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Anecdotally speaking, Wisconsinites know that we consume large amounts of brandy – mostly due to the state's signature cocktail, the brandy Old Fashioned. Upon investigation, we found that Wisconsin alone imports 50 percent of Korbel's brandy, according to California-based Korbel, the top brandy maker in the United States.
"Wisconsin is our number one state and responsible for more than half of our brandy sales," says Margie Healy, director of public relations for the California-based Korbel. "We sold 272,869 cases of Korbel Brandy in 2019 and 148,041 of those cases were sold in Wisconsin. Again, this is HALF of our total production."
Healy says California is a distant second in brandy consumption followed by Minnesota, Kentucky and Florida.
Brandy refers to a spirit that has been distilled from wine or another fermented fruit juice. Aged brandy made in the Cognac region of France is appropriately-named Cognac.
Brandy is also a coveted liqueur in California, but most West Coast drinkers enjoy it straight up in a snifter, whereas Wisconsinites usually mix it into a cocktail. Such as the Manhattan, another favorite among local brandy drinkers, but like the Old Fashioned is often made with whiskey in other states.
Brandy's popularity in Wisconsin started when a large number of German immigrants moved here in the 19th century and couldn't find their favorite drink, brandewijn. This prompted Korbel to start distilling for the public in 1889.
Small-batch local distilleries produce – or have produced – brandy, too. Great Lakes Distillery has a Brightwoods Apple Brandy and an artisan series of fruit brandy; Central Standard Craft Distillery offers a North Wisconsin Brandy; and SoulBoxer Cocktail Co. has a ready-to-pour brandy Old Fashioned.
It's easy to speculate that the long winters are partially responsible for Wisconsin's high consumption of brandy. "Our sales in Wisconsin are considerably stronger in the winter than in the summer," says Healy.
And to an extent, location determines brandy's popularity. The common belief that brandy is a popular "Up North" drink is factual according to Korbel sales.
"We are strong in both the big cities and small towns, but the really hardcore Korbel fans tend to come from small towns," says Healy.
Aside from brandy Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, numerous hot drinks are popular here, including the brandy Alexander (also served cold as an after-dinner drink) and the hot toddy. These drinks are believed by some to reduce the effects of colds and flus. Plus, in Wisconsin, a shot of brandy (or two) pairs well with a cup of coffee.
Brandy is also the unofficial house drink at supper clubs. Although there are fewer supper clubs today than there were 50 years ago, many are still alive and well, serving as many brandy Old Fashioneds as they are relish trays and plates of prime rib.
"Wisconsinites love Korbel and Korbel loves Wisconsin – all the way from California," says Healy.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.