Old Fashioned products, recipes, nostalgia, roots

To you, an Old Fashioned is the unofficial cocktail of Wisconsin and a popular prelude to special meals, especially during end-of-year entertaining.

To Bob Meyer, the mixed drink is a matter of heritage and livelihood, intensely personal and a part of his family’s legacy. He bottles and markets Meyer Brothers Old Fashioned Mix, which provides an authentic taste of what was served from 1962-89 at Meyer’s Dinner Club, operated by parents Lenny and Marge Meyer in St. Nazianz (population 783 and in Manitowoc County).

After the elders retired, their six sons kept hearing from former customers about how much they missed “the best-tasting Old Fashioned cocktail in the region.” During a Northwoods fishing trip in 2009, the brothers decided to duplicate the taste in small batches, then 750 ml bottles. The product label doubles as a family crest.

“No more muddling around” is part of the business slogan, and Bob intends to launch two additional beverage products that involve the Old Fashioned in April or May. “The work is five years in the making,” he says, while staying tight-lipped about details.

Some supper clubs simply fade away when owners retire or shift to another career. Meyer’s, as a structure, no longer exists but Bob’s business plan includes a line of spin-off products that begin with the Old Fashioned. Think chicken or steak seasonings, too.

The cocktail mixer makes short work of bartending: Take one-half to three-fourths of an ounce of it, mix with 1.5 ounces of brandy or whiskey and top it off with ice, sweet or sour soda and garnishes.

Bob uses the same mixer in other cocktails. For example:

MEYER BROTHERS MARTINI

2 1/2 ounces premium vodka
3/4 ounce Meyer Brothers Old Fashioned Mix
1/4 ounce Cointreau
Dash of dry vermouth

Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake until very cold and well diluted. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

An online map pinpoints where the mix is sold and served, although Bob says the list is woefully incomplete. He personally conducts many of the product tastings around the state.

“I think it’s money and time well spent,” Bob says, of the free tastings. “I talk to people about the history, how it’s a 1960s recipe – it’s not just some corporate mix.” Shot glasses, T-shirts, hats and recipes are a part of the promotions. themeyerbrothers.com, 920-639-4488

National distribution is a goal, but that poses a new challenge: explaining to out-of-staters what Wisconsinites already know about how good an Old Fashioned can taste. The Old Fashioned that was invented in the late 19th century at The Pendennis Club in Louisville, Ky., used bourbon and omitted the soda.

Kohler introduces at least one new chocolate product every year, and the big talker this year is a dark chocolate brandy. The liquor is naturally infused with a chocolate blend that was created just for Herb Kohler’s exquisite but slow-growing chocolate empire. Central Standard Craft Distillery, Milwaukee, makes the 70 proof, 35 percent alcohol. It is sold in 200, 375 and 750 ml bottles at select markets, including Festival Foods and Woodman’s markets. kohlerchocolates.com

Staff at The Immigrant Restaurant, Kohler, use the product in a high-style version of the Old Fashioned. Here are directions:

Muddle two Luxardo cherries, four dashes of Angostura bitters and a splash of water. Add ice, one-half ounce Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, two ounces Kohler Dark Chocolate Brandy, and top with one ounce club soda.

In Clintonville, four-packs of Arty’s Old Fashioned have been bottled since 2012 by Timothy Pappin and nephew Ryan Mijal, founders of Arty’s Legendary Cocktails. First came the bottled brandy Old Fashioned sweet, then the Moscow Mule and whiskey Old Fashioned sweet and sour. Other cocktails are in the works. drinkartys.com

In Plover, Sky Club Supper Club sells bottles of Hafner’s Supper Club Old Fashioned Mix, based on an adaptation of the cocktail made famous locally by the late Jerry “Shifty” Hafner, a longtime bartender. Belly up to the supper club’s bar for an Old Fashioned before commiting to a full bottle of the product. Sky Club began business in 1935 and bills itself as home to the first-ever salad bar. oldfashionedmix.com

The preferred brand of bitters in Old Fashioned recipes is made by House of Angostura in Trinidad, where a popular non-alcoholic beverage is a canned combo of chilled lemon, lime and bitters.

Angostura offers tours of the company that was founded in 1824. The Bitters Room is the only place in the world where the product is made, although a rum distillery and bottling plant also are a part of the property.

A museum traces the product to the work of a family in rural Venezuela. On the grounds is a butterfly collection that began in 1921 and now exceeds 700 local and foreign species.

Angostura tours cost $10, last 2.5 hours, include product samples but are only offered on weekdays by reservation. angostura.com, facebook.com/AngosturaMuseumAndBarcantButterflyCollection, 868-623-1841, ext. 255

The company is well-aware of Nelsen’s Hall on Washington Island in Door County. The restaurant-bar is known for its intake of Angostura bitters and Bitters Club, which issues a membership card to anyone who drinks a shot glass filled with bitters. More than 10,000 are members, and the shot-downing dates back to Prohibition, when owner Tom Nelsen got a pharmacist license to sell bitters as a stomach tonic. washingtonisland-wi.com, 920-847-2496