By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Mar 19, 2024 at 11:01 AM

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The Old Fashioned is arguably the most iconic cocktail in history. It’s also among the simplest with an ingredient list that is traditionally composed of just four ingredients: spirits, water, sugar and bitters.

A brief history

An evolution of the “Whiskey Cocktail” (whiskey, sugar, bitters, water), the name Old Fashioned was coined as bars began to embellish their Whiskey Cocktails with various liqueurs. Stalwarts, who preferred the simple version, began to ask for an “Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail” to distinguish it from the newfangled creations. 

Enter Prohibition. Suddenly muddled oranges, cherries (and sometimes even pineapple) were added to the drink, making it fruitier and less spirit-forward. Wisconsin native, “New York Times” columnist and noted cocktail historian Robert Simonson notes that some theorize that the fruit was added to mask the foul flavor of Prohibition-era whiskey. Others believe that the Old Fashioned became confused with other drinks that utilized fruit.

As for the distinctive Wisconsin Old Fashioned, which is made with brandy (and a less easily explained splash of soda), the story might well begin with the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition where Korbel Brandy was first introduced (among a variety of brands). The domestic spirits quickly became popular in Wisconsin where citizens of German and Polish ancestry were appreciative of the spirit they had enjoyed in their home countries. It’s no accident that Wisconsinites remain the top consumers of Korbel in the nation.

Fast forward to World War II when many distilleries shuttered due to both grain stores and men being sent overseas. As the story goes, during these lean times, a group of Wisconsin liquor distributors came across 30,000 cases of pre-war brandy, which they snatched up and sold to bars in Wisconsin. Since the brandy was far superior to the other shoddy “bathtub” spirits being made at the time, many bars switched over to making a variety of cocktails with brandy. That included the Old Fashioned, which (even in Wisconsin) had formerly been a whiskey-based cocktail.

Today, in a nation where most states serve Old Fashioneds made with whiskey, sugar, water and bitters, Wisconsin still stands out in its defiance of convention: building brandy-based cocktail with muddled sugar, bitters, fruit and a splash of soda that can be ordered sweet, sour or as a press.

Whichever version of the cocktail you prefer, here are 10 spots that make an Old Fashioned worth trying.


Reyker Old FashionedX

2300 N. Mayfair Rd., Wauwatosa, (414) 867-9200

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Order the Reykr Old Fashioned at Eldr+Rime and you’ll get a complex, spirit-forward drink with a hint of smoke and spice. Their smoked version of the classic is made with High West American Prairie bourbon, Dewar’s Scotch, Angostura bitters, cardamom bitters and demerara syrup.

Hawthorne Coffee Roasters

Hawthorne Old Fashioned
Hawthorne Old Fashioned (Photo: Hawthorne Coffee Roasters)

4177 S. Howell Ave., (414) 331-1382

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If you love coffee as much as you love an Old Fashioned, you’ll love the complexity that ensues in drinks like the Hawthorne Old Fashioned. Made with Old Forester Bourbon, sugar and bitters and topped with Hawthorne original cold brew coffee, the drink offers up complex chocolate, fruit and bitter notes from the coffee that mingle with the vanilla and caramel notes in the bourbon. Get yours for $1 off during their Friday happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Or stop by for more cocktail selections every Saturday!

Prefer not to drink? Order their zero-proof version, the Cold (Brew) Fashioned, featuring Hawthorne bourbon barrel-aged cold brew, sugar and bitters. It’s a pick-me-up cocktail you can enjoy anytime of the day.

The Lafayette Place

The Brunch Old FashionedX

1978 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 231-3030

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Speaking of coffee-infused Old Fashioneds, there’s another winner at The Lafayette Place, which serves up a slightly different take that they call the Brunch Old Fashioned. Made with bourbon and a house syrup comprised of Anodyne cold brew and sugar, this breakfast and brunch-worthy drink also incorporates the oh-so-Wisconsin elements of muddled cherries, oranges, Angostura bitters and a splash of Sprite. 

It’s delicious alongside their “Cheesy” Hash featuring house potatoes and roasted vegetables under a shroud of housemade chorizo, melted cheese, avocado and chipotle sauce, plus a side of toast.

The New Fashioned

Old Fashioned Flight
Old Fashioned Flight (Photo: The New Fashioned)

1122 Vel R. Phillips Ave., (414) 939-8592

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Not sure exactly what you like? Milwaukee’s newest eatertainment venue, The New Fashioned, has your number. Their self-pour wall features 50 options, including four Old Fashioned variations. Why settle for one when you can try them all just like a flight?

Choices include:

  • The Wisco Old Fashioned: Korbel Brandy, Bittercube Orange Bitters, simple syrup and Sprite
  • Berrens Brandy Cherry Old Fashioned: Berens Brandy, Travis Hasse Cherry Pie, orange simple syrup, Angostura Bitters and soda
  • The Fig & Blood Orange Old Fashioned: Bulleit Bourbon, Fruitful Blood Orange, Frutiful Fig, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, Angostura Bitters and chocolate bitters
  • Northern WI Hibiscus Old Fashioned: Drink Wisconsinbly Brandy, hibiscus syrup, Angostura Bitters, Bittercube Orange Bitters

Von Trier

Von Trier Old FashionedX

2235 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 272-1775

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These days, shortcuts for everything are commonplace. But there’s something special about those bars where the bartenders begin making an Old Fashioned with sugar (often a sugar cube) and two dashes of bitters. Not only does it pay homage to the history of the drink; it’s a time-tested method that’s well worth the extra effort. 

One such place is Von Trier, where drinks are done up the (proper) Wisconsin way, beginning with a sugar cube and bitters, muddled fruit and Korbel Brandy. The drinks are delicious on their own, but close to perfection when enjoyed alongside their equally worthwhile Friday fish fry.


Una Old FashionedX

4410 W. Forest Home Ave. 
Una Bar on Facebook
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Una takes the classic Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned to a new height. They begin by putting the bitters in the glass and lighting them on fire, which adds an aromatic element. From there, the cocktail is muddled, iced, shaken and poured into a glass before being topped off with sweet or sour soda.  It’s perfect with a side of bar dice.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.