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Brandy Slush is the Sangria of Wisconsin and You Betcha We'll Serve it at Winter Holidays

The Wisconsin Brandy Slush is a midwest classic featuring an icy mix of fruit juice, tea, and brandy. This boozy punch is perfect to serve at your next party.

I've somehow lived 50 years in Wisconsin without sipping a brandy slush, but with the annual spike of Google searches for brandy slush recipes upon us, I decided to find out what all the fuss is about.

I called author Jeanette Hurt who spent three years researching the stories behind the state's popular drinks for her "Wisconsin Cocktails" book. A pair of slush recipes and a dash of the drink's history can be found in the book.

While she found enough information to debunk the widely held lore of how Wisconsin became the brandy drinking capital of the world, she didn't uncover competing claims as to who made the first brandy slush or where it originated, like the hamburger or ice cream sundae.

"Brandy slush is Wisconsin’s version of sangria," Hurt said.

Before diving into why brandy slush is like sangria, let's fill a glass with this slushy for adults... Oh my gosh it's sweet. Think sugared brandy with a lemon-orange kiss. If I hadn't added a third cup of brandy before freezing, the booze would have sloshed undetected past my taste buds and given the impression that this was a virgin orange-lemon slushy — but sweeter.

Tea flavor? It's completely overpowered. Don't get me wrong, my carefully nurtured sweet tooth loved every sip.

I like the ice-cold, slushy texture. It's refreshing. Keep in mind that I'm not opposed to slurping down the occasional blue raspberry Icee and I am childish enough to look at my blue tongue in a mirror afterward.

In terms of sweetness, texture and calories, think of the brandy slush as you would an ice cream dessert drink.

One joy of brandy slush is customization so the Higgins Eats slush tastes different than the Jeanette Hurt slush and every other slush. And flavors may change from batch to batch.

Tea, or no? Tea or lack of tea is the biggest brandy slush recipe difference I found during online searches. There's not a right or wrong answer, just personal taste. But don't expect four bags of green tea from a national brand to shine through. Doubly so if you have no idea how long the bags have been hiding in the back of your cupboard — like me.

If using green tea, Hurt said to follow water temperature and steep time guidelines from the tea company. Green teas are usually best steeped in water that's between 150 and 185 F.

Don't limit yourself to green and black teas.

"I love using really good tea from Rishi (Tea & Botanicals), if I’m going to get fancy," Hurt said. "I’m thinking their cranberry orange tea would be good."

And the best brandy for a slush is ... whatever brand you like in your old-fashioned.

Overachievers can infuse the brandy with tea. It's rather simple but requires patience.

If you want to ramp up the Wisconsin-ness of the slush, Hurt suggests adding a splash of bitters. About a teaspoon to as much as a tablespoon, depending on taste, should do the trick.

Starting with good ingredients gets good results, Hurt said, but brandy slush is a very forgiving concoction. Once you've mixed it together, try it and add ingredients to meet your tastes.

This is the step where Mrs. Higgins Eats and I sampled sips from a juice glass and decided to add another cup of brandy to the mix. You know, for the flavor.

Any cocktail, including slushes, can be balanced by adding booze, bitters or citrus as needed, Hurt said.

You have one last chance to put your signature on your brandy slush with the soda you splash over the ice concoction.

Lemon-lime plays into the orange and lemonade flavors already present. But if you want to get fancy, Hurt said to try something like Top Note's grapefruit soda.

While understandably popular during summer, the appeal of serving an icy cocktail during winter may be about convenience. Made ahead of time, it allows guests to refill glasses and frees hosts from tending bar all night mixing fresh cocktails one at a time. Also, brandy.

Brandy slush recipe requests showed up in newspapers in the 1970s, Hurt said, which means brandy slush was likely gaining popularity through the 1960s.

It's possible that brandy slush recipe requests came from party guests who had a glass or two of the alcoholic slushy at a backyard barbecue or gathering but didn't get the recipe from the host.

This is where brandy slush shares some similarities with sangria. Hurt lived in Spain for a short-time during college when she learned that only tourists order sangria at a bar in Spain. Spaniards drink sangria at parties hosted by friends and family, she said, and every host makes it with their own recipe.

While brandy slush itself can't match sangria's long history, Hurt said, punches pre-date cocktails in the history of alcoholic drinks. Slushes are frozen punches enjoy a distinct advantage over the less chilly concoctions.

After recently finding a bag of brandy slush made six months earlier, Hurt said she poured a glass and it tasted as good as the day it was made.

"When you discover it in the back of your freezer in the middle of a quarantine, it's like liquid gold," Hurt said.

[Contact Daniel Higgins Follow @HigginsEats on Twitter and Instagram and like on Facebook.]

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