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Get smarter about the Wisconsin Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned

Milwaukee Cocktail Week kicked off yesterday. To celebrate, I thought I’d share some cool stories on the history of the Wisconsin Old Fashioned. Seems lots of folks -- including the New York Times (see below) -- are appreciating our drink of choice.

<i>“Traditionally, the first use of the name ‘Old Fashioned’ for a Bourbon whiskey cocktail was said to have been, anachronistically, at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen's club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky. The recipe was said to have been invented by a bartender at that club in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller, who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City.” (Wikipedia)</i>

But in Wisconsin, Brandy reigns supreme -- and that’s what makes the traditional Old Fashioned a Wisconsin Old Fashioned.

I actually had my first Wisconsin Old Fashioned at Hotel Foster, maybe a couple of years ago. I have to say, it was pretty tasty.  So enjoy these stories about the Badger State’s un(official) cocktail -- Wisconsin Old Fashioned.

Wisconsin’s (Un)Official State Cocktail from Edible Milwaukee

The Wisconsin Old Fashioned: An Abridged History from The Midwestival

Case Study | The Old-Fashioned, Wisconsin Style from The New York Times

Here is the “official” recipe for the Wisconsin Old Fashioned.


1 sugar cube or 1 tsp 2:1 simple syrup

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 orange wedge

1 cherry, preferably Amarena or Maraska

2 oz brandy or Cognac

In a chilled old fashioned glass, muddle the sugar, bitters, orange wedge and cherry into a thick paste, careful not to work the orange peel. Add brandy or Cognac, stir, and fill glass with crushed ice and serve

Here’s 88Nine’s DJ Ken Sumka take -- using Rye Whiskey:

Ingredients and instructions

- Old Overholt Rye or Rittenhouse Rye. (Anything fancier is pointless as the sugar and bitters will overwhelm more sophisticated ryes.)

- Coat bottom of glass with simple syrup (which I make myself, dissolve sugar into boiling water, a 1:1 ratio)

- A generous sprinkling of Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters or Angostura Bitters

- Add giant ice cube/sphere to a rocks/Old Fashioned glass. I use Tovolo:

- Pour rye over cubes/sphere as desired, usually 3/4 full.

- Using a peeler, cut a piece of lemon peel about the size of a quarter. Use a match or lighter to lightly scorch the underside of peel, squeeze and put peel into drink. -Cherry optional. I use Forest Floor brand cherries.

HYFIN Program Director | Radio Milwaukee