The Brandy Alexander was a darned popular drink when I was working Upper East Side bars in Manhattan during the ‘70s, and when carefully crafted it can be a quality quaff. But where did it come from?
It’s obviously a pimped-out version of the classic Alexander cocktail, mixing brandy instead of gin with crème de cacao and cream. But whoever eighty-sixed the British gin and welcomed the French cognac to the party is, I believe, lost to history.
One of the earliest known printed recipes for the Alexander can be found in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks. The cocktail, according to historian Barry Popik, was likely born at Rector’s, New York’s premier pre-Prohibition lobster palace. The bartender there, a certain Troy Alexander, created his eponymous concoction in order to serve a white drink at a dinner celebrating Phoebe Snow.
Phoebe Snow, I should explain, was a fictitious character used in an advertising campaign for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. The company wanted to get the message across that it powered its locomotives with anthracite, a clean-burning variety of coal. The ads emphasized this by showing Ms. Snow traveling while wearing a snow-white dress.
Getting back to the Brandy Alexander, I should note that it was first known as the Alexander #2. Want to know the secret to making the drink? Go heavy on the brandy and light on the sweet stuff. My recipe is a decent jumping-off point; you can play with it to make it your own. Try the original gin-based Alexander, too. It’s a mighty fine drink.
Contributed by Gary Regan
- 2 oz Cognac or other fine aged brandy
- 1 oz Dark crème de cacao
- 1 oz Cream
- Garnish: Freshly grated nutmeg
- Glass: Cocktail
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
Gary Regan is the author of numerous books about spirits and cocktails, including The Joy of Mixology and The Bartender’s Gin Compendium. He is also co-host of ArdentSpirits.com and a Liquor.com advisor.