Gone are the days of cloyingly sweet malt-based beverages and wine "coolers." In 2019, canned cocktails are quickly becoming the easiest way to enjoy a well-crafted drink without ever stepping foot in a bar.
And one Wisconsin-based purveyor has created a canned cocktail that will explicitly appeal to residents and ex-pats of the Dairy State: a Wisconsin-style brandy old fashioned.
Plain Spoke Cocktail Co.’s canned Brandy Old Fashioned is slated to hit the shelves at a variety of local retailers later this week with a suggested retail price of $12.99 for a four-pack of 200ml cans.
"You can’t get more classic than an Old Fashioned," says Tom Dufek, co-founder of Plain Spoke Cocktail Co. "And there’s nothing more Wisconsin than a brandy old fashioned. We’re very excited to share one of our iconic state drinks with the rest of the Midwest."
Canning a Wisconsin classic
Dufek, who launched his career in the food and beverage industry in Milwaukee before branching out to lead the cocktail programs at both Merchant and Lucille in Madison, Wisconsin, says he founded the company explicitly "to replicate the experience folks have in a great cocktail bar, but present it in more of a convenient package."
In the case of the Brandy Old Fashioned, he spent the better part of six months dialing in the recipe, asking questions like: How do you mimic the muddled nature of the drink? And how do you make something that your grandfather would be proud of and that younger drinkers would gravitate toward?
"I don’t want to be known as the guy who messed up the brandy old fashioned," he says. So we really took care in terms of how we approached the recipe. With every cocktail we’ve made, we’ve always tried to stay as true as possible to the original, to really do the cocktail justice."
In the end, he created a warming blend of 24-30-month aged California brandy, lemon-lime sparkling seltzer, pure cane sugar and Bittercube Trinity Bitters, an all-purpose bitters blend with subtle citrus and floral aromas and complex flavors of oak, dried fruits and vanilla.
"Overall, you’re going to get all the expected citrus notes," he says, "Including lemon, lime and orange. Those get rounded out nicely with the warmth of the brandy, and the drink finishes with really nice warm notes from the bitters … one of the things I like about the Trinity bitters is that it underscores the citrus, but it also has all these great warming baking spices and dried fruits."
Dufek admits he bucked tradition by steering away from Angostura bitters in favor of Bittercube’s Trinity Bitters, a blend of Cherry Bark Vanilla, Orange and Bolivar bitters.
"We really wanted to use a local bitters company, and Bittercube’s Trinity is perfect for an old fashioned," he says. "It’s the bitters I always used when I was making old fashioneds at Merchant and Lucille’s."
The Brandy Old Fashioned is the fourth canned cocktail in Plain Spoke’s growing portfolio, which currently includes the Moscow Mule, Bourbon Smash and Mojito, canned cocktails which have set themselves apart thanks to Plain Spoke’s commitment to using high quality ingredients including pure cane sugar and real citrus juices.
"Our name is derived from the fact that we’re from the Midwest where quality, simplicity, and honesty go hand-in-hand-in-hand," says Dufek. "And because we’re rooted in Wisconsin, it’s really natural that we embrace the culture here and the midwestern heritage that we share."
Plain Spoke Cocktail Co., which was founded in 2018, currently has distribution in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay and the Twin Cities, with markets like Eau Claire, Wausau and Steven’s Point on the way.
The canned Brandy Old Fashioned will be available beginning later this week at retailers including Sendik’s, Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative, Ray’s Wine & Spirits, Total Wine and Woodman’s.
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.