Quintessential Wisconsin cocktails


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

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

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 the Wisconsin Outdated Customary, the Wisconsin Bloody Mary, the Pink Squirrel, and the Tom and Jerry Sizzling Toddy.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

All within the identify of analysis!

Meet Madison’s Cocktail Professional

To begin my analysis, I sought out the skilled in Madison, Brian Bartels, creator of the United States of Cocktails, and The Bloody Mary. He began as a bartender and advanced 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 creator, he additionally not too long ago went again to his dwelling state of Wisconsin and opened his personal cocktail bar – Ouncesby Oz.

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 Brian has created some unimaginable drinks served alongside Wisconsin favorites just like the Wisconsin Outdated Customary.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

Brian offered me with some background on every of the 4 drinks in addition to theories as to why a few of these drinks have change into so common 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. Ensure you learn my article, You’ve Been Making Gin and Tonics All Incorrect to be taught precisely what a Spanish Gin & Tonic is.

4 Wisconsin Cocktails You Should Strive

1. Wisconsin Outdated Customary

A conventional Outdated Customary is made with Bourbon, sugar, and bitters, and garnished with an orange peel or cherry. Nonetheless, a Wisconsin Outdated Customary has little or no in frequent with this conventional model. In truth – Wisconsin went fully off the rails with this common pre-prohibition drink.

Wisconsin Old Fashioned cocktail

What makes it Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, you order an Outdated Customary in certainly one of 3 methods; candy, bitter, or press. Don’t consider me…attempt it and see what comes out! First – the quirkiness begins with the truth that a Wisconsin Outdated Customary 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 conventional Outdated Customary 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 conventional Outdated Customary in any respect. It’s a lot sweeter and extra watered down. Plus, you’ve gotten a fruit salad in it!

Historical past of the Wisconsin Outdated Customary

How did Wisconsin go to this point off the rails of the standard Outdated Customary? It’s mentioned that in prohibition, folks began making Outdated Fashioneds with muddled fruit to masks the style of the dangerous bourbon. And for some cause, 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 Honest in Chicago and since so many Wisconsinites attended the truthful they fell in love with it and took it again to Wisconsin. The opposite concept lies across the conflict 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 after all took the brandy.

wisconsin brandy old fashioned

The place to search out Brandy Outdated 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 Outdated Customary Press and get the perfect of each worlds. However the perfect place to actually expertise a Wisconsin Outdated Customary 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 Twister Steakhouse and order a Wisconsin Outdated Customary as you wait on your desk. Positioned downtown close to the capitol, the historic restaurant is understood for its elevated supper membership meals specializing in steak and fish.

Toby’s Supper Membership is situated on the outskirts of city and is a really conventional Madison supper membership. While you pull up, it’ll appear to be somebody’s home! They serve the three sorts of Wisconsin Outdated Fashioneds in addition to some unimaginable 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 recognition took off when the idea of brunch turned common – 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 have been making an attempt to resuscitate their senses after a protracted week or late at night time. They’re classically served with celery, olives, and lemon, however they’ve advanced 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. While you order a Bloody Mary in Wisconsin, you’ll not solely get the Bloody Mary, however you’ll additionally get a bit glass of beer. Unusual…sure…however completely Wisconsin.

It may be complicated at first because you didn’t order the beer chaser, and the waiter simply introduced it out, and you might be 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 further cost.

Now the large subject is deciding find out 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 various Wisconsinites, and I acquired diverse responses. Some folks drink it on the finish (that is my most popular manner) as a real chaser. Nonetheless, 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 – various folks claimed to invent it within the Twenties or 30s. The unique model was merely tomato juice and vodka. Nonetheless, 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 complete 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 number of totally different explanations on the market on the way it happened.

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

Brian’s snit concept was when bartenders began experimenting with making Bloody Marys, they have 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. Due to this fact, folks in Wisconsin have been extra inclined to form of have a snit to neutralize quite a lot of these intense flavors by diluting it and making it extra complimentary for the palate.

Nonetheless 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 much 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 resulting from a lot of breweries within the space as a solution to promote Wisconsin beer.

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

The place to search out Nice Bloody Marys in Madison

I used to be persistently advised to go to Sardines Restaurant for brunch to have the perfect Bloody Mary in Madison. They’ve a traditional tackle the Bloody Mary; easy, refined, and scrumptious. I significantly appreciated 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 attempt it with the uncooked oysters to kick off your brunch!

In case you are in search of a special twist on the Bloody Mary try Quick 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 filled with a lot of brined spicy greens as garnish.

wisconsin cocktails madison
Frozen Bloody Mary Martini

And if you need a REALLY fashionable twist on the Bloody Mary, cease in at Brian’s Bar – Ouncesby 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 identical 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 coloration. I do not know the place the ‘squirrel’ a part of the identify comes from although!

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

The pink crème de noyaux blended with the white crème de cacao offers the drink its iconic pink hue (suppose pepto bismal pink). The crème de noyaux offers it the almond taste; nonetheless, crème de noyaux 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

It is a cocktail that was really 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 referred to as for ice cream, nonetheless because it turned common the world over, 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 an everyday bar. For a traditional Pink Squirrel attempt the one at Toby’s Supper Membership. It’s small and scrumptious – good for after your massive supper membership meal!

Harvey House Pink Squirrel cocktail
Harvey Home Trendy Pink Squirrel

If you would like a contemporary twist on the Pink Squirrel, go to Harvey Home Supper membership. 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 form of appears 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 pricey to my coronary heart as a result of I all the time have fond recollections of my household once I drink it. Usually as a result of the one time I drink it’s once I’m with my household! It’s a seasonal drink in Wisconsin – solely discovered throughout the winter holidays.

The drink is known as 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 blended 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 Outdated Customary is the best-loved drink in Wisconsin, Tom and Jerry is a detailed second. This dairy heavy drink exhibits off the perfect of the dairy state with eggs, butter, and milk. Plus, the egg-laden batter is blended with Korbel Brandy and darkish rum to present it a heat kick! I advised you Wisconsinites love their brandy!

When Tom and Jerry’s recognition appeared to die out in the remainder of the nation within the mid-Twentieth century, Wisconsin by no means let it die. Possibly it was the brandy that stored it a preferred drink amongst Wisconsinites, or possibly it’s the truth that as soon as Wisconsinites snatch one thing, they don’t let go…very similar to their beloved Packers. Regardless of the cause, Tom and Jerry lived on in December in Wisconsin for the final 60 years whereas they fell into obscurity in every single 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 have been the names of the primary characters) Egan created the drink within the 1850s with a purpose to promote his play. Discuss good advertising and marketing!

The new drink hit its recognition 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 typically 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 search out Tom and Jerry Drinks in Madison

You will discover the premade batter at grocery shops throughout Madison in December. You might also discover it at bakeries and liquor shops. In truth, 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 each day in December and so they 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 persona that it’s value a cease!

Having fun with my Wisconsin Bloody Mary at Quick 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 wherever 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 certainly one of these quintessential Wisconsin cocktails and also you’ll appear to be a neighborhood!


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



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