A few days ago, I read in The New York Times that the old-fashioned (the hyphen is matter of choice) is back. For those of us who live in Wisconsin, the natural response to such a story was: when did it go away?
The old fashioned is Wisconsin’s drink of choice, the official unofficial state cocktail, drunk anytime, but especially on fish fry Friday. Heck, we even have a restaurant called the Old Fashioned, and the drink can be found in bars all over the state. Wisconsinites prefer theirs with brandy rather than bourbon, though recipes for the drink vary considerably. Sweet or sour. Seltzer or 7-Up. Bourbon or rye whiskey. Some contain a veritable fruit salad of garnishes – a cherry, orange slices, pineapple – while others omit the fruit entirely.
Old fashioneds date to the 19th century and were first described as a combination of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. Some called for lemon and cherries in place of the sugar. The drink reached its height of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before Prohibition did the old fashioned, like many other cocktails, in.
Wisconsinites have preferred brandy since the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where the Korbel Brothers first introduced their drink. It spread throughout the Midwest, gaining a following in Wisconsin it never lost. Korbel is still the most common brand in a Wisconsin old fashioned.
Wisconsin’s version of the drink may not be the one that’s become suddenly fashionable in craft cocktail bars all over the country. But it is a drink with a long history and tradition here that the rest of the country just seems to be waking up to again.