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. One of the classic cocktail recipes everyone should know.

Brandy Old Fashioned

5 from 1 vote
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.

Prep: 3 mins
Total: 3 mins

Servings: 1 cocktail

Ingredients
  

  • 1 raw sugar cube or 1/2 teaspoon raw turbinado sugar
  • 6 quick dashes bitters
  • 2 orange slices divided
  • 2 maraschino cherries divided
  • Ice
  • 2 ounces brandy
  • 1 splash lemon-lime soda
  • 1 splash club soda or additional lemon-lime soda

Instructions
 

  • 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.
  • 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.

Notes

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.

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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 ½-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.

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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  1. 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 :)

  2. 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!

    1. Thanks so much Jim! It’s great to hear from someone who appreciates the city as much as we do (despite the weather). Cheers!

  3. 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.

    1. 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 :-)

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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. 

  8. Awww I know the feeling of leaving the place that have been a part of you is really heart breaking. Just think that it will be a new beginning for you and just think that this is not a forever goodbye. You should always think that you can come back to this place if not very soon, someday in your busy life. Btw thanks for sharing your Brandy old fashioned recipe.5 stars

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