Brandy Old Fashioned {a farewell to Madison, WI}

Today, I’m packing the last three years of my life into a U-Haul and saying goodbye to a city that’s become a part of me. I’ll have tissue in one hand and a Brandy Old Fashioned in the other.

Brandy Old Fashioned. One of the classic cocktail recipes everyone should know.I can’t believe how attached I’ve become to Madison, Wisconsin. Three years ago when Ben decided to go to law school here, I pitched an unladylike fit. Why on earth would I leave my career and friends in the Twin Cities to still be a) in the Midwest and b) cold, but without c) a job or d) friends. These ABCs didn’t read for me, and I cried at least five times during the weekend we looked for apartments.

Fast forward three years, and all I need to make me an official City of Madison greeter, tour guide, and PR champion #1 is a sticker (shiny gold please) and an official-looking name badge. “Erin Clarke,” it would read. “Madison Enthusiast Extraordinaire.”

Lake Mendota Sunset

I’m not entirely sure how or when I became obsessed with this city, only that it snuck up on me. Somewhere between weekly trips to the largest producers-only farmers market in the country (conveniently located two minutes from our front door), morning runs that look like this, sunsets like the one pictured above, and writing almost everyone of my warm-weather blog posts on our apartment building’s rooftop, drink in hand, I fell in love. The endless baskets of fried cheese curds didn’t hurt either.

{PS. If you’ve never had a friend cheese curd, imagine a warm, heavenly pillow of cheese melting on your tongue as angels sing triumphantly, except 1,000x better and not weird. Sorry, Culver’s do not count. I’m a curd snob.}

Madison is also the city that introduced me to the Old Fashioned, a cocktail that has been around since the 19th century, yet was tragically missing from my life until I moved to Wisconsin. The Old Fashioned also encapsulates my experience in Madison: it begins with a muddle and is sweet, bitter, and smooth all at the same time.

Brandy Old Fashioned - Classic cocktail recipeOK, the “smooth” was wishful thinking—I’m a bit more bumbling—but let’s go with it.

I’m not sure about the rest of the state, but in Madison, Old Fashioneds are a Big Deal, and no matter which bar you enter, chances are that they pour a good one. While there are a few ways to order an Old Fashioned, all of them begin with a sugar cube muddled with bitters and orange, followed by soda and a generous pour of booze. Whiskey is traditional (and satisfying), but here in Wisconsin, the classic recipe is with brandy. It’s warm, buttery, and the sort of drink you would order in a wood-paneled bar from a plaid-clad guy named Pete.

Brandy Old Fashioned. One cocktail everyone should know.I based today’s Brandy Old Fashioned recipe off of the Madison bar I believe pours them the best, a restaurant appropriately named “The Old Fashioned.” Ben and I practically live in this restaurant—it’s two blocks from our house, and we go at least twice a month. I’ve watched (and sipped) many a Brandy Old Fashioned here, and after a good amount of at-home experimentation, I believe I’ve nailed it.

The Old Fashioned has an entire page of their cocktail list devoted to different iterations of the drink, but today’s recipe is my no-fuss favorite: press with Korbel brandy. “Press” means topping with a mix of regular and lemon-lime soda, and Korbel is a reliable friend that offers consistency and quality, without breaking the bank.

Brandy Old Fashioned. A classic cocktail recipe everyone should know.To Madison: the city where I fell in love with Wisconsin, converted 50% of my wardrobe to plaid, realized I feel more complete near water, began my marriage (and a food blog), and made dear friends I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Cheers!

Brandy Old Fashioned

Wisconsin’s version of the classic Old Fashioned cocktail, made with Brandy. Smooth and satisfying, this drink is a must-add to your home bar list.

Yield: 1 cocktail

Prep Time: 3 minutes

Total Time: 3 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 raw sugar cube or 1/2 teaspoon raw turbinado sugar
  • 6 quick dashes bitters
  • 2 oranges slice, divided
  • 2 maraschino cherries, divided
  • Ice
  • 2 ounces brandy
  • 1 splash lemon-lime soda
  • 1 splash club soda (or additional lemon-lime soda)

Directions:

  1. Place sugar cube in the bottom of serving glass a rocks glass is traditional and feels cool. Sprinkle with bitters, then add an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.
  2. Add a few ice cubes to each glass, then top with brandy and a splash of lemon-lime soda and club soda. Stir gently to combine, then garnish with remaining orange slice and cherry. Enjoy immediately.

A true “press” style cocktail is 1/2 lemon-lime, 1/2 regular soda, but for simplicity, all lemon-lime soda (my preference) or all club soda can be used.

If you are ever in Madison, these are a few of our favorite places and spaces.

  • The Old Fashioned. Home of the city’s best fried cheese curds (order the paprika and tiger blue dipping sauces), best old fashioned, and honest Wisconsin fare (the #35 is my regular pick. #41 is Ben’s). They have a mighty beer list, 100% of which hail from WI.
  • Graze. My favorite restaurant for every birthday and anniversary. Order the spicy bibimbap, smashing $21 burger (worth it), fried pickles (mandatory) and any one of their constantly changing craft cocktails.
  • Sardine. French bistro with the best mussels + fries in the city, lake view, and a fabulous brunch too. Also, I just feel fancy when I eat here. That’s my pal Cedric behind the bar. Ask him to recommend a rosé.
    Sardine
  • Salvatores Tomatoes Pies. Best pizza I have ever eaten outside of Italy. Tucked away in a suburban strip mall, this place defines hidden gem.
  • Brasserie V. Killer Belgian beer list, some of which hit nearly 11% ABV.
  • Tipsy Cow. Monday night 1/2-price truffle fries are a regular fixture in our lives. Always excellent beer list.
  • The Cooper’s Tavern. More good beer, excellent soft pretzels with beer cheese, and hearty Irish fare with a gourmet twist.
  • Jacs Dining and Tap House. Again, I love the beer here (believe it or not, all of these places offer a little something different). Ben’s favorite burger (the Bourbon Burger).
  • Alchemy. Incredible sweet potato fries and my favorite burger (the Tinshack Smokehouse Bison Burger).
  • Fresco. Feel fancy sipping your cocktail with a rooftop view of the city. The gnocchi rocks my socks and is discounted on Thursday night.
  • The Dane County (Downtown Madison) Farmers Market. My heaven on earth.

Madison Farmers Market

Spotted Cow Cheers at the UW TerraceSee you again soon, dear friend.

About Erin Clarke

I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, lover of bourbon, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN...

85 comments

  1. This is such a lovely post.
    So, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of the Midwest. I’ve been here 3 years, and I can’t wait to go back to the left coast, BUT you make me like the Midwest. There really is great food and beer out here, plus the nicest people ever.
    We’re going to have to make a trip back to Madison together some day ;)

  2. Madison is the best, your beer at The Terrace says it all. And fried cheese curds? The. Best. and worth every calorie! Good luck with your move.

  3. This makes me miss living in Madison! I went to law school there too and now live in Milwaukee suburbs (which I LOVE), but every time I’m in Madison for work I want to move back to my little one room apartment near the square where I could walk to everything.

  4. Those photos are gorgeous! Good luck with the move!!!

  5. Bittersweet moment for sure but you have a ton of memories of Madison. Good luck with the move and make sure you have plenty of drinks on hand.

  6. Cheers to a new beginning, friend! Good luck with the move and everything!! xoxo

  7. Girl don’t you worry, there are a few good Old Fashioneds to be had here in Milwaukee! Also, let’s get that girl Christina to visit us both in MKE, deal?! : )

  8. Awe, loved your farewell, and how perfect that it is with an old fashioned…a cocktail that I have come to love. I agree with Abby, there are quite a few good spots to get amazing cocktails & food here in Milwaukee {a city I think you’ll fall in love with…and there just so happens to be a pretty rockin’ farmers market right by my house, so we’ll have to go together!!} Hope your move goes well, let me know if you need any help, and loved your suggestions in Madison, good thing it’s only a little drive away, I feel like I need to go there and try some of the places I haven’t yet!

    • I can’t wait to get your recommendations (and to hang out!) A round of old fashioneds is definitely in order, and I’d love to see your market too. Thanks for giving me something to look forward to in a new city :)

  9. On to new adventures, CONGRATS! But I can totally see why you’ll miss that sweet little town. I’d have to say Graze had some STELLAR fried cheese curds. I’m digging your cocktail, next time I’m rolling out to try the Old Fashioned for myself.

    • Heidi, Graze’s curds are INCREDIBLE! (My second favorite, hands down.) I mean, they are so dang huge and cheesy—what’s not to love? Definitely give The Old Fashioned a shot next time you are in town. It’s worth it for “research” purposes alone :)

  10. Such a lovely post! I feel sad, almost like I’m leaving Madison with you….in a totally non-weird way. There are so many great new adventures ahead of you!! Good luck with the move!

  11. Cheers to the next chapter Erin!!! also cheers to soon being a Lawyer’s Wife :) xoxxoxo

  12. moves are so bittersweet, aren’t they? good luck with the move!

  13. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!! Old Fashioneds are at every family event on my husbands side of the family. They prefer theirs more sour with an olive instead of a cherry. Love a few of your dining recommendations. I am sure you will love your new adventure, and you are only an hour away!

    • I love sour ones too Erin! Your family has great taste :) Thanks so much for your kind wishes, and let me know when you are back—it’s only an hour, and I’m planning to visit often!

  14. Now I have to visit Madison! Good luck with your move!

  15. I’ve been to Madison once before and I remember thinking that it was just the coolest little town! Definitely a place that I wouldn’t mind living! Except I did go in the winter time and it was freeeeezing :) Good luck on the new adventure! Where are you headed?

  16. It’s funny how cities become part of who we are. It’s so great you had a chance to experience Madison!
    I’ll drink right along with you. Old-fashioneds are the best!

  17. I love this post and feel both sad and excited for you. Hooray for unexpected surprises and new adventures!

  18. Love this post. Both sad and excited for you. Yeah for new adventures! And double yeah for Old Fashions!

  19. You definitely hit on some of the best that Madison has to offer in this post! And this brandy old fashioned recipe is spot on. Good luck with your new adventures in Milwaukee :)

  20. Erin,
    I’m so bummed we couldn’t meet up on Monday. . but hopefully I will see you in October! :) best wishes with the move. . Madison and I will miss you dearly. . thank you for this rad list of places to go. . as I still have not ventured out as much as I wish here in this fabulous city. Here’s to you, hoping there aren’t too many tears today and oh my gawd, I was wondering why I recently bought 2 plaid shirts?!

  21. Best of luck to you Erin and your hubby. You’ll have a great life and this is just another step to reaching it.

  22. Aww – such a wonderful tribute to the city of Madison and all your fav spots – I think you need to be given a key to the city or something!!!

  23. I know how hard it can be to leave Madison – we still miss it tons, after 4 1/2 years. Hope your move goes smoothly and that you get to come back lots for visits! We have a weekend in Madison coming up this fall, and I’m already plotting how to squeeze in as many of our old favorite restaurants as possible!

  24. Best wishes on your new adventure! And cheers to creating new memories and finding new favorites! Good luck on the move!

  25. I’ve never been to Madison, but from the way you describe it, I think we’d be friends! I looove a good Old Fashioned — always with bourbon for this girl, though! Best of luck with the move!

  26. Awww I love this post! I am a Mid West girl too and cannot wait to move back. Lived in the Twin Cities for 4 years and felt like I left my heart there so I understand how you feel. Madison will miss you but I hope your new place will become home soon. Good Luck on the move!!

  27. Isn’t the midwest the best? Thank goodness you’re moving to a town JUST as hip! I can’t wait to see where this next chapter takes you. Congratulations on everything – so much good!

  28. Oh so sorry to learn you are leaving.I only just found you.I told you how I began my marriage there back in 1969 when my husband began grad studies in English.It was a turbulent time back then.I loved Madison and the many friends we made.Never had an “Old Fashioned”there but I love that drink.I don’t recognize any of the places you mentioned but one of our favorites was “The Pink Poodle”on State Street.A great gatnering and “watering hole”after a hard day.Good luck to you and your new lawyer!!!!!!

    • Mary, so great to hear from you! I never found the Pink Poodle, but I absolutely love State Street. It was right by our place! Thanks so much for your kind wishes. It means the world!

  29. Awww, girl, I am so excited for you! I know it’s hard to leave the place you call home no matter where it may be, but I think Milwaukee will steal your heart just as Madison did. I’ll be toasting to you guys with one of these Old Fashioneds over here as you begin your new journey this week! :)

  30. Awww, this is the start of a great new adventure!! And what a way to send off!

  31. Heres Cheers to the next chapter of your life Erin. :) Cant wait to see what fun you get up too. Best of luck with the move. xox

  32. Good luck with your move and new adventures! This post was making me miss the midwest. Summer is the best. I’m getting excited to head back to Minneapolis this weekend (and of course get in a trip to the State Fair).

  33. Aaaw, this was such a lovely post. Good luck with the move Erin and hope it captures your heart with new memories :)

  34. I’ve found that living in new cities–while challenging and scary at first–have helped me to grow tremendously as a person. Leaving is always bittersweet, but you’ve got so much to look forward to! Hope you’ll be sharing new house updates. I love those!

    • Thank you so so much Trish! I feel the same way about moving. I didn’t want to go to Madison and fell in love. Here’s hoping it happens again!
      Also, house pics coming. It is a DISASTER right now, so once we have some order, I’ll certainly share :)

  35. I fell in love w Madison too! I went there for 4 weeks to Verona for Epic training and never wanted to leave! Thanks for the restaurant tips I will use them when I return in January. Best of luck and I love your blog!

  36. Good luck moving girly!!!!!! So sad to leave a place you’ve fallen in love with, but so exciting to start a new chapter!!

  37. Cheers to Madison!
    I am sad that I never made it up there to meet you at the farmer’s market.

    Where are you moving?
    Best of luck with all the excitement to come!

  38. I’ve been to Madison once… a long time ago, and remember it was such a great town. Sending good vibes your way for the big move!!!

  39. Ohhhh you lovely thing. Every new beginning heralds the end of a previous chapter (as per your initial introduction to Wisconsin!) and I am sure in a while, you’ll look back on happy Wisconsin days with a fresh appreciation for the next exciting era of your and Ben’s lives! I love an old fashioned, usually made with whisky instead of brandy, but I’d like to try this one whilst toasting to your move. I wish you both all the best and I will be praying for a smooth transition! Hugs and love xx

  40. I hope that your move went smoothly! A big change is always a bit scary but exciting… I kind of love the idea of starting somewhere new and fresh.

  41. I’ve never been to Madison before, but I’ve always oddly wanted to. Especially after this post! I hope the move went well. Maybe now Milwaukee needs to be on the list too :)

  42. Nice, Erin … you captured the Madison spirit! It is really a nice city, but for Jan to March! Wish we were there! But BOFS can be recreated most anywhere, thank goodness! Go Badgers!

  43. Hi Erin,

    I’m a native Sconnie who’s now living in Raleigh after 13 years in Salt Lake City. I’m a fairly experienced old fashioned drinker (yes, the rest of the state makes/drinks them – we’re from Stevens Point) and have had BOF orders met with: the utter lack/knowledge of the liquor we call brandy (Utah) and “You must be from Wisconsin” (North Carolina).

    I stumbled upon your post after searching for proof of the existence of a brandy old fashioned (Here in Carolina, whiskey is the only old fashioned) and it made us homesick. Then I went outside, where it’s currently 52, and I got better.

    Quick note: Your preferred OF is called “sweet”, which exists in addition to “press”, and “sour”, which is made with sour mix (lemon juice, sugar, and water) or, a lot of people just use Squirt.

    • Chris, it’s great to hear from a fellow brandy old-fashioned devotee! The bar I modeled my recipe from used a mix of soda and sprite for the press, but that’s interesting that you have a different definition. If I wander outside the state, I’ll know to specify. Thanks for your note and wishing you all the best! Please send some warmth to our way :-)

  44. So here I am, in lovely Madison, Wisconsin on the Northside near the airport… I’ve always loved Old Fashions (duh, I’m from Wisconsin), but I’m embarassed to say I HAVE NEVER MADE AN OLD FASHIONED!  Top search result?  Brandy Old Fashioned – An Ode to Madison, Wisconsin… I think I found my recipe book :) Going to Copps on Aberg to get the necessary ingredients and give this a shot!

  45. I’m from Green Bay, and we have a few twists on the Ol Fashioned that you might be interested in. First, we serve the OF in a pint glass. Second, we NEVER use orange peel (I remain convinced to this day that the orange peel has been snuck in by cocktail hipsters). Third, we usually don’t muddle the cherries, and instead eat them whole after the drink has been drunk. Fourthly, 2 oz of brandy is if you’ve had a good day; 4-6 oz is totally alright. Finally (and most importantly), we have the option of sweet (Sprite) or sour (50/50 or grapefruit soda). I highly encourange you to try the sour.

  46. Your blog post makes me SO happy! I was in undergrad in Madison from 1995-1999 and miss it to this day.  I live in Ann Arbor now and although it is a lovely place, it pales in comparison! I haven’t been back in a few years and will take your recommendations for my next visit! 
    Cheers!

  47. I still to this day would never put soda water in my old fashioned. Pressed orange peel bitters sugar stirred strain over ice. Hands down the best old fashioned you will have. If your going to put soda in it just order a jack and Coke. 

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