Wisconsin snubs bourbon by elevating brandy old fashioned to state cocktail status

A brandy old fashioned is displayed on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023 in Madison, Wis.  Wisconsin lawmakers were set to approve a resolution declaring the brandy old fashioned as the official state cocktail on Thursday.  In most places other than Wisconsin, the old fashioned is made with whiskey, not brandy. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)
A brandy old fashioned is displayed on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023 in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin lawmakers were set to approve a resolution declaring the brandy old fashioned as the official state cocktail on Thursday. In most places other than Wisconsin, the old fashioned is made with whiskey, not brandy. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. -- In Wisconsin, the old fashioned cocktail comes with brandy, not bourbon.

Now, state lawmakers are making it somewhat official.

A bipartisan resolution declaring the brandy old fashioned as the official Wisconsin state cocktail won approval Thursday in the state Assembly.

It's a resolution, not a bill, so even if passed by the Senate the brandy old fashioned won't make it onto the list of other official state symbols that include milk as the official beverage, kringle as the official pastry, and corn as the official grain. Getting that level of recognition, enshrined in the state's "Blue Book," requires introduction of a bill, a public hearing and then the signature of the governor.

Only two states have gone that far: both Alabama and Virginia have whiskey as their official state spirit.

Some efforts to declare official state symbols in Wisconsin, like Colby as the official cheese, have run into opposition. The Colby proposal, around since 2019, has been shredded by those concerned that naming just one official cheese would hurt the sales, or reputation, of others.

But the old fashioned resolution will have a much smoother path. Because it is a resolution, and not a bill, it carries no weight of law. The Legislature can adopt it without a hearing or any public input.

So far this year, the Assembly has passed more than two dozen resolutions for everything from condemning the Hamas attack on Israel to proclaiming June as dairy month.

For the unfamiliar, the old fashioned cocktail in just about every place other than Wisconsin is traditionally made with a whiskey, like bourbon, sugar and bitters.

But in Wisconsin, brandy usually replaces whiskey -- and it's most often poured over a mixture of muddled cherries, orange slices, sugar and bitters. Depending on how sweet or sour the imbiber likes it, the concoction is then topped with a lemon-lime soft drink, sour mix, club soda, or some combination.

It is typically garnished with a cocktail cherry and orange slice, but is also sometimes served with olives, pickled mushrooms and even pickled brussels sprouts.

Democratic Rep. Ryan Clancy, in a pun-filled and lighthearted speech, said that adding savory ingredients to an old fashioned, like pickled vegetables, is an "abomination" that should be a felony offense.

"I felt stirred to speak today as a father, as a bartender, as an American," Clancy said. "I need to be on record as saying there is only one acceptable style of drink -- the brandy sweet old fashioned."

The Wisconsin variation came about post-World War II when liquor distributors in Wisconsin found a cache of around 30,000 cases of quality brandy that they sold, which became more popular than the bad whiskey that was sold during the war, according to the book "Wisconsin Cocktails."

"How have we not done this before -- passed a resolution making the brandy old fashioned the state cocktail," said the measure's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jon Plumer before the vote. "There's a thousand things in the state of Wisconsin that make us special, and this is just one of them."

Plumer said that skeptics of the brandy old fashioned shouldn't knock it until they try it.

"For you whiskey folks, I'm sorry if you're offended," he said to laughter during debate.

photo A brandy old fashioned is displayed on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023 in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin lawmakers were set to approve a resolution declaring the brandy old fashioned as the official state cocktail on Thursday. In most places other than Wisconsin, the old fashioned is made with whiskey, not brandy. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

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