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 jeffreymorgenthaler.com

86 Replies to “Brandy Old Fashioned”

  • Donald Kenney says:

    This, for me, is the best representation of hospitality in bartending.

    A tacit acknowledgement that it’s not all about you, and you are here to give people what they want, made with the best possible ingredients and methods.

    Keep it up.

  • Zach Smith says:

    My dad grew up in Wisconsin and prefers his brandy old fashioned with a teaspoon of sugar two dashes of bitters and Corbel brandy. I also make mine the same way and they are great. Adding in all the other stuff gets too sweet for me, but I do get funny looks from bartenders up there when I order one like that. However I have converted a few of my Wisconsin school mates over to the more simple side of life.

  • Chuck says:

    How have your visiting Wisconsinites reacted to this version? With big smiles, I hope!

  • Tim Nowaczyk says:

    I grew up in Wisconsin and am very familiar with this drink. Never really had one myself, though. Just a bit of a side-note- my mom always orders Southern Comfort Old-fashioned Sweets.

  • 'Gos says:

    I like this with brandy for sure, thoughts on it with bourbon though? Being a little drier all that fruit seems like a good addition to the brandy, but man, with bourbon, sometimes the sugar alone gets to cloying for me. Different strokes for different folks?

  • Manuela Savona says:

    Thanks Jeff for the lovely shot of Pierre Ferrand Cognac in this story. Am I right to guess that it’s your preferred Cognac for the Brandy Old-Fashioned? Thank you from Alexandre, Guillaume and the Cognac Ferrand team.

  • Micker says:

    Great writeup – born, raised, and currently reside in WI. You forgot one other traditional way of finishing the original drink – that is, the brandy old fashioned “press”. Press is short for Presbyterian, and refers to finishing it with soda water. It may be cocktail nerd blasphemy, but nothing is better than sucking down brandy old fashioned press’s (press-i?) with da game on.

    • Micker – I said, “in one of two main ways.” The press (short for Presbyterian, by the way) is a less-sweet version of the Sweet Old Fashioned: half seltzer, half 7-Up or ginger ale.

      There’s a fourth way, and that’s all seltzer.

  • Scott Diaz says:

    Love the idea of crushed ice to help with dilution without wreaking the drink. I usually only add water or soda in the form of a tsp to help breakdown the sugar cube if I don’t use any muddled citrus or simple syrup. Delicious and simple, Jeffrey. This would be a great entry for Tales of the Cocktail Old Fashioned contest this year.

  • Patrick says:

    I will be traveling from PDX to LaCrosse, WI in May, and now I’m going to order one of these over there to see what I get.

    One of the customers at my bar mentioned this post tonight. I said, “Surely not Morgenthaler! Muddling fruit? A FRUIT SALAD OLD FASHIONED??”

    Now I see why. I’m going to amend my draft on how to make a basic old fashioned to mention this time-honored derivation.

  • Ryan says:

    I had the privilege of visiting clyde commons last week and was at a loss for what to get, knowing that everything would be great. I got the sparkling americano and it was fantastic, but now I wish I had gotten a brandy old fashioned. This means that I need to get back to Portland.

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