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”

  • Donalbein makes me think there’s an article idea for nostalgic cocktail recipes. Like, they might be “wrong” but they’re the way you learned it and you like it. Or your grandfather drank it that way. Or your dad.

  • dominik mj says:

    @ Jeffrey:

    That so many people are drinking one specific recipe, doesn’t make it necessary [conceptual] better.
    80% of the “going out crowd” here in Dubai are drinking Bullfrogs [imagine a Long Island Iced Tea – with the “triple sec” exchanged with Blue Curaçao and the Coke substituted with Red Bull] – this are thousands and thousands of people – and yes, this is the most ordered mixed drinks here in the Middle East – and no, that doesn’t make it a little bit better [even a tweaked version is waste of time].

    I would not compare the Brandy Old Fashioned Wisconsin’s style with a Bullfrog – but if you are taking the origin of the “Old Fashioned” – it is just wrong to muddle it [which is not old fashioned in the Jerry Thomas context].

    I do understand, where you are coming from; but just have a different opinion about it. Millions of people are drinking this with cheap maraschino cherries and with commercial, HFCS loaded lemon-lime soda – if your argument justification would be right, you might not change it at all…

    • dominik – Keep in mind, this isn’t an “Old Fashioned”, it’s a Brandy Old Fashioned. The point of this post was to demonstrate that the Brandy Old Fashioned is now a completely different drink than the more historically accurate Old Fashioneds we’re serving these days. It’s become more than something a bunch of people drink in clubs, it’s officially its own drink and deserves to be treated with the cultural significance that generations of Wisconsonians have bestowed upon it.

  • Don Grutz says:

    Just returned from Baraboo Wisconsin visiting family and friends….Your recipe is spot on. We traveled 30 miles to the middle of nowhere to Cimarili’s Supper Club.

    12 oz. glass filled with 2 oz brandy $2.50!!! $1 more if you ask for Makers Mark!

    I had several each of our 4 visits.

    Don

  • dominik mj says:

    Jeffrey – fortunately there are no absolutes in the bar; so you can have your opinion about it and I can have mine.

    I actually see it like that: The Old Fashioned is an abbreviation to Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail. And in these days [Jerry Thomas days], categories rather than specific drinks stood in the foreground. And usually they were made very similar [most of the time, only the spirit was swapped].
    I am sure, that not only Old Fashioned Whiskey cocktails where prepared and consumed in the mid 1800’s but also “really” Old Fashioned Brandy Cocktails.
    The style of muddling something, was developed much much later – later than prohibition; I would estimate that it was not before the 60’s.

    Don’t get me wrong – I know absolutely where you are coming from – but I see the subject more… globally and less regional.

    You are pinpointing it on the cultural significance – I am rather concerned about the historic significant. Like mentioned, there isn’t right or wrong, I just choose “the no prisoners”way, as I know, that fine details are the first things, which are going lost.
    You can count the minutes, that somebody will do a Maraschino cherry and full orange muddled Old Fashioned with crushed ice and call it legit.

  • Holly says:

    Thank you for publishing this.

    I recently returned from Appelton, WI, where the family of my future sister-in-law was marrying into didn’t drink much–except for sweet brandy old fashions, with an olive. I thought I knew a thing or two about cocktails, but shit. Keep learning, right? Great cocktail to have in your back pocket when the in-laws visit. Really loosens up the otherwise tight crowd.

  • Nikki says:

    So much to take in.

  • Tully says:

    Why not just peel the orange instead of muddling around it?

  • Wanda says:

    I think that the Brandy version may have come from Norwegian or other Scandinavian settlers in Wisconsin. My relatives in Norway, are very familiar with the Brandy Old Fashioned. It was my father’s favorite drink. He often made it at home with brandy, usually Korbel, bitters, with the Maraschino cherries and some of their juice, plus sweet (7 Up). I preferred it sour, with Squirt, but that was probably because my first real drink was the Brandy Sour.
    Typically, if you order Sweet, you get olives and if Sour, you get fruit.

  • Alex says:

    I’ve recently been turned on to The Old Fashion Old Fashion. Everything the regular Old Fashion is with basil added. In this case I like to use Bourbon vs. Brandy.

  • Ryan says:

    domink mj:

    I’m coming to this thread a bit late, but check out this link:

    http://www.quinnipiac.edu/other/ABL/etext/stagetavern/chp5.html

    scroll down for the description of a “toddy stick”, a very important part of the pre-prohibition bartender’s kit.

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