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”

  • Can you start a campaign or something? Why doesn’t anyone know how to make a decent Old Fashioned anymore? And this variation is wonderful. I might add that Blood Orange bitters make it even better.

  • Kabouter says:

    This made me laugh. I don’t think I would order a brandy old fashioned outside a WI towny bar with an older barkeep behind the stick, but I think it is awesome you are posting about this cocktail. It is a great regional drink that pretty much everyone here knows about. Next on your list could be dessert drinks like the Brandy Alexander… ha.

    Cheers, from WI

  • Bonny says:

    This southern gal experiments with new drinks every Friday night with the family. Sounds like we’ll break tradition and cross the Mason-Dixon line this Friday. Looking forward to muddling through! Great article. You love your craft and it shows.

  • Gerry says:

    Have been a fan for a while.

    Thank you for posting this. As a ‘Sconnie (from Wisconsin), I found this great reading. But I wanted to mention another way that this is served, atypically unique up here.

    And that’s the garnish. One of the ways we order it is “Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet with Olives.” I think the briney, savory quality of the olives tones down the sweet notes to address some of the concerns about cloying sweetness. Sort of like a Wisconsin take on the Chinese Five Flavors concept.

    And one other note on How to order your Old Fashioned like a true Wisconsonite

    Just follow the three simple steps and be sure to let the bartender know:

    Which spirits
    Which topper
    Which garnish

    So the next time you visit a Supper Club, say to the bartender : “I’ll take a brandy old fashioned sweet, double olives, thanks”

  • Mark Spivak says:

    David,

    Great post—the drink sounds delicious, Korbel brandy or not. I’m assuming you saw the recent piece on the Old Fashioned by David Wondrich on esquire.com? He takes the minimalist approach—no fruit at all.

  • drew says:

    Although the brandy variation is almost strictly a Wisconsin thing I would like to note that in his “Craft of the Cocktail”, Dale Degroff says that the 1862 whiskey cobbler is the grandaddy of the.old fashioned and is shaken with two slices of orange, and also that Mr.Degroff prefers the muddled preparation. Also I would like to offer a warning to anyone coming to Wisconsin to try a brandy old fashioned: make sure to verify that it will be muddled, many places cheat and use an old fashioned mix by finest call which in my opinion is an abomination.

  • Looks like a great recipe! Kinda like a boozy smoothie with all that fruit in the bottom. We’ll be trying this one this summer…

  • Amy says:

    This was fun to read! I’m Sconnie born and bred, and I spent many years bartending there. A brandy Old Fashioned was definitely one of the most commonly ordered, which I have learned seems very odd to people in other parts of the country… even just a state over in Minneapolis where I live now.

    I appreciate the reminder about calling the ‘topper’. If you simply order a ‘brandy old fashioned’ in WI, the bartender will likely just stare at you waiting for you to finish. Soda, sweet, sour, or press? Also, it’s true that there are a fair amount of people who order olives as the garnish, despite the orange and cherry muddled in the bottom of the glass. I don’t like it, but maybe there’s a salty-sweet appeal for some people?

    I’m not the Ops Director for 6 restaurants in Minneapolis (all owned by another Sconie) and we’ve put a lot of work into making our Old Fashioneds classic WI style. It took some work to make the bartenders understand how sacrosanct this cocktail is to those of us who grew up with it, but it’s worth it. Nothing tastes better to me when I’m waiting for my Friday night fish fry than a Korbel brandy old fashioned press *properly* made. Thanks for writing about it!

  • lvfrankg says:

    Great post and photos. This is my mom’s cocktail of choice on the rare occasion when she chooses to partake. I’m going to make one for her next time she comes to visit, and I’m going to use this recipe for sure. Excellent blog. Cheers!

  • Victoria says:

    My father and is cousins had a few bar in North Beach, San Francisco, back in teh 50’s 60’s & 70’s. Your recipe is exactly is how I was taught to make Old Fashioned’s, but NEVER simple syrup,always cubed sugar..You just don’t get the same result with simple..
    Because were were from North Beach, when Papa’s homemade Brandy was out..we used Korbel.Korbel is from the Russian River,a beautiful artisan distillery umongst the Redwoods..Its This drink was not lost, or forgotten..just in a different place.

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