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Wisconsin crowns the brandy old fashioned as the official state cocktail


How do you mix an old fashioned? Almost anywhere in the world, the answer is simple - whiskey, bitters and sugar with a citrus twist, unless you are in, say, Madison, Milwaukee or Oshkosh.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Wisconsin brandy old fashioneds.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The Wisconsin old fashioned.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: In Wisconsin, you don't call it a Wisconsin old fashioned. It's just an old fashioned.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Wisconsin brandy old fashioned.


As YouTube bartenders will tell you, in Wisconsin, brandy replaces whiskey. The drink is customizable and can be topped with lemon-lime soda, sour mix or club soda.

SHAPIRO: According to Jeanette Hurt, author of the book - yes, a full book - called "Wisconsin Cocktails," the drink may be garnished with a cherry.


JEANETTE HURT: Or do you want olives or pickled onions or pickled mushrooms? There's no wrong answer to this question.

CHANG: That Hurt's TEDx talk on the subject. She's dug through the drink's history and says its origins are quite practical. Apparently, shipments of grain to Europe meant there was a lot of bad booze going around.


HURT: Tavern owners were cited for putting bad booze into good booze bottles.

SHAPIRO: Until the state's liquor distributors caught wind of a cache of good brandy and bought it all up.


HURT: We started drinking our way through all those brandy barrels. There were 30,000 barrels that came gushing into our state at one time. That's enough to fill 2 1/2 Olympic-sized pools. We were swimming in good brandy.

SHAPIRO: And if you're a frugal pub owner, you can't let that go to waste.


HURT: Cheers.


CHANG: Well, recently, Wisconsin lawmakers voted on a resolution declaring the brandy old fashioned as the official state cocktail. I didn't know there was such a thing.


RYAN CLANCY: Mr. Speaker, I am stirred to speak today.

SHAPIRO: Representative Ryan Clancy is a fan of the brandy sweet old fashioned, but he has thoughts on acceptable garnishes.


CLANCY: The authors here suggested that savory garnishes such as olives and cocktail onions are acceptable in an old fashioned. They are not. That is an abomination, Mr. Speaker. Tolerance and acceptance can only go so far.

CHANG: I still think that's gross. The bipartisan resolution was approved, and if lawmakers in Wisconsin can clink glasses across the aisle, maybe there's hope for the rest of us.

SHAPIRO: I'll drink to that.

CHANG: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MAREN MORRIS SONG, "GOLD LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.