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An Old-Fashioned Debate: Deconstructing the Classic Cocktail

In the world of Wisconsin cocktails, the brandy Old Fashioned has long been king.

Exact figures vary by source, but experts say at least half (51%) and as much as 90% of all brandy produced worldwide is consumed in the state of Wisconsin alone.

Outside the state, whiskey tends to be the spirit of choice in this beloved cocktail, and increasingly, whiskey, bourbon, and even Scotch Old Fashioneds are appearing on drink menus throughout Door County. (Just don’t tell our cocktail-purist Wisconsin ancestors.)

Whatever your spirit of choice, there are a few non-negotiable ingredients in the classic version of the cocktail, including bitters, muddled orange and cherry, and sugar. The good news is: no matter which spirit you choose or which variation you find on the drink menu at the bar, you’re in for a quintessentially Wisconsin drinking experience.

Here’s how to order like a pro the next time you’re in search of a nightcap in Door County.

Choose Your Base

Your first decision is a key one: brandy, whiskey, or something else?

If you want the classic-Wisconsin-Old-Fashioned experience, go for brandy. You’ll get a sweet and fruity taste with a smooth finish.

If you want a maltier, smokier, spicier, or less-sweet flavor, reach for the whiskey, especially a rye or bourbon. Ask your friendly neighborhood bartender for a recommendation if you’re unsure of which style, flavor profile, or brand to go with.

Choose a Mixer

The next step is choosing how to top your brandy or whiskey. 

For a sweet and candy-like finish, choose “sweet,” which is typically 7-UP or another lemon-lime soda. For a subtly sweet drink, ask for a “press,” which is half 7-UP and half club soda. For a sour, tart finish perfect for summer, a grapefruit soda like Squirt will do the trick. 

If you really want the whiskey or brandy flavor to shine through, or you’re looking to cut down on the sugar, keep it simple with seltzer or a splash of water.

Put a Garnish On It

Muddled maraschino cherries and an orange slice are responsible for the flavor, color, and sometimes texture of the old-fashioned, but the garnish on top can vary based on your, or the bartender’s, taste.

If you’re less fond of fruit salad, consider a salty finish, such as green olives, cocktail onions, pickled mushrooms, or blue cheese-stuffed olives.

Give It a Taste

The final step? Take a sip of your drink, smile, sigh contentedly, and don’t forget to tip your hard-working bartender.

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