State drink ‘Old Fashioned’ gives name to Madison restaurant

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Ice cubes clink musically in the cocktail’s condensation-coated glass.

A bright maraschino cherry orb over a citrus-rind smile winks from the rim.

An alluring brandy-and-bitters aroma makes the cocktail impossible to resist.

The Old Fashioned is the Badger state’s official cocktail — and where more appropriate to enjoy one than at The Old Fashioned, Madison’s supper-club-on-steroids that anchors the northwest corner of Capitol Square.

“I’ve been known to enjoy a few myself,” says Jennifer DeBolt, the bar and restaurant’s general manager. “There are so many layers of flavor and it’s well-balanced and not as boozy as a lot of cocktails.”

In Wisconsin, an Old Fashioned is made with brandy, not whiskey. Brandy is the Badger State’s signature on the drink, says De Bolt, a Watertown native.

The original cocktail

Using the word “cocktail” to describe an alcohol-based drink first occurred in the early 1800s in and around New York City. The neologism was used to describe the classic four-part blend of spirits, bitters, sugar and soda — or what we now call an Old Fashioned.

But why “Old”?

By the 1860s, additions to the drink such as orange curacao and absinthe became popular, but the original four-part cocktail eventually came back into vogue — as the Old Fashioned.

The first use of “Old Fashioned” as the name of a cocktail is said to have occurred in 1881 at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. That drink’s base was bourbon whiskey — still the basis for it throughout most of the world.

Making the state drink

The Old Fashioned bar offers seven varieties of an Old Fashioned, most of which are based in whiskies, making them like the original drink.

However, the house cocktail is pure Wisconsin — brandy and all.

Wisconsin’ signature cocktail is made in the following fashion:

• In a 12-ounce Old Fashioned (rocks) glass, add four dashes Angostura bitters, one stemmed maraschino cherry, one orange slice, one cube of raw brown sugar and a splash of 7 Up or comparable white soda. Muddle the ingredients.

• Fill the glass with ice and add 2 ounces of Korbel brandy.

• Top off with more 7 Up, garnish with a cherry and an orange slice and enjoy.

DeBolt says The Old Fashioned bartenders mix about 1,200 Old Fashioned cocktails every week, with the number spiking to 1,500 per week in the summer.

“We’re busier in the summer,” she says, noting weekly farmers market and concerts bring people to the Capitol Square.

Better have some food with that

The food menu at The Old Fashioned also is pure Wisconsin, reflecting the influence of staff from every corner of the state.

Regional favorites include Sheboygan’s grand champion Miesfield Market double bratwurst with raw onions, pickles and brown mustard served on a buttered Highway Bakery roll ($8.95, or $6.95 for a single).

Jim’s Blue Ribbon Summer Sausage is grilled and topped with brown mustard, shaved red onions and Muenster cheese and served on rye bread ($6.95, or add sauerkraut for an extra 50 cents).

DeBolt says other house favorites include:

• A beer-battered walleye sandwich made with shredded cabbage, shaved radishes and housemade lemon-caper tartar sauce served on toasted country bread ($9.95).

• The “Old Fashioned House Burger,” which is a patty grilled over an open flame and topped with fried onions, Bavarian hickory-smoked bacon, aged cheddar, garlic sauce and a soft-cooked egg on a buttered and toasted roll ($9.95).

• Mac and cheese, made with Wisconsin sharp cheddar and Sartori SarVecchio cheese and topped with crisp breadcrumbs.

Cocktail sale

The Old Fashioned supper club on Madison’s Capitol Square celebrates its namesake cocktail with the sale of an Old Fashioned kit that consists of brown sugar cubes, maraschino cherries, Angostura bitters and a muddler — the wooden bar tool used to “muddle” the drink’s ingredients together.

The kit retails for $30 — or $50 with a liter of Korbel brandy.

The Old Fashioned serves breakfast, lunch and dinner

The restaurant is at 23 N. Pinckney St., Madison, on the Capitol Square.

Open Monday 7:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Tuesday 7:30 a.m.–midnight, Wednesday and Thursday 7:30 a.m.–1 a.m., Friday 7:30 a.m.–1:30 a.m., Saturday 9 a.m.–1:30 a.m. and Sunday 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m.

608-310-4545  or