5 excellent boozy drinks from America’s Dairyland

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Wisconsin’s one of the best places in the country, if not the world, to enjoy a cocktail. Really. “America’s Dairyland” could easily be called “America’s Cocktail-land,” and I’m not just saying this because I live here or because Appleton, Green Bay and Madison routinely show up on the biggest alcohol consumption per capita compilations.

Like New Orleans and Kentucky, Wisconsin boasts a rich, boozy history, and most bartenders, even at the divey-est bars, know how to shake, stir and blend.

Bartenders here know how to muddle an old fashioned (and yes, it’s muddled), they’ll serve you a small glass of beer with your bloody Mary, which should be weighed down and overflowing with enough garnishes to make a meal; and in winter, they’ll pour homemade batter into your hot drink.

When the world opens up again, Wisconsin should be on your list of places to come drink, but in the meantime, here’s an overview of five quintessential Wisconsin cocktails:

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1. The Wisconsin Old Fashioned

If you order an old fashioned anywhere else in the world, you’ll get a simple, yet sophisticated concoction made of whiskey, usually rye, bitters and sugar. In Wisconsin, if you order an old fashioned, the bartender will ask you a series of questions: brandy or whiskey, sweet or sour and do you want a cherry or perhaps a pickled Brussels sprout as a garnish?

Brandy (or whiskey) is then muddled with Angostura bitters, sugar or simple syrup, cherries and an orange. Then this muddle is topped with soda, either sweet, like Sprite or 7-up, or sour, like Squirt, or press, which is a combination of sweet soda and club soda, and press is short for Presbyterian.

The typical garnish is a cherry and orange slice, but people also select pickled onions, olives … basically any pickled vegetable that you might find on lazy Susan tray of snacks at a supper club.

The reason for brandy’s popularity, despite the legend of Korbel sampling its brandy at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, is that during the 1940s, a group of Wisconsin distributors bought up about 30,000 cases of Christian Brothers brandy, and all of that brandy landed in Wisconsin in one big gush. So, at a time when there was a shortage of good booze, you could find good brandy in Wisconsin so that’s what we started drinking and then kept drinking.

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Wisconsin traditional Old Fashioned


Recipe courtesy of Aubrey Dodd, former mixologist for Badger Liquor



  • 1 to 3 sugar cubes
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 orange wedge
  • 1 cherry
  • 2 oz. brandy
  • 1 to 2 oz. lemon-lime soda, sour soda and/or seltzer

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of your old-fashioned glass (also called a short tumbler or lowball or rocks glass). Dash the bitters on top of the cube or cubes. Then add the orange wedge and cherry, and brandy, muddling the mix together until it becomes a slushy, grainy mix, about five or six good crushes with a muddler should do it. And it’s important not to muddle just the fruity part of the orange slice, muddling the peel will release its oils and add aromatics to the drink. Add ice and top with lemon-lime soda, sour soda, and/or seltzer.

For an Old Fashioned sweet, use lemon-lime soda. For an Old Fashioned sour, use a sour soda like Squirt. For an Old Fashioned soda, use seltzer water, and for an Old Fashioned press, use half seltzer and half lemon-lime soda. Garnish with another orange wedge and cherry on a toothpick. If you’re into more unusual garnishes, go with a pickled vegetable or an olive or two.


Image Credit: alcoholprofessor.com.

2. The Wisconsin Bloody Mary

Read almost any travel guide about Wisconsin that mentions bloody Mary cocktails, and the writer will tell you to act like a native and ask for a beer chaser to go with it.  Real Wisconsin residents don’t ask for chasers; we expect them to come along with our bloody Mary, and we expect them to come free of charge.

The beer chaser, also called a snit, is the first difference in a Wisconsin bloody Mary.  The second is the garnish, or rather, garnishes because a properly made bloody in Wisconsin should have so many garnishes that they’re spilling over the top and down the sides of the drink.

Forget a measly pickle or a couple of olives and a lemon. That’s a sad, sad Mary.  A Wisconsin Mary always starts with those three items, but often other pickled vegetables like mushrooms, asparagus, and onions are added. Fresh tomatoes, fresh celery, and other fresh vegetables might also be thrown on top for good measure.

But being the dairy state, cheese is always added, even in the more simply topped versions get a cube or two, and the cheese often comes piled in whips or strings, cubes or wedges, or fresh cheese curds that still squeak in your mouth when you eat them.

Finally, the Mary is finished with bacon or beef sticks or jerky or sausage or, in the case of Sobelman’s in Milwaukee, a cheeseburger or an entire roasted chicken. Or beef brisket, ribs, tamales, fried mac and cheese squares … Really, the only limit is your imagination or what your stomach can hold.

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Kitty’s loaded Bloody Mary


Recipe courtesy of Kitty O’Reillys Irish Pub, Sturgeon Bay, WI


  • 10 oz. tomato juice, spiced with garlic powder, garlic salt, red pepper to taste

  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 dash raw horseradish

  • 1 dash A1 steak sauce

  • Splash of Guinness Stout, about 1 oz.

  • 2 oz. vodka

  • Garnish: lemon, sausage stick, Renard’s cheese whips, pickled asparagus, green olives, pickled mushrooms, dill pickle spear, celery salt

In a glass, pour tomato juice, and season with garlic powder, garlic salt, and red pepper to taste. Then add a dash of Worcestershire, raw horseradish, and A1 steak sauce. Stir, then add a splash of Guinness Stout and vodka, and stir again. Pour into a 20-ounce goblet filled with ice, then add garnishes. Sprinkle some celery salt on top.


Image Credit: alcoholprofessor.com.

3. Tom And Jerry

The Tom and Jerry cocktail originated in New England. Every so often, you’ll read about a hipster bar on the coasts that is “reviving” this classic cocktail, but in Wisconsin, once this battered drink landed here in the late 1800s, it took root, and to this day, it’s never needed any resuscitation.

My favorite historical account of the Tom and Jerry dates back to Prohibition, when a group of federal agents raided Doc’s Saloon in Milwaukee.  The customers ran out the back, and the feds discovered a steaming bowl of Tom and Jerry on the back bar.

Starting in November, many bars and home enthusiasts start preparing their batters.  This drink usually peaks in December and January, but really, people drink Tom and Jerrys until the snow thaws, and they’ve put away their snowmobiles, skis and ice fishing poles.

The batter, made from separated eggs, includes a mix of spices and vanilla, and though outside Wisconsin some recipes call for just rum, here, the rum always goes hand in hand with brandy. Then, warm milk or hot water finishes the drink.

Wisconsin grocery and liquor stores carry frozen, pre-made batter, but homemade batter always tastes better.

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Tom And Jerry Cocktail

Recipe courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin


  • 8 oz. Wisconsin mascarpone cheese

  • 3 cups powdered sugar

  • 6 eggs, separated (preferably pasteurized or from a local source you trust)

  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract

  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg

  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves

  • ¼ tsp. ground allspice

  • ¼ tsp. sea salt

  • 1½ tsp. cream of tartar (use only if using pasteurized eggs)

To make batter, in a large bowl, mix mascarpone and powdered sugar until combined. Set aside. In a medium-sized mixer bowl, beat egg yolks until slightly thickened and pale yellow, about four minutes. Add vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice, stir to incorporate. Stir yolk mixture into mascarpone mixture until well blended. Set aside.

In a large glass or metal bowl, beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form; you will know this when the egg whites form sharp peaks that hold their shape when lifted with the beater or whisk. Gently fold egg whites into mascarpone mixture, until well combined. Batter can be used immediately or stored in a tightly sealed container and frozen for up to two weeks. It makes enough for 12 cocktails.

  • 6 cups milk

  • 12 oz. rum

  • 12 oz. brandy

  • freshly grated nutmeg

To serve, heat milk in a heavy pot over medium-low heat until hot but not scalded, about five to ten minutes. To make each cocktail, place 1 heaping tablespoon of batter in a mug, pour 4 oz. of hot milk, 1 oz. rum and 1 oz. brandy. Grate fresh nutmeg on top for garnish. Makes 12 servings.

Image Credit: alcoholprofessor.com.

4. Ice Cream Drinks

They’re called ice cream drinks, not boozy milkshakes, and on Saturday nights, during non-pandemic times, individual bars, restaurants and supper clubs across the state serve up hundreds, if not thousands, of them.  In some supper clubs and bars, they’re so thick, you have to use a spoon.

Though grasshoppers and brandy Alexanders originated elsewhere, they’ve found a dairy-licious home here in Wisconsin. When creamy drinks first came to Wisconsin, in the 1920s and 1930s, they weren’t made with ice cream, but by the 1940s and definitely by the 1950s, ice cream drinks had taken over, though bar records initially reveal both were served at one time. By the 1960s, advertisements for bartenders required “knowledge of blended and ice cream drinks.”

Some classic ice cream drinks, the pink squirrel, the banshee and the blue tail fly, are said to have been created in Milwaukee, by Bryant Sharp, the original owner of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, who sold them to BOLS liquor company, but officials at BOLS couldn’t confirm that he was the creator.

Besides classic ice cream drinks, bartenders and supper clubs have created modern ice cream drinks, which are just as over-the-top as the originals.

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Yabba dabba do it

Recipe courtesy of Don’s Diner, Milwaukee

  • 1 oz. Korbel brandy, or other brandy
  • ⅓ oz. Cartron Marasquin liqueur, or other cherry liqueur
  • 2 tbsp. crushed Fruity Pebbles cereal, or other fruit-flavored cereal
  • 4 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 2 cake balls, whipped cream, and crushed Fruity Pebbles cereal for garnish

Place all ingredients into a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour into a shake glass. Top with cake balls, then top with whipped cream and more crushed Fruity Pebbles cereal.

Image Credit: alcoholprofessor.com.

5. How Sweet It Is

For the fifth, representative cocktail of Wisconsin, I could go with any of the many hot drinks we consume during winter, the sweet martinis that have remained popular in bars and supper clubs even though Samantha and her gal pals have long since stopped drinking cosmos, or Wisconsin’s version of sangria, the brandy slush, which though considered a summer drink, it’s served even when the temperatures dip below zero.

The common denominator in each of these cocktails is sugar. Lots of it.

Bartenders and those in the liquor business often describe Wisconsin as having a “diabetic palate,” and the further north you go in the state, the sweeter it gets. Wisconsin is also one of the first markets cream liqueurs target, and we even have our own brand, Kringle Cream, which is named for the buttery, oval-shaped Danishes in Racine.

John Dye, who owns Bryant’s and two other classic bars in Milwaukee, sums it up best. “I’ve always been of the opinion that in Wisconsin, we can take anything that’s bad for you and make it worse,” he says.

Or better, if sweet’s your thing.

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Brandy slush

Recipe courtesy of Matt Tunnel, mixologist, Great Lakes Distillery, Milwaukee

  • 2 cups Brightonwoods apple brandy, or other apple brandy
  • ½ cup Good Land orange liqueur, or other orange liqueur
  • 12 oz. lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • 12 oz. orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 6 green tea bags
  • 7 cups water
  • Sprite, or other white soda


Brew the green tea in two cups of water, according to tea instructions. Stir the green tea, brandy, liqueur, lemonade concentrate, orange concentrate and remaining five cups of water until well mixed. Pour into a container, then freeze overnight. To serve, scoop one or two scoops of slush mixture into a glass, then top with white soda.

This article originally appeared on Alcoholprofessor.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org

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