The Spirited Traveller: Quenching an Old Fashioned thirst in Madison, Wisconsin

Mon Jan 30, 2012 6:27am EST

An ''Old Fashioned'' cocktail is pictured in this undated handout photo coutesy of brandy maker Korbel. REUTERS/Handout

An ''Old Fashioned'' cocktail is pictured in this undated handout photo coutesy of brandy maker Korbel.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

(Reuters.com) - "As far as cocktails go, the Old Fashioned cocktail is not only the iconic drink of Madison, it's the drink of Wisconsin," says Brian Ellison, president of Middleton, WI based Death's Door Spirits.

Usually, the classic Old Fashioned is made with bourbon or rye, sweetened with sugar and crushed fruit. But in Wisconsin, the brandy Old Fashioned is king. And in its capital, Madison, there are plenty of versions from which to choose.

Why brandy? According to writer and Wisconsin native Robert Simonson, brandy has been the Badger State's favourite tipple as far back as 1893, when California's Korbel Brothers introduced their brandy at the Columbian Expo in Chicago. The mild spirit spread quickly throughout the Midwest, and neighbouring Wisconsin soon became Korbel's best customer. Korbel still is the brand most often called for in a Brandy Old Fashioned.

Ellison says the version at the members-only Madison Club (<www.madisonclub.org/>) is among his favourites, particularly for "serious" business occasions. This stately institution has some serious ‘locavore' chops; the bulk of their produce is from less than 50 miles away, and they have their own programmes with farmers to raise beef, lamb, chicken and pigs. The drinks focus on boozy classics, including the brandy-based Madison Club Old Fashioned (drink recipe below).

Meanwhile, other options include Merchant (<www.merchantmadison.com/>), which Ellison describes as "one part corner grocery, one part restaurant and one part bar" (and which makes apple brandy Old Fashioneds), and Graze (<grazemadison.com/>), located in the lobby of Tenney Plaza across the street from the state capitol building.

At Graze, "the cocktails are not to be missed, with a focus on light and invigorating drinks with local ingredients like kombucha, fresh apple cider and house-made syrups."

Another option is to treat an out-of-town guest to dinner at one of the state's storied supper clubs - which are more inclusive than the speakeasy-style name might suggest. Ellison's pick is the Tornado Steak House (<www.tornadosteakhouse.com/>), where the fare runs to steaks and Wisconsin trout. After all, Ellison concludes, "Friday nights in Wisconsin means having fish fry at a supper club and drinking an Old Fashioned."

RECIPE: The Madison Club Old Fashioned

(Courtesy of The Madison Club)

Although whiskey is the classic spirit for the cocktail, Wisconsin drinkers are notorious for making their Old-Fashioneds with brandy instead. Cocktail purists will bristle at the addition of club soda or lemon-lime soda, but this is a common option in Wisconsin bars ("Old Fashioned, sweet"), as is the addition of sour mix ("Old Fashioned, sour").

2 kirsch-soaked wild Morello Cherries, plus a teaspoon of the cherry juice

1 orange slice

1 sugar cube

2 good dashes of Angostura Bitters

3 ounces brandy

Club soda or 7-Up (optional)

In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle the fruit, sugar cube and bitters. Add brandy and ice, and stir lightly. Top with club soda (substitute 7-Up if a sweeter drink is desired). Garnish with Morello cherry and an orange slice.

(Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails", available <here>. The opinions expressed are her own.) (Editing by Peter Myers)