goofy fruit salad perched over the top?

You know, it’s something to enjoy sipping on while you cook up some bratwurst and onions in a boiling kettle of beer before everyone comes over to watch the Packers game. Drink accordingly.

Brandy Old Fashioned Print Me

  • 1 sugar cube or 1 tsp/5 ml simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 orange wedge
  • 1 cherry, preferably Amarena or Maraska
  • 2 oz/60 ml brandy or Cognac
  1. In a chilled old fashioned glass, muddle the sugar, bitters, orange wedge and cherry into a thick paste, careful not to overwork the orange peel.
  2. Add brandy or Cognac and stir.
  3. Fill glass with crushed ice and serve.

Recipe printed courtesy of

86 Replies to “Brandy Old Fashioned”

  • Hector says:

    Jeffrey, thanks for the recipe! i’ve been confused by watching a lot of bartenders lately making old fashioned with so much fruit muddled in. they always taste watered down, like you describe initially above, that i’ve just stopped ordering them all together. But this was delicious. I used Decourtet VS cognac. only subsititution was a few brandied blueberries in place of the cherry.. topped with the crushed ice. What a treat, especially for a 106º day in southern california. Cheers!

  • John B says:

    It’s cranberry harvest time in Wisconsin which means fresh cranberries are plentiful. Here’s a variation on a theme…

    Make a cranberry simple syrup: 1 cup fresh cranberries, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water. I add 1 tablespoon whole allspice and a cinnamon stick.

    Muddle a few fresh cranberries and an orange slice in your tumbler. Add 2-4 tablespoons of the cranberry simple syrup, bitters (optional), brandy, top up with 7-up.

    Nice change of pace from the tradition Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashion.

  • Sarah says:

    As others have mentioned, its all about the garnishes and finishes in Wisconsin- Whenever I go “home” to visit, an Oldfashioned Sour with Mushrooms or Brussels Sprouts is on the Must Have list. I think my foodie California friends would be surprised at how corner bars/taverns/supper clubs often pickle their own mushrooms, brussels sprouts, green beans (!) you name it- and offer these as options for their customers at no extra charge- the best.

  • Cheryl says:

    I enjoy Southern Comfort Old Fashion Sour with a pickled asparagus. Yum!

  • While in La Fayette I was at the “Dark Roux restaurant) where the bartender shared with me this excellent (best I’ve had) Makers Markers old fashioned.

    Here are the ingredients Ingredients

    Turbinado Sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
    Bourbon or Brandy

    Start by bringing to a boil equal parts of sugar and water. Once at a boil, cook a little while to be certain the sugar has dissolved. Then cool the mixture, put in a container and in the refrigerator for when needed.

    In a large wide mouth rocks glass put a generous slice of good orange. Add your sugar liquid (however much sweet you like) add bitters (however much bitter you like) and muddle it making sure the orange is crushed……

    From here there are two methods.

    Pour your Bourbon or Brandy into the glass and muddle then ad ice and sturr
    Pour your Bourbon or Brandy into a pint glass with ice, swirl sufficently till cold and strain into glass, adding ice after is your personal choice. (stirring it in ice makes it cold and then you don’t have to add ice…different but nice this way)

    Enjoy, I do!


  • Bev says:

    I have ordered “Sweet Brandy Old Fashions” all my life in Minneapolis and 9 times out of 10 bartenders kill it with 7up. Ugh. And when you ask for “easy on the 7-Up,” they think you want more brandy (I don’t) and then they get confused because they think they have to fill the glass to the top. Sigh.

  • Eric says:

    Wisconsin recently passed a law allowing the distillation of brandy in the state. As a result, Wollersheim Winery, a Winery run by a Frenchman for decades just north of Madison, made a brandy from all local grapes and aged in barrels made in Wisconsin. The brandy is smooth and wonderful but difficult to get. The brandy is called coquard brandy and makes a great old fashioned. Also, I always go sweet with brandy and sour with bourbon

  • Swaf says:

    Yep, grew up in the town where Wollersheim is. Knew Bob Wollersheim (now deceased). Have frequented the ‘supper clubs’ in the area for almost 50 years. The Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet (BOFS) is a staple at any/all of them. You don’t always get exactly the same thing, but you can go into any bar/supper club/restaurant and ask for a BOFS and they all know exactly what you want. One of my favorites: The Dorf Haus in Roxbury, the heart of German country in Wisconsin and one of the best BOFS cocktails and some of the best German food in the country……

  • Natasha says:

    I have this old brandy at my aunties house this is the informatipn on the bottle. Guillaume mallorca santa maria napoleon brandy vsop 1943. Is it anything special do you think?

  • Cindy Hurlbert says:

    I live in upper Wisconsin we have multiple types of Old Fashioned, brandy, whiskey, cranberry any favor you want, you order, sweet,sour, press. Several bars here use maple syrup from Wi instead of sugar, it’ a classic.

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