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”

  • Jared B says:

    I”ve been following your blog and all the other classic cocktail masters for years now, Jeffrey, and this goes against everything everyone has said about Old Fashioneds! Smashed up fruit salad. Club soda. Egads! All that time trying to un-train my bartenders from doing (typically) whisky old fashioneds in this style… I am going to treat this as a regional drink and leave it to those bartenders in WI.

  • Strayhiker says:

    Jeff
    Love that your addressed this regional delicacy. After 15 years in WI, marrying a native cheesehead, and falling in love with most everything WI (except lutefisk and driving slow in the left lane) I must admit this has become one of life’s simplest pleasures. Also, perhaps it is a local aberration, but my in-laws swear by pickled mushrooms topping their OFs. Sweet, sour, pour me another!

  • RJ Ulbricht says:

    Jeff,

    You turned back the clock on me! My first and last Old Fashioned was back in 1971 in a small bar in Iowa. For all I knew at the time, it may have been made with Vodka and molassas. Thanks for letting me know it takes some skill and products.

  • MikeQ says:

    Many years ago a veteran bartender named “Johnny La La” (yes, he was also a bookie) taught me to remove the peel from the orange before muddling. It peels off easily. Your site is a resource nonpareil. Adding you to my blogroll.

  • I make the OF, with cognac Remy Martin vs grand cru.
    Really delicious. Thank you very much for your teaching, Mr. Morgenthaler.
    Always a pleasure reading your blog.
    Best from the far south

    Federico Cuco

  • Cole says:

    Not trying to put words in your mouth, but you may have meant “Considering the hundreds of thousands of cases they ship to Wisconsin every year, it might be considered SACRILEGIOUS to use anything else.” Sacrosanct means something that is sacred, and not to be altered under any circumstances. Enjoyed the article.

  • Christina says:

    Hi Jeffrey, I just moved from WI to Portland, OR and you hit it on the spot about the brandy old fashioned. I look forward to visiting and trying yours out! 🙂

  • dominik mj says:

    That doesn’t feel right for me… to call it Brandy Old Fashioned.

    I am not so much against the recipe [sounds very good without the lemon-lime soda and maraschino cherries] – but we have educated so long and so enduring, that it seems plainly wrong to do this drink.

    I would call it Old Fashioned Wisconsin or Wisconsin Brandy Fashioned [or similar].

    The only difference to the “wrong” Old Fashioned method otherwise would be, that you would use proper ingredients and that you are preparing it with care.

    Bourbon or Rye can even easier than brandy withstand some muddling of orange and cherry… and then you get again into the whole downward spiral…

    • Whether or not it feels right to you, Dominik, this is a drink enjoyed by millions of people in the state of Wisconsin, and has been for decades. Some things don’t need to be re-done, just done with as much care and attention as possible. And this version is a perfect example of that fact.

  • David Herpin says:

    That’s unfair to say the old fashioned was lost after prohibition, because many drinks were. I assure you it wasn’t confused with the smash, unless you were the bartender I guess. You do mention it is closely associated with the julep, mad props bro; but the defining difference is not the fruit, it’s the vessel. Oh my, I was under the impression that many of this drinks mysteries were revealed. Okay, because you didn’t define what type of sugar I will assume you meant brown sugar, benefit of the doubt, just for you. You mention bitters but not what type, i’ll give that to you too. The maraschino cherry and orange are simple derivatives of maraschino and orange bitters, which I know you know. . .. I like the use of brandy in this drink, makes more historical sense. I like the choice of large cubes also, this is probably the ice that was used. Just when I started to not hate you so much, I scroll down to see a picture of mashed up goo in a glass, i’m sorry dude, i’m not even reading any more. I’m sure I could write a book on the many discrepancies this article surely contains, i’m not going to find out though. You’ll probably dismiss this and delete the comment and talk trash about me, that’s fine, atleast I know I don’t know anything. Good day, sir.

  • Donalbein says:

    Another way my grandfather would make it was with Graf’s 50/50 soda which he called a sour. To this day it still brings back memories and I would not change how I make it.

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