Breaking Down the Old Fashioned

it’s one of the greatest cocktails in the world, and no one does it like we do in Wisconsin

V1 Staff, photos by Andrea Paulseth

The Old Fashioned at  Houligans in Eau Claire
The Old Fashioned at Houligans in Eau Claire.

If there were a drink to define Wisconsin, it has to be the Brandy Old Fashioned. The simple, classic drink is easy to find around the country, but for some reason the Wisconsin variation takes a peculiar and unique turn towards complexity and sweetness.

What is in an old fashioned?

49 States
2oz Rye Whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 lump of sugar or 1/2oz simple syrup
Garnished with an orange peel

2oz brandy
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 sugar cube
1-2 orange slice(s)
2 maraschino cherries
sweet, sour or seltzer soda

Ordering your Old Fashioned

“I’ll take an Old Fashioned, _______, please.”

Soda: Carbonated Water
Sweet: 7-Up
Sour: Sour Mix
Press: Seltzer & Lemon-Lime (stands for “Presbyterian”)

The history of the Old Fashioned

The first recorded use of the word “Cocktail,” defined in a magazine as “a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar.”

The Chicago Tribune lists a recipe with rye whiskey that is remarkably similar to the modern variations of the Old Fashioned.

A Louisiana cocktail book – La Cuisine Creole – lists an Old Fashioned recipe with muddled cherry and orange.

This is where we dip into legend. Supposedly, this is when a group of German immigrants move from Chicago to Wisconsin, bringing with them a love of Korbel Brandy.


That’s the number of barrels of Korbel Brandy exported to Wisconsin each year. It accounts for 33 percent of the company’s total sales.

Houligans is doing it right

Houligans Steak & Seafood Pub in downtown Eau Claire is well known for its classic Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned, so we chatted with owner Jon Seybold about some of his thoughts:

V1: What makes the Old Fashioned so popular in Wisconsin?
Seybold: I think it’s an easy cocktail to drink. It’s brandy, but smooth and sweet. It’s a palatable drink to consume, and reminds people of the more classic supper club craze.

Why is there such a strong connection to supper clubs in Wisconsin?
I grew up in southern Wisconsin and started years ago bartending and making people those drinks on Friday and Saturday. It’s the feel of a sense of community, knowing the bartender and your server, knowing other neighbors and friends.

What makes Houligans Old Fashioned so sought-after?
We make them from scratch and every bartender’s been doing it the same way. We’re also adapting them to the younger generations, who appreciate variations. It’s winter now, so the apple and maple Old Fashioneds will be popular.

For a twist, try this!

Old Man Winter
2oz Templeton Rye (or other rye)
1/2oz Apple Cinnamon syrup*
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 drops Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters
Garnish with an apple slice

Simmer one part water with one part demerara sugar, three cinnamon sticks and four apple slices. Strain and cool.

Craft of Cocktails is sponsored by:

Woodman's Markets
2855 Woodman Drive

Craft of Cocktails is sponsored by:

Woodman's Markets
2855 Woodman Drive