May 30, 2023

Fast…after I say Wisconsin – what involves thoughts for you? For me, it conjures up photographs of rolling hills, cheese, cows, soccer, supper golf equipment, and……booze. Sure – that may not be what Wisconsin desires to be identified for, however I can’t assist it, after I consider Wisconsin, I consider cocktails.

For some bizarre motive, Wisconsin has quite a lot of quirky traditions on the subject of cocktails, greater than I’ve skilled in some other state. On my final journey to Madison, I went on a quest to seek out 4 of my favourite quintessential Wisconsin cocktails and be taught extra about them; particularly, how did they develop into so steeped in Wisconsin traditions.

My plan was to investigate (and style!) the Wisconsin Previous Common, the Wisconsin Bloody Mary, the Pink Squirrel, and the Tom and Jerry Sizzling Toddy. It’s a tough job to must analysis and style cocktails…however this was all within the identify of writing…actually.

All within the identify of analysis!

Meet Madison’s Cocktail Knowledgeable

To start out my analysis, I sought out the professional in Madison, Brian Bartels, writer of the United States of Cocktails, and The Bloody Mary. He began as a bartender and developed into what we now name a mixologist. He’s not simply pumping out typical cocktails, he’s inventing them. And he does a mighty good job of it! Now a well known cocktail writer, he additionally just lately went again to his dwelling state of Wisconsin and opened his personal cocktail bar – Ouncesby Oz.

Oz by Oz is an creative and eclectic cocktail bar close to the capitol that may be a deal with for any cocktail lover. Brian has created some unbelievable drinks served alongside Wisconsin favorites just like the Wisconsin Previous Common. He additionally describes it as a ‘snackeasy’ since they serve enjoyable snacks with their cocktails similar to candied walnuts and bacon. It truly is the proper pre or post-dinner cease in Madison.

Brian supplied me with some background on every of the 4 drinks in addition to theories as to why a few of these drinks have develop into so widespread in Wisconsin. I completely geeked out speaking to him and making an attempt a few of his creative creations on the menu.

Brian and I talked about our love of Spanish Gin & Tonics. Be sure you learn my article, You’ve Been Making Gin and Tonics All Fallacious to be taught precisely what a Spanish Gin & Tonic is.

4 Wisconsin Cocktails You Should Attempt

1. Wisconsin Previous Common

A standard Previous Common is made with Bourbon, sugar, and bitters, and garnished with an orange peel or cherry. Nevertheless, a Wisconsin Previous Common has little or no in widespread with this conventional model. In reality – Wisconsin went utterly off the rails with this widespread pre-prohibition drink.

Wisconsin Old Fashioned cocktail

What makes it Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, you order an Previous Common in one among 3 methods; candy, bitter, or press. Don’t consider me…strive it and see what comes out! First – the quirkiness begins with the truth that a Wisconsin Previous Common is made with brandy – particularly Korbel Brandy. Subsequent, comes the muddling of oranges, cherries, and sugar (feels like fruit salad doesn’t it?), add a wholesome quantity of Angostura bitters, and the ultimate step is the mixer which can be distinctive to Wisconsin. A standard Previous Common by no means comes with a mixer, however in Wisconsin, they combine it with 7-Up (Candy), Squirt (Bitter), or each (Press).

This actually is nothing like a standard Previous Common in any respect. It’s a lot sweeter and extra watered down. Plus, you’ve got a fruit salad in it!

Historical past of the Wisconsin Previous Common

How did Wisconsin go up to now off the rails of the standard Previous Common? It’s stated that in prohibition, folks began making Previous Fashioneds with muddled fruit to masks the style of the dangerous bourbon. And for some motive, Wisconsinites by no means stopped after prohibition ended!

As for brandy, there are a few theories on how that began. One is that brandy debuted on the 1893 World Truthful in Chicago and since so many Wisconsinites attended the truthful they fell in love with it and took it again to Wisconsin. The opposite idea lies across the battle and shortages of grain to make alcohol. By some means some Wisconsin distributors ‘discovered’ 30,000 barrels of previous brandy and acquired it up. After that, there was a giant brandy stock within the state. When folks in Wisconsin had the selection of dangerous bourbon or good brandy – they in fact took the brandy.

wisconsin brandy old fashioned

The place to seek out Brandy Previous Fashioneds in Madison

You’ll discover it in any Wisconsin bar. Simply sidle as much as the bar and ask the bartender for a Wisconsin Previous Common Press and get the most effective of each worlds. However the most effective place to actually expertise a Wisconsin Previous Common is at a Supper Membership. Supper Golf equipment are one other piece of enjoyable Wisconsin tradition that must be skilled in Madison.

Don’t know what a supper membership is? Learn my article Exploring the Tradition of Wisconsin Supper Golf equipment

Slip into the dimly lit bar in Tornado Steakhouse and order a Wisconsin Previous Common as you wait to your desk. Situated downtown close to the capitol, the historic restaurant is thought for its elevated supper membership meals specializing in steak and fish.

Toby’s Supper Club is situated on the outskirts of city and is a really conventional Madison supper membership. If you pull up, it’ll appear to be somebody’s home! They serve the three varieties of Wisconsin Previous Fashioneds in addition to some unbelievable conventional meals. Don’t miss out on their signature cinnamon rolls that come as a part of the relish tray!

2. Wisconsin Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary’s reputation took off when the idea of brunch grew to become widespread – within the mid to late 70s – that’s when the coaching wheels of the Bloody Mary got here off. It was a weekend drink for individuals who had been making an attempt to resuscitate their senses after an extended week or late at night time. They’re classically served with celery, olives, and lemon, however they’ve developed into full meals at some eating places now. However skewers of cheese and brats in a Bloody Mary aren’t what makes it Wisconsin.

Wisconsin bloody mary with beer
Bloody Mary with snit from Sardines Restaurant

What Makes it Wisconsin

It goes by many names; snit, chaser, beer again, sidekick, and so forth – however no matter you name it – you’ll solely discover it in Wisconsin. If you order a Bloody Mary in Wisconsin, you’ll not solely get the Bloody Mary, however you’ll additionally get somewhat glass of beer. Unusual…sure…however completely Wisconsin.

It is likely to be complicated at first because you didn’t order the beer chaser, and the waiter simply introduced it out, and you’re questioning…wait…however do I’ve to pay for this?! However by no means worry, it’s yours…and it’s simply a part of the Bloody Mary in Wisconsin – it wasn’t a mistake and there’s no additional cost.

Now the large concern is deciding tips on how to drink the snit. Clearly, you understand how to drink beer…duh…however how do you drink it with the Bloody Mary? I’ve requested quite a few Wisconsinites, and I acquired assorted responses. Some folks drink it on the finish (that is my most well-liked approach) as a real chaser. Nevertheless, others, like Brian, pour it into his Bloody Mary and blend it in. Then others will simply alternate it with drinks of the Bloody Mary.

Historical past of the Wisconsin Bloody Mary

The historical past of the cocktail is a bit fuzzy – quite a few folks claimed to invent it within the Twenties or 30s. The unique model was merely tomato juice and vodka. Nevertheless, in 1934 it’s believed that Fernand Petiot invented the fashionable Bloody Mary including salt, pepper, cayenne, and Worchester sauce.

Wisconsin wasn’t essentially the primary state to begin ‘enhancing’ the Bloody Mary accouterments, however they certain have taken the thought and ran with it. You’ll discover a whole dinner in some Bloody Marys round Madison!

However the historical past of the snit (the factor that makes it Wisconsin)…properly…that’s even fuzzier. Very like the snit itself, there are a couple of completely different explanations on the market on the way it took place.

Wisconsin bloody mary with beer short stack madison
Brief Stack Eatery Bloody Mary

Brian’s snit idea was when bartenders began experimenting with making Bloody Marys, they had been most likely making them inconsistent from bar to bar. There was a spicier one, one which most likely had an excessive amount of citrus, there was one which didn’t have sufficient spice and seasoning, and so forth. Subsequently, folks in Wisconsin had been extra inclined to sort of have a snit to neutralize quite a lot of these intense flavors by diluting it and making it extra complimentary for the palate.

Nevertheless the supervisor at Sardines Restaurant recanted a narrative a couple of vodka scarcity within the ’50s when beer changed the vodka, after which it simply caught round within the type of a chaser. This was barely just like one other story I heard about folks boycotting vodka as a result of rise of communism and changing it with beer. Others thought the beer chaser in Wisconsin was as a consequence of numerous breweries within the space as a solution to promote Wisconsin beer.

I assume you possibly can select the story you want and go along with it.

The place to seek out Nice Bloody Marys in Madison

I used to be persistently informed to go to Sardines Restaurant for brunch to have the most effective Bloody Mary in Madison. They’ve a traditional tackle the Bloody Mary; easy, refined, and scrumptious. I notably favored that they didn’t overstuff it with meals objects, and I beloved the pickled fennel they served with it. It’s served with a lightweight lager, and I counsel you strive it with the uncooked oysters to kick off your brunch!

If you’re in search of a distinct twist on the Bloody Mary try Short Stack Eatery. It options 25 elements together with garlic, beets, jalapeños, their house-made pickle brine, and a little bit of sriracha salt on the rim. Plus, it’s full of a lot of brined spicy greens as garnish.

wisconsin cocktails madison
Frozen Bloody Mary Martini

And in order for you a REALLY trendy twist on the Bloody Mary, cease in at Brian’s Bar – Oz by Oz – and have their Frozen Bloody Mary Martini…made with gin…sure gin. They use a tomato-infused gin and a celery-infused gin to imitate the style of a Bloody Mary. Topped with a drop of tabasco and this gin drink tastes similar to a Bloody Mary!

3. Pink Squirrel

The Pink Squirrel is a prohibition period cocktail made with crème de noyaux (a red-colored, almond-flavored liqueur), crème de cacao, and heavy cream. And sure – it’s delightfully pink in colour. I do not know the place the ‘squirrel’ a part of the identify comes from although!

Study all concerning the historical past of the cocktail in America and the way they continued to exist all through prohibition.

The pink crème de noyaux combined with the white crème de cacao provides the drink its iconic pink hue (assume pepto bismal pink). The crème de noyaux provides it the almond taste; nonetheless, crème de noyaux just isn’t even made with almonds, it’s made with the kernels of apricots, peaches, or cherries.

Wisconsin pink squirrel cocktail
Toby’s Supper Membership Pink Squirrel

What makes the Pink Squirrel Wisconsin

This can be a cocktail that was truly invented in Wisconsin – it doesn’t get any extra Wisconsin than that! As well as, make the enduring drink with ice cream as an alternative of heavy cream thereby turning it into an grownup milkshake. The Pink Squirrel blended ice cream drink can actually solely be present in supper membership bars, and supper golf equipment are fairly darn distinctive to Wisconsin.

Historical past of the Pink Squirrel Cocktail

The drink was invented by Bryant Sharp at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee in 1941. The unique recipe known as for ice cream, nonetheless because it grew to become widespread internationally, ice cream has been substituted for heavy cream since most bars don’t carry ice cream. Like most of those prohibition-era cocktails…the historical past is fairly murky, however everybody does agree that it was invented in Milwaukee.

The place to Get a Pink Squirrel in Madison

As soon as once more, you’ll primarily discover these in supper golf equipment served as a boozy dessert drink. I’m undecided that you’d discover them at a daily bar. For a traditional Pink Squirrel strive the one at Toby’s Supper Membership. It’s small and scrumptious – excellent for after your large supper membership meal!

Harvey House Pink Squirrel cocktail
Harvey Home Trendy Pink Squirrel

If you’d like a contemporary twist on the Pink Squirrel, go to Harvey House Supper club. There they mix each recipes into one. They serve a dollop of ice cream in a coupe-style glass after which they pour the Pink Squirrel excessive of it in order that it kind of appears to be like like an island floating in a pink lake! The ice cream isn’t blended in, however as an alternative, it melts as you drink it, offering a brand new twist to the traditional Wisconsin Pink Squirrel.

4. Tom and Jerry

This cocktail is close to and expensive to my coronary heart as a result of I all the time have fond reminiscences of my household after I drink it. Usually as a result of the one time I drink it’s after I’m with my household! It’s a seasonal drink in Wisconsin – solely discovered in the course of the winter holidays.

The drink can be a sizzling toddy and is usually described as a heat model of egg nog. It begins with a batter (typically a secret household recipe), and the batter will get combined with sizzling water (some folks additionally use sizzling milk), rum, and brandy. It’s a frothy drink usually served in a festive mug.

Tom and Jerry cocktail wisconsin
Tom and Jerry frothy sizzling toddy

What Makes it Wisconsin

If the Wisconsin Previous Common is the best-loved drink in Wisconsin, Tom and Jerry is an in depth second. This dairy heavy drink reveals off the most effective of the dairy state with eggs, butter, and milk. Plus, the egg-laden batter is combined with Korbel Brandy and darkish rum to present it a heat kick! I informed you Wisconsinites love their brandy!

When Tom and Jerry’s reputation appeared to die out in the remainder of the nation within the mid-Twentieth century, Wisconsin by no means let it die. Perhaps it was the brandy that stored it a preferred drink amongst Wisconsinites, or perhaps it’s the truth that as soon as Wisconsinites grab one thing, they don’t let go…very similar to their beloved Packers. Regardless of the motive, Tom and Jerry lived on in December in Wisconsin for the final 60 years whereas they fell into obscurity all over the place else.

Historical past of the Tom and Jerry Sizzling Toddy

Let’s begin with the identify. It has nothing to do with the cartoon mouse and cat! The drink’s identify is a reference to Pierce Egan’s guide, Life in London, and the next stage play Tom and Jerry. (Tom and Jerry had been the names of the principle characters) Egan created the drink within the 1850s to be able to promote his play. Speak about good advertising and marketing!

The new drink hit its reputation excessive within the mid-50s when folks would make it as a punch and serve it at vacation events. Now, you primarily see it in Wisconsin and generally in Minnesota and the Dakotas solely throughout December. Proper after Thanksgiving, the vacation mugs come out and the Tom and Jerry batter is made; it’s a Wisconsin vacation ritual.

Tom and Jerry wisconsin cocktail
Sardine Restaurant’s Seasonal Tom and Jerry

The place to seek out Tom and Jerry Drinks in Madison

Yow will discover the premade batter at grocery shops throughout Madison in December. You may additionally discover it at bakeries and liquor shops. In reality, these retailer batters are even made by Wisconsin firms; Connolly’s Tom and Jerry combine is made in Superior and Mrs. Bowen’s Tom & Jerry is made in Manitowoc.

Each vacation season Sardines Restaurant carries particular vacation cocktails and also you’ll all the time discover a Tom and Jerry on their seasonal cocktail menu. They make their particular batter day by day in December they usually serve them with rum and cognac as an alternative of brandy.

You’ll additionally usually discover seasonal Tom and Jerry’s at Nick’s Restaurant in Madison. They don’t make their very own combine, however they do usually serve them in December. Plus Nicks (opened in 1960) has a lot historical past and character that it’s price a cease!

Having fun with my Wisconsin Bloody Mary at Brief Stack Eatery

Every time I am going to Wisconsin I order these drinks in order that I can have one thing I do know I can’t get anyplace else within the US. Subsequent time you end up in Wisconsin, or Madison particularly, now you possibly can go as much as the bar and confidently order one among these quintessential Wisconsin cocktails and also you’ll appear to be an area!


I used to be a visitor of Vacation spot Madison who helped me manage interviews for this text.  Nevertheless all opinions expressed listed here are my very own.