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Exploring Wisconsin Culture with Rock Bottom Milwaukee

Downtown restaurant offers a new take on the state's classic cocktail, the Old Fashioned.

By - Dec 31st, 2019 11:09 am
A new take on the Wisconsin Old Fashioned. Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery adds a Root Beer Old Fashioned to its menu. Photo courtesy of Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery.

A new take on the Wisconsin Old Fashioned. Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery adds a Root Beer Old Fashioned to its menu.

From an iconic beer culture to Bloody Marys with all the fixings, Wisconsin takes its drinking seriously. Maybe the most intriguing of the state’s signature beverages is the Old Fashioned — with brandy, of course. This supper club staple may be experiencing a comeback nationwide, but in Wisconsin, it never left — and the reason why may surprise you.

The Wisconsin Old Fashioned

Traditionally an Old Fashioned consists of whiskey, bitters, and sugar — but Wisconsinites have their own traditions, starting with brandy.

Wisconsin’s love affair with brandy goes back before prohibition to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. German immigrants settled in Milwaukee traveled in droves to Chicago to experience the wonders the fair had promised and there, found exactly what they’d been looking for.

The Korbel brothers came from the West Coast slinging bottles of brandy, a sweet, typically European spirit that hadn’t quite infiltrated American culture. For the new Milwaukeeans in attendance, the Korbel brothers’ drink was a welcome taste of home. Before long, brandy was a regular replacement for other liquors in mixed drinks — which is how it ended up in our Old Fashioneds.

Another quirk, Wisconsin Old Fashioneds include a wash — that is, a sweet or sour soda mixer — and muddled orange and cherry, a riff that traces back to prohibition, when low-quality alcohol necessitated stronger, sugary mixers to make the drink bearable.

Tasty and potent, the recipe stuck. Today, Wisconsinites tout their preferences with pride. “I’m a brandy sweet drinker, through and through,” said Marie Howard, a lifelong Wisconsin resident. “Add the cherry garnish and you’ve got a perfect drink.”

Cocktails and Community

It makes sense that 100 years after turning the Old Fashioned into something new and distinct, Wisconsin bars and restaurants continue to serve up creative takes on the beloved classic.

Jill Mirate, General Manager of Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery Milwaukee, loves honoring Wisconsin traditions in unconventional ways. “Wisconsinites have always been rulebreakers, and they can appreciate something creative and offbeat,” said Mirate. “That adventurous attitude makes the whole thing fun.”

Today, Rock Bottom Milwaukee is mixing it up with its new Root Beer Old Fashioned. Made with Wild Turkey Bourbon, root beer and orange bitters, this cocktail is sure to warm you up and satisfy your sweet tooth. Pair it with the Kolsch-battered fish and chips, and you’ll be feasting on a remixed Wisconsin classic.

Right in the heart of downtown, Rock Bottom Milwaukee carries not only the state’s official beverage, but also the distinct spirit of camaraderie found in every supper club, corner bar and neighborhood restaurant in the 414. This winter, cozy up with friends over dark, rich craft beers, seasonal cocktails, and hearty American fare — and if you’re old fashioned about your Old Fashioneds, don’t fret. The Milwaukee staple is available year-round in all its classic glory.

“At the end of the day, it’s as much about community as it is Old Fashioneds, fish frys or any other Milwaukee tradition,” Mirate said.

Rock Bottom Milwaukee offers an extended happy hour Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m., an ever-changing craft beer list and a warm, inviting atmosphere made for friends, loved ones, and plenty of Old Fashioneds.

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