Take the Milwaukee challenge: brandy old fashioneds
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The ingredients are the same: sugar cubes, bitters, Korbel brandy, orange and maraschino cherries. The process is the same, too; the key being hand-muddling.
So, why do the brandy old fashioneds at The Packing House – on Layton Avenue, across from the airport – and Camp Bar – that new Shorewood hot spot – taste so different?
It's all in the details, starting with the two sugar cubes that Packing House bartender Dawn Zaeske uses, versus the one dropped in the glass by Camp Bar's Ilana Cohn-Gomez.
The results? The Packing House's concoction is deliciously sweet, and Camp Bar's version is a punchier quaff.
So, who – in this battle between veteran and newcomer – makes the best brandy old fashioned, according to us?
Camp Bar edged out The Packing House, 3-2, for the title. Here's what we had to say.
Pick: Camp Bar
These were both fantastic drinks made by true pros. But sadly, in the OnMilwaukee old fashioneds challenge, as in life, there can only be one winner. I've got to give it to Camp Bar. The Packing House made an excellent old fashioned that I would order any time I go there, but Camp Bar was just a stronger drink. I think it had to do with the sweetness factor – there was a lot less of a sugar presence in Camp Bar's old fashioned, which allowed the brandy taste, combined with the orange and cherry tones, to be much more prominent. It had a fuller body. It cost a dollar more, but I thought it was worth it.
Pick: The Packing House
I had never had an old fashioned before this challenge. I had no idea what an old fashioned was, what it could (or should) taste like – nothing. Fortunately, my first two go rounds with the cocktail were made by excellent bartenders at The Packing House and Camp Bar – the best being at The Packing House. The first thing I noticed was how much better it smelled – it made me want to drink it. I liked the sweetness, too, with the additional sugar cube. I also felt the muddling of the ingredients helped knock down some of the bitters. I prefer to not have a strong aroma of alcohol hitting me before I take a sip, and I do want a craft drink to be, well, crafted. If I want a boozy taste, I'll get straight booze (or a less involved mix). The Packing House's version satiated those desires with an excellent old fashioned.
Pick: Camp Bar
Don't get me wrong: I love The Packing House's old school environment and I could easily knock back one or three of the classic old fashioneds served there. However, I enjoyed Camp Bar's even more because they were less sweet and more boozy. Camp uses one sugar cube instead of two, which I appreciated, and although I am only going on taste, it seems they use more brandy. And since I really like the taste of brandy, I enjoyed how much the flavor of it came out in the Camp version, as opposed to being masked by the sweetness of the sugar and fruit.
Pick: Camp Bar
Like Jim, I came to this challenge clean, having never had an old fashioned before. I had no expectations. We tried The Packing House version – the making of which was a great show – first and I found it surprisingly sweet. Sweet is good, but I like to taste at least a bit of booze in a cocktail and there was nary a hint of brandy taste. At Camp Bar, you get a slightly larger drink for a buck more and bartender Ilana Cohn-Gomez uses half the sugar as her Packing House counterpart, Dawn Zaeske, did. The result is a less sweet version that features, rather than obscures, the brandy. I'd enjoy either version, but I like the Camp Bar version better.
Pick: The Packing House
This was a really tough challenge, not only because both old fashioneds were great, but because they were both made with nearly identical ingredients. The devil is in the details, though, and even small variances have an effect on taste. The Packing House's old fashioned was sweeter, made with two sugar cubes, and smaller and weaker than Camp Bar's. It tasted a little spicier, too, and was extremely drinkable (I finished mine in 11 minutes).
Camp Bar's old fashioned packed a wallop; I could taste Korbel brandy, and it was less sweet with one sugar cube. It also cost $1 more at $7.50, which isn't unrealistic for this big, strong drink. In terms of overall experience, it was a draw for me. I loved the old-school supper club vibe of The Packing House, but I similarly appreciated the new-school theme at Camp, where I've been several times. In a nutshell, you can't go wrong with either old fashioned. But since I had to pick just one, I went with The Packing House.
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When Nina worked at Shakers Cigar Bar on South 2nd Street, she made the best old fashioneds.
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