In a mixing glass, combine the first three ingredients with ice. Stir slowly for about 45 seconds. Strain into a double old-fashioned (“tub”) glass over fresh ice, then top with ginger beer. Garnish with orange peel, if desired.
For the cranberry syrup:
Combine cranberries and sugar, and leave on the counter until thawed. Pulse in blender until fully combined. Strain out solids.
About this recipe
When our editor asked me to design “the quintessential Wisconsin cocktail,” I agreed on the spot. Only later did I realize that I’d agreed to a Herculean—maybe impossible—task. After the “what-have-I done?” moment passed, I got down to business.
The Old Fashioned is arguably Wisconsin’s Unofficial State Drink. We like ours boozy and brown, but complex. The drink I design could be a riff on that familiar classic. Naturally, I’d have to represent local players. Furthermore, it should incorporate some of our state’s produce.
I knew I wanted to start with a Great Lakes Distillery spirit because its founder, Guy Rehorst, did the heavy lifting to open the first Wisconsin distillery since the end of Prohibition. He paved the way for other fine distillers like Twisted Path, Great Northern and Central Standard, to name just a few who stand on his shoulders. Great Lakes Distillery’s Kinnickinnic Whiskey won the award for Best American Blended style in 2013 and certainly meets the “boozy and brown” criteria.
It’s literally not a cocktail without bitters; a “cocktail” without bitters is just a mixed drink. Cocktail bitters are an imbiber’s spice rack. They make flavors blend together more nicely and dry out cocktails to keep them from sipping too sweet. The traditional Old Fashioned calls for Angostura, but we don’t have to go so far from home. Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz were ahead of the curve in 2009 when they started making bitters in Wisconsin. Their orange bitters give a nod to the “fruit salad” that appears in Wisconsin’s Old Fashioneds.
Ginger beer has exploded onto the scene, first appearing all over town in Moscow Mules. Quaffable in its own right, it is ginger ale without the flabby flavor. Milwaukee’s Top Note Tonics makes the best ginger beer I have ever had. The product features real ginger, which gives it a true ginger flavor, with a nice bite and a hint of heat.
Wisconsin is more than just booze and booze ingredients, though. We are also the state that never stopped doing farm-totable, where slow food never went out of style. I added in a cold-processed cranberry syrup, to represent the fact that Wisconsin produces 60 percent of America’s output of that fruit. Cheers!
Special thanks to Great Lakes Distillery