If you order an old-fashioned cocktail in 49 of the 50 states, you can expect a whiskey cocktail made with sugar, water and bitters, usually Angostura.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, has an old-fashioned rejection convention. Wisconsinites trade their whiskey for a brandy blend served in one of three ways: sweet, sour or pressed.
The sweet is with the 7-Up, the sour is with the Squirt soda or packaged sour mix, and the press is half 7-Up, half club soda, says Brian Bartels, author of The United States of Cocktails and owner of Settle Down Tavern in Madison. Most people choose sweet or click. ”
Whichever version you choose, Wisconsin Old Fashioned Cognac, unlike the original, contains about four ounces of soda. It is accompanied by a mixture of maraschino cherries, orange slices, sugar and bitters, and other possible toppings.
Some people in Wisconsin like to serve old-fashioned dishes with really unique side dishes, like olives, brussels sprouts and pickled vegetables, Bartels says. Last night at the Settle Down Tavern, someone ordered an Old-Fashioned Sour with olives. I also saw a side dish with a hard-boiled egg. It’s weird and wonderful in Wisconsin.
The old fashioned cognac wasn’t broken, so they didn’t fix it. – Robert Simonson, cocktail maker and Wisconsin native.
As with most origin stories, the details of the origin of old-fashioned cognac are not clear. The popularization of domestic cognac dates back to the 1893 World’s Fair of Colombian Cognac, held in the nearby city of Chicago.
More than 25 million Americans attended the show. They saw three California lumberjacks, brothers Joseph, Anton and Francis Korbel, demonstrating their eponymous brandy. It became popular in Wisconsin, where many German and Polish ancestors wanted to regain a sense of belonging to their former homeland. Legend has it that drinking a cocktail was even cheaper.
Several decades later, the prohibition and introduction of all cocktails took place: Cherries, orange slices, soft drinks, olives, etc. Prohibition made it illegal to produce, transport, import and sell alcohol, so smuggling and bath jenever reached their peak. Shoddy’s liquor was bought and sold on the black market.
The Korbel brothers demonstrated their brandy at the 1893 World Fair in Colombia. Today, Wisconsin consumes 50% of the brandy produced by Korbel. / Photo courtesy of Korbel
Prohibition is particularly unpopular in Wisconsin, where people of German descent consider alcohol part of their culture. The ingenious Wisconsinans extracted all the spirits they could find and mixed different fruits and sugars to make them more palatable.
After the ban, Korbel stopped producing brandy for a few decades, but this part of the old remained in the minds of the inhabitants. Today, Wisconsin consumes 50% of the cognac produced by Korbel, making the residents of this state one of the top consumers of cognac in the United States.
Adding fruit to the old method also remains popular.
Wisconsinians are conservative, skeptical of trends and unimpressed with the gentrified lifestyle of the rest of the country, says Robert Simonson, a cocktail and spirit writer for the New York Times and author of The Old-Fashioned, a Wisconsin native.
Once they find something they like, they stick with it and see no reason to change, he says. The old fashioned cognac was not broken, so it was never repaired.
Photo by Tyler Zielinski
John Dye is the owner of Milwaukee’s oldest cocktail bar, Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, which was established in 1938. He says he’s not sure why we added soda to Old Fashioned Brandy.
It really transforms the drink from a special alcoholic cocktail to one that can be enjoyed for a long time in society, he says.
Simonson says he always orders Old Fashioneds brandy at dinner clubs, which are a major cultural event in Wisconsin. Everyone prepares their drinks a little differently, he says.
Club dinners are ideal because of the general atmosphere, he says. But any bar can make you worthy. They’re like the Sazerac in New Orleans, one of those cocktails so common in a certain part of the nation that every bartender knows the recipe.
The cocktail is inextricably linked to Wisconsin.
Once you cross the state lines of Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa or Michigan, it’s unreal that you’re ordering and producing less [old-fashioned brandy], Bartels says. They are truly unique to Wisconsin and this part of the United States.
As Troy Rost says in my book: You can always tell a Wisconsin bartender that his red fingers are missing the cherry in the cherry juice. ”
Old Fashioned cognac is one of the best-selling drinks at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, according to Dye. He recalls the story of a second bar owner who chartered planes in Las Vegas in the 1960s and 1970s. Not all Vegas bars regularly sell cognac, so owner Bryant took matters into his own hands.
He loaded several cases of cognac on the plane to enjoy with his friends in Las Vegas, Dyer explains. That story always makes me laugh. I can’t imagine another Wisconsin.
Get the recipe for an old-fashioned cocktail from Wisconsin.
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