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Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned Cocktails

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What is a Brandy Old-fashioned

In Wisconsin, going out to a Wisconsin supper club and having a cocktail before dinner is all part of the experience. The Brandy Old-fashioneds served at Wisconsin supper clubs is the cocktail of choice in Wisconsin. They go hand and hand with supper clubs. First some ground rules or definitions.

What is a cocktail? The general definition of an alcoholic cocktail is: "an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice, lemonade, or cream". We find the first published description of a "cocktail" in 1806. A New York newspaper called the "The Balance and Columbian Repository" published this definition: "Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters".

What is an Old-fashioned? For the first part of the 1800s, the drink that would evolve into our Brandy Old-fashioned, was the above cocktail consisting of whiskey or rye, sugar, water and bitters. Then that started to change with the additions of all sorts of things including different fruits, additional spirits, and mixes. Those cocktails started to get out of hand. Then in the late 1800s, some say in Louisville Kentucky a bartender went back to the original cocktail recipe of sorts using bourbon, sugar, water and bitters and called it the Old-fashioned cocktail honoring the start of the cocktail. Whiskey, rye or bourbon was used as the spirits in the Old-fashioned cocktail with whiskey being the spirit of choice.

What is Brandy? Brandy is basically a spirit made from distilling wine. Brandy can be aged in wooden casks or given it's color by adding coloring. Brandy has been around since the beginning of distilling. In the United States, it was not very popular until the Chicago Worlds Fair or Chicago’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893. There three California lumbermen were launching their brandy distillation business. They were Josef, Antone and Francis Korbel. Their brandy was showcased at the Chicago Worlds Fair.

The Wisconsin Brandy Old-fashioned really born after the Chicago Worlds Fair. Wisconsin, being close to Chicago and having a large brandy loving German immigrant population, many who attended the Chicago Worlds Fair. Those Wisconsinites took to Korbel brother's brandy in a big way. Since Wisconsinites could now get good brandy here in the United States, brandy was used instead of whiskey in the Old-fashioned cocktail. The love of the Wisconsin Brandy Old-fashioned was born. It has evolved some over the years, but the basic recipe of brandy, sugar, bitters and a mix (water, seltzer, 7-up or sour) is there. The last statistic I found was Korbel ships a third, yes a third of their brandy to Wisconsin!

Now for a couple of Old-fashioned recipes. First the classic whiskey cocktail or the original Old-fashioned and second the Wisconsin Brandy Old-fashioned. There are variations of both, but lets start with the basics.

What is a Brandy Old Fashioned?

In Wisconsin, going out to a Wisconsin supper club and having a cocktail before dinner is all part of the experience. The Brandy Old Fashioned served at Wisconsin supper clubs is the cocktail of choice in Wisconsin. They go hand and hand with supper clubs. First some ground rules or definitions.

What is a cocktail? The general definition of an alcoholic cocktail is: "an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice, lemonade, or cream". We find the first published description of a "cocktail" in 1806. A New York newspaper called the "The Balance and Columbian Repository" published this definition: "Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters".

What is an Old Fashioned? For the first part of the 1800s, the drink that would evolve into our Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned, was the above cocktail consisting of whiskey or rye, sugar, water and bitters. Then that started to change with the additions of all sorts of things including different fruits, additional spirits, and mixes. Those cocktails started to get out of hand. Then in the late 1800s, some say in Louisville Kentucky a bartender went back to the original cocktail recipe of sorts using bourbon, sugar, water and bitters and called it the Old Fashioned cocktail honoring the start of the cocktail. Whiskey, rye or bourbon was used as the spirits in the Old Fashioned cocktail with whiskey being the spirit of choice.

What is Brandy? Brandy is basically a spirit made from distilling wine. Brandy can be aged in wooden casks or given it's color by adding coloring. Brandy has been around since the beginning of distilling. In the United States, it was not very popular until the Chicago Worlds Fair or Chicago’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893. At this event three California lumbermen were launching their brandy distillation business. They were Josef, Antone and Francis Korbel. Their brandy was showcased at the Chicago Worlds Fair.

The Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned really born after the Chicago Worlds Fair. Wisconsin, being close to Chicago and having a large brandy loving German immigrant population, many who attended the Chicago Worlds Fair. Those Wisconsinites took to Korbel brother's brandy in a big way. Since Wisconsinites could now get good brandy here in the United States, brandy was used instead of whiskey in the Old Fashioned cocktail. The love of the Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned was born. It has evolved some over the years, but the basic recipe of brandy, sugar, bitters and a mix (water, seltzer, 7-up or sour) is there. The last statistic I found was Korbel ships a third, yes a third of their brandy to Wisconsin!

Now for a couple of Old Fashioned recipes. First the classic whiskey cocktail or the original Old Fashioned and second the Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned. There are variations of both, but let us start with the basics.


Whiskey Cocktail - Original Classic Old Fashioned

  • 1/2 teaspoon Refined Sugar or one Sugar Cube
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 tablespoon Water
  • 2 oz. whiskey, bourbon or rye
First you are going to put the first three ingredients in an old fashioned glass (see pictures above). Crush the sugar with your muddler. Add a small amount of ice and stir. Then sit and sip.

Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned

  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 2 Orange Slices - plus one for garnish
  • 2 Brandied Cherries - plus one for garnish (Maraschino Cherries can be used)
  • 2 oz. Korbel Brandy
  • Your mix of choice, water, 7-up, sour or seltzer
Put the sugar cube in the base of your old-fashioned glass and 2-3 dashes of the bitters. Add the fruit and muddle until the sugar is dissolved. Add the brandy and stir to combine. Add a small amount of ice and top with sweet or sour, water or seltzer. Garnish with a cherry and orange slice. Then sit and sip.

In Wisconsin, the preferred mix is 7-Up or Sprite for the classic "I will have a Brandy Old-fashioned, sweet!" The variations are endless. Some like the mix to be sour, water, seltzer or press (pressing both the Sprite and seltzer buttons on the soda gun). Some like mushrooms or olives instead of the orange slice and cherries. Experiment, find your own way of making the Wisconsin Brandy Old-fashioned.

One thing you will learn when ordering a Brandy Old-fashioned at a Supper Club or bar is not every bartender will muddle the fruit. To speed things up, they will use "simple syrup", a pre-mix of sugar and water. They will just use the orange slice and cherry as garnish.

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