Spirited Traveler: Old Fashioneds in Madison, Wisconsin

Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:52am EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - "As far as cocktails go, the Old Fashioned cocktail is not only the iconic drink of Madison, it's the drink of Wisconsin," says Brian Ellison, president of Middleton, WI based Death's Door Spirits.

Usually, the classic Old Fashioned is made with bourbon or rye, sweetened with sugar and crushed fruit. But in Wisconsin, the brandy Old Fashioned is king. And in its capital, Madison, there are plenty of versions from which to choose.

Why brandy? According to writer and Wisconsin native Robert Simonson, brandy has been the Badger State's favorite tipple as far back as 1893, when California's Korbel Brothers introduced their brandy at the Columbian Expo in Chicago. The mild spirit spread quickly throughout the Midwest, and neighboring Wisconsin soon became Korbel's best customer. Korbel still is the brand most often called for in a Brandy Old Fashioned.

Ellison says the version at the members-only Madison Club (www.madisonclub.org/)

is among his favorites, particularly for "serious" business occasions. This stately institution has some serious 'locavore' chops; the bulk of their produce is from less than 50 miles away, and they have their own programs with farmers to raise beef, lamb, chicken and pigs. The drinks focus on boozy classics, including the brandy-based Madison Club Old Fashioned (drink recipe below).

Meanwhile, other options include Merchant (www.merchantmadison.com/),

which Ellison describes as "one part corner grocery, one part restaurant and one part bar" (and which makes apple brandy Old Fashioneds), and Graze (grazemadison.com/), located in the lobby of Tenney Plaza across the street from the state capitol building.

At Graze, "the cocktails are not to be missed, with a focus on light and invigorating drinks with local ingredients like kombucha, fresh apple cider and house-made syrups."

Another option is to treat an out-of-town guest to dinner at one of the state's storied supper clubs - which are more inclusive than the speakeasy-style name might suggest. Ellison's pick is the Tornado Steak House (www.tornadosteakhouse.com/),   Continued...