For most, whiskey or bourbon tends to be the spirit of choice when making the iconic cocktail known as an old fashioned. In Wisconsin, however, brandy has been the go-to alcohol for the alcoholic concoction for many years. There's an interesting history behind why it became a thing in the Badger State.
While it has long been known as a "Wisconsin thing", the Wisconsin State Legislature recently passed a joint resolution on the subject to add a little more "official-ness" to the subject. In a measure passed by both the Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate on November 9, 2023, the two bodies of government declared the brandy old fashioned the state cocktail of Wisconsin.
The measure, known as Joint Resolution 84 in the Senate and Joint Resolution 88 in the Assembly, walked through the components of a brandy old fashioned, the history behind how the variation came to be, and the declaration to (kind of) make it the state cocktail.
I mentioned that the measure makes it "kind of" the state beverage. This is because, as explained by WCCO TV, the Senate and Assembly approved the measure as a resolution, and not as a bill that would then go into law. This means it falls short of becoming an official state symbol like the official state animal (badger), state flower (wood violet) and state dance (polka).
What's in a brandy old fashioned?
The resolution explains that it traditionally is made up of muddled bitters, sugar, ice, and brandy, often including a soft drink (like 7Up or Sprite), sour mix, club soda, or some combination of the above.
The drinks are generally garnished with oranges or cherries (often also muddled into the beverage), but sometimes are served up with a savory garnish like olives, pickled mushrooms, or other pickled vegetables.
How did the brandy old fashioned become a thing in Wisconsin?
The joint resolution approved by the Wisconsin Legislature gets into the history of the brandy variation, when most people think of whiskey or bourbon as the core spirit in an old fashioned.
According to the resolution, distilleries in the United States temporarily stopped production after World War II to allow grain to be shipped to war-torn Europe to help a challenged food supply.
During that time, distilled spirits like whiskey and bourbon became harder to come by. As the story goes, brandy became popular in Wisconsin following the discovery and distribution of around 30,000 cases of aged Christian Brothers brandy in the Badger State.
As Wisconsinites substituted brandy for whiskey and other spirits in cocktails, the brandy old fashioned became a popular drink in the state. After distilleries got back to their normal production, brandy remained a popular choice in Wisconsin. How popular?
The resolution even goes on to explain that Wisconsin accounts for over half of Korbel's annual brandy sales in the United States. The resolution notes that over 150,000 cases of Korbel were purchased in the Badger State in 2019.
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Gallery Credit: Nick Cooper