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 Fashioned… Wisconsin-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
- 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.
- Add brandy or Cognac and stir.
- Fill glass with crushed ice and serve.
Recipe printed courtesy of jeffreymorgenthaler.com
89 Replies to “Brandy Old Fashioned”
When I heard sweet with olive, I thought that sounded terrible, but my favorite salad has strawberries, grapes, balsamic vinaigrette, and green olives. Makes total sense, and I can’t wait to try it.
Sounds delicious, but don’t you think it is a little presumptuous to call this a Wisconsin Old Fashioned? A screwdriver without OJ is not a screwdriver and a Wisconsin Old Fashioned with out a sweet or sour wash is not a Wisconsin Old Fashioned. As I said sounds delicious but still not a Wisconsin O.F .
Think of it as a more elevated version of the Wisconsin Old Fashioned, with better ingredients, better technique, and without “Collins Mix”/Squirt or 7-Up/Sprite. You are, of course, welcome to add your soda pop back in to the drink if you don’t think you can live without it.
I live in upper Wisconsin we have multiple types of Old Fashioned, brandy, whiskey, cranberry any favor you want, you order, sweet,sour, press. Several bars here use maple syrup from Wi instead of sugar, it’ a classic.
I have this old brandy at my aunties house this is the informatipn on the bottle. Guillaume mallorca santa maria napoleon brandy vsop 1943. Is it anything special do you think?
Yep, grew up in the town where Wollersheim is. Knew Bob Wollersheim (now deceased). Have frequented the ‘supper clubs’ in the area for almost 50 years. The Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet (BOFS) is a staple at any/all of them. You don’t always get exactly the same thing, but you can go into any bar/supper club/restaurant and ask for a BOFS and they all know exactly what you want. One of my favorites: The Dorf Haus in Roxbury, the heart of German country in Wisconsin and one of the best BOFS cocktails and some of the best German food in the country……
Wisconsin recently passed a law allowing the distillation of brandy in the state. As a result, Wollersheim Winery, a Winery run by a Frenchman for decades just north of Madison, made a brandy from all local grapes and aged in barrels made in Wisconsin. The brandy is smooth and wonderful but difficult to get. The brandy is called coquard brandy and makes a great old fashioned. Also, I always go sweet with brandy and sour with bourbon
I have ordered “Sweet Brandy Old Fashions” all my life in Minneapolis and 9 times out of 10 bartenders kill it with 7up. Ugh. And when you ask for “easy on the 7-Up,” they think you want more brandy (I don’t) and then they get confused because they think they have to fill the glass to the top. Sigh.
While in La Fayette I was at the “Dark Roux restaurant) where the bartender shared with me this excellent (best I’ve had) Makers Markers old fashioned.
Here are the ingredients Ingredients
Turbinado Sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
Bourbon or Brandy
Start by bringing to a boil equal parts of sugar and water. Once at a boil, cook a little while to be certain the sugar has dissolved. Then cool the mixture, put in a container and in the refrigerator for when needed.
In a large wide mouth rocks glass put a generous slice of good orange. Add your sugar liquid (however much sweet you like) add bitters (however much bitter you like) and muddle it making sure the orange is crushed……
From here there are two methods.
Pour your Bourbon or Brandy into the glass and muddle then ad ice and sturr
Pour your Bourbon or Brandy into a pint glass with ice, swirl sufficently till cold and strain into glass, adding ice after is your personal choice. (stirring it in ice makes it cold and then you don’t have to add ice…different but nice this way)
Enjoy, I do!
I enjoy Southern Comfort Old Fashion Sour with a pickled asparagus. Yum!
As others have mentioned, its all about the garnishes and finishes in Wisconsin- Whenever I go “home” to visit, an Oldfashioned Sour with Mushrooms or Brussels Sprouts is on the Must Have list. I think my foodie California friends would be surprised at how corner bars/taverns/supper clubs often pickle their own mushrooms, brussels sprouts, green beans (!) you name it- and offer these as options for their customers at no extra charge- the best.
It’s cranberry harvest time in Wisconsin which means fresh cranberries are plentiful. Here’s a variation on a theme…
Make a cranberry simple syrup: 1 cup fresh cranberries, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water. I add 1 tablespoon whole allspice and a cinnamon stick.
Muddle a few fresh cranberries and an orange slice in your tumbler. Add 2-4 tablespoons of the cranberry simple syrup, bitters (optional), brandy, top up with 7-up.
Nice change of pace from the tradition Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashion.
Jeffrey, thanks for the recipe! i’ve been confused by watching a lot of bartenders lately making old fashioned with so much fruit muddled in. they always taste watered down, like you describe initially above, that i’ve just stopped ordering them all together. But this was delicious. I used Decourtet VS cognac. only subsititution was a few brandied blueberries in place of the cherry.. topped with the crushed ice. What a treat, especially for a 106º day in southern california. Cheers!
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.
If you want the classic wisconsin brandy old fashioned you must visit Caroline’s in Milwaukee, a cool old school jazz club.
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.
Kasey – Yes, I have a couple of great options. However, this time you’re going to have to wait until next month when my book comes out to learn what they are – sorry, but I just have to!
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.
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)
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!
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. 🙂
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!!
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.
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,
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…
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!
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?
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!
micker is wrong…”press” is half club soda half sweet
How about a printable recipe?
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.
You nailed every Wisco detail except the football reference. We would never say “Packers game” … it is always singular, always “the Packer game.” 🙂
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.
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,
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. 😉
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.
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…
I’ll have to try this.
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!
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.
perfect twist of an old classic cocktail>D
This is oddly similar to what I get when I ask for an old fashioned at random bars–except with brandy instead of whiskey.
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!
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.
I’m coming to this thread a bit late, but check out this link:
scroll down for the description of a “toddy stick”, a very important part of the pre-prohibition bartender’s kit.
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.
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.
Why not just peel the orange instead of muddling around it?
So much to take in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another way my grandfather would make it was with Graf’s 50/50 soda which he called a sour. To this day it still brings back memories and I would not change how I make it.
That’s unfair to say the old fashioned was lost after prohibition, because many drinks were. I assure you it wasn’t confused with the smash, unless you were the bartender I guess. You do mention it is closely associated with the julep, mad props bro; but the defining difference is not the fruit, it’s the vessel. Oh my, I was under the impression that many of this drinks mysteries were revealed. Okay, because you didn’t define what type of sugar I will assume you meant brown sugar, benefit of the doubt, just for you. You mention bitters but not what type, i’ll give that to you too. The maraschino cherry and orange are simple derivatives of maraschino and orange bitters, which I know you know. . .. I like the use of brandy in this drink, makes more historical sense. I like the choice of large cubes also, this is probably the ice that was used. Just when I started to not hate you so much, I scroll down to see a picture of mashed up goo in a glass, i’m sorry dude, i’m not even reading any more. I’m sure I could write a book on the many discrepancies this article surely contains, i’m not going to find out though. You’ll probably dismiss this and delete the comment and talk trash about me, that’s fine, atleast I know I don’t know anything. Good day, sir.
That doesn’t feel right for me… to call it Brandy Old Fashioned.
I am not so much against the recipe [sounds very good without the lemon-lime soda and maraschino cherries] – but we have educated so long and so enduring, that it seems plainly wrong to do this drink.
I would call it Old Fashioned Wisconsin or Wisconsin Brandy Fashioned [or similar].
The only difference to the “wrong” Old Fashioned method otherwise would be, that you would use proper ingredients and that you are preparing it with care.
Bourbon or Rye can even easier than brandy withstand some muddling of orange and cherry… and then you get again into the whole downward spiral…
Whether or not it feels right to you, Dominik, this is a drink enjoyed by millions of people in the state of Wisconsin, and has been for decades. Some things don’t need to be re-done, just done with as much care and attention as possible. And this version is a perfect example of that fact.
Hi Jeffrey, I just moved from WI to Portland, OR and you hit it on the spot about the brandy old fashioned. I look forward to visiting and trying yours out! 🙂
Not trying to put words in your mouth, but you may have meant “Considering the hundreds of thousands of cases they ship to Wisconsin every year, it might be considered SACRILEGIOUS to use anything else.” Sacrosanct means something that is sacred, and not to be altered under any circumstances. Enjoyed the article.
I make the OF, with cognac Remy Martin vs grand cru.
Really delicious. Thank you very much for your teaching, Mr. Morgenthaler.
Always a pleasure reading your blog.
Best from the far south
Many years ago a veteran bartender named “Johnny La La” (yes, he was also a bookie) taught me to remove the peel from the orange before muddling. It peels off easily. Your site is a resource nonpareil. Adding you to my blogroll.
You turned back the clock on me! My first and last Old Fashioned was back in 1971 in a small bar in Iowa. For all I knew at the time, it may have been made with Vodka and molassas. Thanks for letting me know it takes some skill and products.
Love that your addressed this regional delicacy. After 15 years in WI, marrying a native cheesehead, and falling in love with most everything WI (except lutefisk and driving slow in the left lane) I must admit this has become one of life’s simplest pleasures. Also, perhaps it is a local aberration, but my in-laws swear by pickled mushrooms topping their OFs. Sweet, sour, pour me another!
I”ve been following your blog and all the other classic cocktail masters for years now, Jeffrey, and this goes against everything everyone has said about Old Fashioneds! Smashed up fruit salad. Club soda. Egads! All that time trying to un-train my bartenders from doing (typically) whisky old fashioneds in this style… I am going to treat this as a regional drink and leave it to those bartenders in WI.
My father and is cousins had a few bar in North Beach, San Francisco, back in teh 50’s 60’s & 70’s. Your recipe is exactly is how I was taught to make Old Fashioned’s, but NEVER simple syrup,always cubed sugar..You just don’t get the same result with simple..
Because were were from North Beach, when Papa’s homemade Brandy was out..we used Korbel.Korbel is from the Russian River,a beautiful artisan distillery umongst the Redwoods..Its This drink was not lost, or forgotten..just in a different place.
Great post and photos. This is my mom’s cocktail of choice on the rare occasion when she chooses to partake. I’m going to make one for her next time she comes to visit, and I’m going to use this recipe for sure. Excellent blog. Cheers!
This was fun to read! I’m Sconnie born and bred, and I spent many years bartending there. A brandy Old Fashioned was definitely one of the most commonly ordered, which I have learned seems very odd to people in other parts of the country… even just a state over in Minneapolis where I live now.
I appreciate the reminder about calling the ‘topper’. If you simply order a ‘brandy old fashioned’ in WI, the bartender will likely just stare at you waiting for you to finish. Soda, sweet, sour, or press? Also, it’s true that there are a fair amount of people who order olives as the garnish, despite the orange and cherry muddled in the bottom of the glass. I don’t like it, but maybe there’s a salty-sweet appeal for some people?
I’m not the Ops Director for 6 restaurants in Minneapolis (all owned by another Sconie) and we’ve put a lot of work into making our Old Fashioneds classic WI style. It took some work to make the bartenders understand how sacrosanct this cocktail is to those of us who grew up with it, but it’s worth it. Nothing tastes better to me when I’m waiting for my Friday night fish fry than a Korbel brandy old fashioned press *properly* made. Thanks for writing about it!
Looks like a great recipe! Kinda like a boozy smoothie with all that fruit in the bottom. We’ll be trying this one this summer…
Although the brandy variation is almost strictly a Wisconsin thing I would like to note that in his “Craft of the Cocktail”, Dale Degroff says that the 1862 whiskey cobbler is the grandaddy of the.old fashioned and is shaken with two slices of orange, and also that Mr.Degroff prefers the muddled preparation. Also I would like to offer a warning to anyone coming to Wisconsin to try a brandy old fashioned: make sure to verify that it will be muddled, many places cheat and use an old fashioned mix by finest call which in my opinion is an abomination.
Great post—the drink sounds delicious, Korbel brandy or not. I’m assuming you saw the recent piece on the Old Fashioned by David Wondrich on esquire.com? He takes the minimalist approach—no fruit at all.
Have been a fan for a while.
Thank you for posting this. As a ‘Sconnie (from Wisconsin), I found this great reading. But I wanted to mention another way that this is served, atypically unique up here.
And that’s the garnish. One of the ways we order it is “Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet with Olives.” I think the briney, savory quality of the olives tones down the sweet notes to address some of the concerns about cloying sweetness. Sort of like a Wisconsin take on the Chinese Five Flavors concept.
And one other note on How to order your Old Fashioned like a true Wisconsonite
Just follow the three simple steps and be sure to let the bartender know:
So the next time you visit a Supper Club, say to the bartender : “I’ll take a brandy old fashioned sweet, double olives, thanks”
This southern gal experiments with new drinks every Friday night with the family. Sounds like we’ll break tradition and cross the Mason-Dixon line this Friday. Looking forward to muddling through! Great article. You love your craft and it shows.
This made me laugh. I don’t think I would order a brandy old fashioned outside a WI towny bar with an older barkeep behind the stick, but I think it is awesome you are posting about this cocktail. It is a great regional drink that pretty much everyone here knows about. Next on your list could be dessert drinks like the Brandy Alexander… ha.
Cheers, from WI
Did someone say Brandy Alexander?
Can you start a campaign or something? Why doesn’t anyone know how to make a decent Old Fashioned anymore? And this variation is wonderful. I might add that Blood Orange bitters make it even better.
I had the privilege of visiting clyde commons last week and was at a loss for what to get, knowing that everything would be great. I got the sparkling americano and it was fantastic, but now I wish I had gotten a brandy old fashioned. This means that I need to get back to Portland.
I will be traveling from PDX to LaCrosse, WI in May, and now I’m going to order one of these over there to see what I get.
One of the customers at my bar mentioned this post tonight. I said, “Surely not Morgenthaler! Muddling fruit? A FRUIT SALAD OLD FASHIONED??”
Now I see why. I’m going to amend my draft on how to make a basic old fashioned to mention this time-honored derivation.
Love the idea of crushed ice to help with dilution without wreaking the drink. I usually only add water or soda in the form of a tsp to help breakdown the sugar cube if I don’t use any muddled citrus or simple syrup. Delicious and simple, Jeffrey. This would be a great entry for Tales of the Cocktail Old Fashioned contest this year.
Great writeup – born, raised, and currently reside in WI. You forgot one other traditional way of finishing the original drink – that is, the brandy old fashioned “press”. Press is short for Presbyterian, and refers to finishing it with soda water. It may be cocktail nerd blasphemy, but nothing is better than sucking down brandy old fashioned press’s (press-i?) with da game on.
Micker – I said, “in one of two main ways.” The press (short for Presbyterian, by the way) is a less-sweet version of the Sweet Old Fashioned: half seltzer, half 7-Up or ginger ale.
There’s a fourth way, and that’s all seltzer.
Thanks Jeff for the lovely shot of Pierre Ferrand Cognac in this story. Am I right to guess that it’s your preferred Cognac for the Brandy Old-Fashioned? Thank you from Alexandre, Guillaume and the Cognac Ferrand team.
I like this with brandy for sure, thoughts on it with bourbon though? Being a little drier all that fruit seems like a good addition to the brandy, but man, with bourbon, sometimes the sugar alone gets to cloying for me. Different strokes for different folks?
I grew up in Wisconsin and am very familiar with this drink. Never really had one myself, though. Just a bit of a side-note- my mom always orders Southern Comfort Old-fashioned Sweets.
How have your visiting Wisconsinites reacted to this version? With big smiles, I hope!
Big smiles all around, Chuck. And the most oft-heard comment is, “Nobody out here knows how to make an Old Fashioned!”
We may have come full circle.
My dad grew up in Wisconsin and prefers his brandy old fashioned with a teaspoon of sugar two dashes of bitters and Corbel brandy. I also make mine the same way and they are great. Adding in all the other stuff gets too sweet for me, but I do get funny looks from bartenders up there when I order one like that. However I have converted a few of my Wisconsin school mates over to the more simple side of life.
This, for me, is the best representation of hospitality in bartending.
A tacit acknowledgement that it’s not all about you, and you are here to give people what they want, made with the best possible ingredients and methods.
Keep it up.