The Real Brandy Old-Fashioned

by Paul Zablocki and Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Lemon-Lime soda is the key to success in this blessedly simple and tasty drink.


Try this experiment: Ask someone tending bar to make you a brandy old-fashioned. What may get placed before you will most likely be an old-fashioned made with brandy (or cognac) instead of the iconic rye. Not necessarily bad (a complex brandy would make all the difference), but if the bartender handed this drink to a Milwaukeean, and told them what it was, she would take a sip then look at the bartender quizzically. That's because to your average Wisconsinite, the brandy old-fashioned is more like a highball, with a generous amount of lemon-lime soda and a few extra dashes of Angostura bitters added to the mix. And during a Milwaukeean's Friday Night Fish Fry, when brandy old-fashioneds are poured faster than Laverne and Shirley can get into trouble, you would be hard pressed to find another type of cocktail in someone's hands (and if you did, you can bet they're not from Milwaukee).

If you're not one for a fish fry, but liked smoked food, you can pair some smoked fish with a brandy old-fashioned. One stand-out is smoked eel. A little piece of this rich, unctuous fish goes a long way. Place a piece on a buttery cracker, or a thick-cut potato chip, alongside a little white cheese, then dab with a bit of mustard. Take a bite, sip your brandy old-fashioned, and relish the mingling of sweet and smoke.

Brandy Old-Fashioned

(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)
  • 1 1/2 ounces brandy (try Asbach)
  • 3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 3-4 ounces lemon-lime soda*
  • 1/2 tablespoon simple syrup
  • orange slice, lemon twist, and cherry (in any combination), as garnishes

Stir the brandy and bitters (and simple syrup if you are using ginger ale) in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled double-rocks or highball glass. Top with soda and give a little stir. Add garnishes, preferably speared with a bartender's straw.


If using ginger ale instead of lemon-lime soda, use 1/4-1/2 ounce simple syrup, and after mixing, top with 3-4 ounces ginger ale.

Smoked Eel Hors D'oeuvre

  • 1 medium smoked eel, skin and spine removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • buttery crackers, or thick-cut potato chips
  • Dijon or sweet and spicy mustard
  • Muenster, or other white cheese, sliced
  • cream cheese (optional)
  • fresh dill (optional)

Place a slice of cheese and a piece of eel on a cracker or chip. Add mustard (and other condiments, if using). Note: If your eel seems dry from over-smoking (this usually happens when the eels are thin), chop it up into small pieces and spoon a little bit onto the cracker or chip.

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Photo (c) Cocktail Buzz