Brandy Old Fashioned

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Wisconsin-stye Brandy Old Fashioned

For a little background info before you read this post, you can watch me ramble on in front of a camera below. If you 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.

After muddling, the ingredients should form a sort of thick, fruit paste

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.

Brandy Old Fashioned

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”

  • Chris says:

    To all My People in Wisconsin, and Elsewhere reading this….Try it with Presidente Brandy….I Live in Washington State now, but was able to find it in Mukwanago this Thanksgiving while visiting the inlaws. so if you live in a metropolitan area it shouldn’t be too hard! It makes the Old Fashioned sublime. My dad always used Korbel, so I did too! It’s only a couple bucks more a bottle but it is worth it. Like JM says, “you get out of it what you put in too it….I add a cinammon stick too,

  • Jake says:

    Like many other commenters, I grew up in the far north of Wisconsin and the Brandy Old Fashioned is my favorite drink, sour with 50/50 (I think Squirt is a bit too sweet but to each their own). Still, I think it is awesome to see this drink outside of Wisconsin. Concerning Jero mix, if you go to a bar/restaurant/supper club north of Green Bay, you almost never see any one not use some kind of Old Fashioned mix. I’m not saying this recipe is wrong by any means- I can’t wait to try it- but you’d be hard pressed to be served an Old Fashioned like this one in a small bar or supper club. And like others have said, this is most certainly not like more traditional Old Fashioneds, this is as Wisconsin as cheese and the Packers.

  • Andrea says:

    You nailed every Wisco detail except the football reference. We would never say “Packers game” … it is always singular, always “the Packer game.” 🙂

  • Ryan Johnson says:

    Hurrah for Wisconsin! I live in Alaska now, but being born in Wisconsin and seeing the recipe posted brings back memories of my uncles preparing it while playing Sheepshead at the kitchen table.

  • K Henning says:

    How about a printable recipe?
    Thanks K

  • amanda says:

    micker is wrong…”press” is half club soda half sweet

  • Kendra says:

    Born and raised in WI, I always knew that the winter and holiday season was upon us when Dad would bust out the Korbel, and Old Fashioned fixings would be stocked in the fridge. As a bartender for years, I’ve made plenty of Old Fashioned cocktails and you, sir, are spot-on. The brewery/restaurant that I work at uses simple syrup, but I prefer a sugar cube myself. Terrific article!

  • Michael Robinson says:

    Why has this website not been updated in forever? Although I have recently just discovered it, I have already read all the recipes and viewed all the videos, leaving me wanting more! Is there a new place to get more of the Jeffrey Morgenthaler wisdom?

  • Nico says:

    Came across your site while working on my resume. As a Wisconsinite living in North Carolina, this article made me so proud. This winters “special” drink from me to my patrons will be the Old Fashion…Wisconsin style. Thank you so much for writing this fantastic piece!

  • Chrystal says:

    Thank you for the wonderful read! I enjoyed reading the comments too. I grew up in La Crosse, Wi. Yes, the brandy old fashioned is part of our culture. I am amazed at how few people know about this outside of our state. Btw, a poor man’a old fashioned is cherry 7 up and brandy…another variation on the classic…

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