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”

  • Jeff from Chilton says:

    I recently rediscovered the Old Fashion after moving from Wisconsin 30 years ago. I have been making them with 7 up because it was easy but have gone back to the way I used to make them with simple syrup and water. I just tried the crushed ice instead of water and I like this too. Brings back fond memories of my days in eastern Wisconsin. I’m enjoying one as I post this.

  • tony reser says:

    Your narrative on the Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned is priceless. One of my best clients is from Wisconsin and, indeed, it is his favorite drink though he is mediocre bartender so he cheats and uses Jero Old Fashioned mix which is not available in Oregon. While your Brandy Old fashioned is a true representation of the Wisconsin variety I much prefer the Jeffrey Morganthaler Whiskey Old Fashioned which is not muddled, uses orange peel, and NO SPRITZER!

  • MBus says:

    This is oddly similar to what I get when I ask for an old fashioned at random bars–except with brandy instead of whiskey.

  • perfect twist of an old classic cocktail>D

  • Dick Hikade says:

    Just finished reading your article in the Oregonian. Looked up your website and was pleasantly surprized to see an article about my beloved state of Wisconsin and its signature drink the “Brandy” Old Fashion. I worked my way through Marquette Dental School bartending on weekends, making my share of Old Fashions. I remeber reading years ago that Wis. drinks more brandy than France and drinks 40% of the brandy in the U.S. When family and friends are over for the holidays it has become a tradition, they dont have a choice of beverages, they know and love being served the Old Fashion.

  • Tara says:

    Having grown up in Wisconsin, this article made me laugh and brought back great memories all at the same time! I fondly remember neighbors making a brandy old fashion, Wisconsin style, throughout my childhood. And today, you can absolutely still go to a small town bar or a supper club and get yourself a fantastic brandy old fashion! Ahhh, it makes me nostalgic for home! Cheers!

  • Heide M. says:

    I’ll have to try this.

  • Linda S says:

    I’m born and raised Green Bay and old fashioneds are my drink of choice. Always a southern comfort old fashioned press, no fruit. And it must be muddled. Yum…looks like I’m stopping at the mart on the way home to make some…

  • Dave says:

    Have lived is SE Wisconain all of our lives. My wife prefers hers like this.
    4 (yes 4) oz Korbel.
    4 dashes Angostora bitters
    Hot Dilly bean and a queen size olive
    5-6 oz 7up.

    Combine all in a 16 oz. old fashioned glass and cram in as much ice as possible. Bigger the cubes the better.

    Me, I like a Korbel Manhattan with Bianco vermouth….two to one.

  • Frank Elliott says:

    The old fashioned is my favorite drink. Here’s my obscenely decadent version of a brandy old fashioned.

    1 thick wedge of blood orange.
    3 Amarena Fabbri cherries
    1 tsp of simple syrup
    2 oz of armagnac (I like Cles des Ducs)
    Ice to fill the glass
    a shot of seltzer
    2 dashes orange bitters

    Of course, changing the bitters in a brandy old fashioned from Angostura to Peychaud makes it a brandy Sazerac. So New Orleans has prior art. 😉

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