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”

  • Eric says:

    Jeff,

    I have great memories of drinking these with my father-in-law and his friends during deer season up North in Wisconsin. His friend who introduced us to them called them “bombers.” Mark makes them with Korbel, maraschino cherries and juice, a little sugar and finished them with 7 Up.

    There were a few times we put ourselves to bed early from overindulgence.

    Another one of my favorites is a Brandy Sour. Simple but straight and to the point.

    We only use Korbel.

    Keep up the great work,
    Eric

  • Skinny says:

    Just got back from a trip to the grocery for ingredients for brandy old fashions during the holidays.
    As a native sconnie, no one ever orders a sweet old fashioned, it’s always an old fashioned sweet or an old fashioned sour. If you don’t specify the spirits, it’ll be brandy within state borders, but plenty of folks order whiskey old fashioned as well.

    Personally, I like mine sour and skip the cherries altogether, subbing in green olives.
    And no one muddles anything into a paste here, just enough to get the juices out.

  • dutchdiva says:

    I have said those words myself when traveling : “Nobody knows how to make an Old Fashioned except in Wisconsin”! I ordered one in Maine and nearly choked on it. The poor bartender said he followed the manual recipe exactly as it was shown. lol I traded it in for a beer.

    My favorite Old Fashioned (which others like , as well) has a little twist to it and I think it is actually smoother than a Brandy Old Fashioned. I
    t’s a Whiskey Old Fashion Sweet (with Olives). Some prefer it with sour.
    Start with ice, a shot or two whiskey, some Jero Old Fashioned Mix, a dash of bitters, and top with 7-up. Spear a few giant olives and garnish. (Fruit is for sissy’s.) Makes living in the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin worthwhile!!

  • Bill McFarland says:

    I am in Florida and we are throwing a Midwest party. I plan on introducing The Brandy Old fashioned to many people from all 50 states. I am going to prepare them with either the sweet or the sour, only to get them to try them. If I omit the sweet and or sour, I am afraid there may not be many takers.
    I hope to convert many bourbon and whiskey drinkers to the taste of brandy. 🙂

  • kyber c says:

    this has become one of my go to drinks at home although after not having an orange around a couple times I’ve come to double down on the cherries and leave it at that, so freaking good. thanks for the enlightenment!

  • Bill Allen says:

    Funny how nobody gets the “Wisconsin Old Fashioned” recipe correct.

    I’m going to describe the version you’ll find at all Eastern Wisconsin Supper Club’s. “You know” the places where the adults sit at bar and the kids play outside … only when the food arrives do you sit down to eat.

    Lets not minse words, the main reason Wisconsinite’s drink an Old Fashioned is to get a quick buzz. Its not a foo-foo drink … its a hard pipe hitting cocktail that everyone pretends is not. That’s what make them so cool. (A word to the wise if your drinking real one’s, it’s back to beer after … “a couple”)

    You can order them “sweet” (7-UP) or “sour” (should be a hand made mix in a squeeze bottle). The newest twist is a “sweet & sour” version using Squirt soda. (While I hate to admit it, unless the sour mix is “just right” I too prefer the Squirt)

    So here’s is the “real deal” recipe for a “Wisconsin Old Fashioned”.

    2-3 oz Whiskey/Brandy (Kessler Whiskey/Christian Brothers Brandy)
    2 Dashes Bitter (Angostura brand)
    1-3 One large Maraschino Cherry … or 3 small ones on a stick
    1 Suger Cube

    Now its all about the glass, the ice, and the technique, it takes practice … the best ones are poured in seconds.

    Crush the sugar cube in the bottom of the glass, add ice, booze, and bitters … yes in that order. A proper glass should now be half full … or half empty … depending on your philosophy. With the spoon already in the glass, top with sweet/sour mix, gently stir at the bottom, toss in the cherry and serve.

    There you have it!

    No lemons, limes, oranges, extra dash of bitter, premixed syrups, club soda’s, or any other such nonsense. And yes a muddled sugar cube is always preferred to simple sugar syrup. While a better whiskey improves the taste, don’t order it that way, the locals will kick your ass thinking your from Illinois. Safely at home, I usually step it up to 2 jiggers of Canadian Club & ladle in a teaspoon of cherry juice from Cherryman’s Farm to Market Maraschino’s in lieu of the sugar cube. (Yes it still goes at bottom of the glass before the ice, for those of you still paying attention) These Cherryman Cherry’s are made in Michigan, have all natural color and flavorings, half the sugar, and they even tell you where in the USA the Cherry’s are grown. Nice! (You don’t “really want to know” what’s inside a standard maraschino) I could give you the recipe for a proper Wisconsin sour mix but the boys will tip me like a cow if I reveal anymore secrets. (Hint; it uses Rose’s lime juice)

    Enjoy!

  • Doug says:

    I grew up all over Wisconsin and the one constant that I never even noticed was that everyone drank a Brandy Old Fashioned with Korbel Brandy. In fact, I never realized there was another kind of brandy back then and I wasn’t too sure there was even another kind cocktail, either, although we’d all heard of a martini. The recipe that was used in our house was brandy, ang. bitters (4-5 dashes), regular granulated table sugar, mar. cherry, an orange slice and club soda. We removed the rind from the slice and the stem from the cherry, added the sugar, bitters, and fruit and muddled everything a bit to release the juices – not paste. Added the ice cubes and brandy and topped it off with the soda and a stir. Sometimes another dash of bitters and/or another cherry on the top for color and extra spice.

    The really quick variant (when we were very thirsty and/or didn’t have money for anything but the basic necessary ingredients) we simplified things by using a splash of OJ instead of the orange and eliminating the sugar by using 7up and just putting the cherry on top with a splash of the cherry juice from the jar or grenadine and eliminating any time consuming muddling… This is certainly not a craft way of doing it but eliminating the sugar with the addition of the 7up keeps it from getting way too sweet in my opinion.

    By the way, my mom likes it with olives – but she likes olives in just about anything so I never knew that others did this too – thanks for letting me know that we don’t have to keep that a “secret” anymore!

    With the person with the bars in Minneapolis had mentioned which ones they were – I live there now and am always looking for a place with a good, true, Wisconsin drink.

  • Kasey says:

    Hi Jeffrey,

    Quick question… Do you have any suggestions for a good recipe for making brandied amarena cherries? I’ve been looking around and found some recipes as simple as half brandy half syrup (that came with the cherries) all they way to making your own syrup and mixing together brandy, rum, and maraschino liqueur. Do you have a preferred method?

    And where do you suggest getting the amarena cherries? I can’t find them in my hometown (Spokane, WA), but have found a few on Amazon.com.

    Thanks!

  • Alex says:

    If you want the classic wisconsin brandy old fashioned you must visit Caroline’s in Milwaukee, a cool old school jazz club.

  • John B says:

    Wisconsin born and raised and agree with your approach. Korbel is a good choice, however Christian Brothers is the largest selling brandy in Wisconsin and the only brand I’ve seen BOF’s made with growing up/living in western Wisconsin. It is my drink of choice once the weather cools…or Packer season begins…and I will give your version a try in a few weeks.

    I do appreciate your minimalist approach to garnishes, however my MIL pickles her own mushrooms and they are a nice briny contrast. My neighbor is known to stuff his own green olives with Sant Agur blue cheese…also a nice alternative to the classic cherry/orange slice.

    Thanks for this site. I’m enjoying your Mojito recipe just now on this miserably hot day in Minnesota.

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