FREEDOM - Milwaukee Brewers games have become a point of pride for the Ver Voort family recently.
Not just because of the team's playoff run this year, but also because every time a game airs on the radio, they hear their own voices during commercial breaks.
"An old fashioned isn't an old fashioned without Gary's!" a voice reminiscent of old baseball announcers tells listeners during Brewers games.
The Fox Valley family never expected Gary's Old Fashioned mix, which started out of their Freedom home, to get as big as it did. It started in 2002 as a stove-top mixture dreamed up after Gary Ver Voort, now 67, fed up with inconsistent old fashioneds, decided to make his own.
Today, bottles of Gary's Old Fashioned mix can be found on the shelves of 500 stores across the state, and on Amazon Prime, where it's shipped to 49 states and even to Spain. The mix isn't too sweet, and carries a tiny hint of heat from cinnamon, perfect for enhancing a good whiskey or masking a bad one. It's different from other mixes available for sale on store shelves, which mostly are cherry-flavored.
What started as a mission to create something good enough for the Ver Voort family to sip on became a way to provide Wisconsinites across the country with a Wisconsin supper club-worthy concoction.
The start of a four-generation business
In 2001, Gary and Judy Ver Voort were fed up.
"We were sick of the cherry-flavored old fashioneds," Gary said.
They would have to drive to a supper club that hand-muddled the drink to get anywhere close to the flavor they expected when they sipped on the Wisconsin cocktail. The mixes on store shelves were too sweet, and at bars, bartenders didn't have the time to hand-muddle and make sure that each and every drink was consistent.
So Gary set out to make a drink to satisfy their palate. He was working in plumbing sales when he started, mixing bitters and other flavors.
"After trial and error, inviting friends over to try, we came up with one we liked," Gary said. "It was a process of finding bitters, finding the process to make it work. You know, we were buying bitters by the five-gallon bucket and blending and boiling it."
The Ver Voort sons— Jim, 44, Paul, 42, and Mark, 39, — remember friends and family coming over for the mix, because they loved it so much.
"People would have to bring an empty bottle of whatever they finished to put the mix in," said Paul, with a laugh.