The Alexander

By

An after dinner drink, the Alexander originates slightly before the Prohibition: it is a cocktail that was traditionally made with either gin or brandy.  Creamy with chocolate flavors, the drink has the nice complexity underlying it that is found in brandy or cognac, or light notes of juniper as found in the gin variety.


“Though I’d like to be the girl for him |
And cross the sea and land for him |
On milky skin my tongue is sand until |
The ever distant band begins to play |

He’s my Brandy Alexander |
Always gets me into trouble |
But that’s another matter |
Brandy Alexander”

Brandy Alexander” by Feist (2007)

Well the Alexander could probably be made with any base spirit, and a little modification of the ratio of ingredients, there are two principle varieties: gin and brandy.  According to Craddock, these are referred to as Alexander No. 1, and No. 2 respectively (Craddock 18).  In the gin version, the gin is half of the drink, with sweet cream and crème de cacao coming in at one fourth of the cocktail each (Ibid).  On the other hand, the drink is equal parts of all ingredients, but featuring fresh cream instead of sweet cream, most likely because the brandy is more sweet than the dry gin (Ibid).

It seems that the first appearance of the Alexander was made by Hugo Ensslin (Liquor and Drink).  This would be around 1915, at the publication of his book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks.  However, according to Dale DeGroff, the cocktail was from the Prohibition (DeGroff 212).  While not necessarily originating from that period (DeGroff notes that there are rumors that it was created by Harry MacElhone in 1922), the drink became popular because it was able to mask the flavors of bad homemade alcohol, and also mask alcohol as an after dinner drink when imbibing of spirits was illegal (Ibid).  As such the drink became exceedingly popular with the ladies at the time, and still is quite good as an effeminate drink; yet it does have its manly and masculine charms, and is quite good when indulging a sweet tooth (Ibid).  Because this drink is one which you don’t recognize the strength of the cocktail’s spirit, you have to be careful when imbibing it, since it is stronger than it seems, thanks to the masking effects of the fatty cream.

Embury notes that the Alexander, when made with Brandy, is a Brandy Alexander, but is also known as a Panama cocktail (Embury 233).  However, the Panama cocktail seems to be one which is made with white creme de cacao rather than dark.  Furthermore, if you make it with half gin and half cognac, it is known in Paris as a Blond Negress, or La Negresse Blonde (Ibid).  But as Embury notes, you want to be careful when imbibing this; as I have said, the cocktail is one which is an after dinner drink; it is “deadly as a pre-prandial drink,” and subverts appetite (Ibid).

The most common variation on this cocktail is to make it frappé, by combining it with ice cream instead of heavy cream, and blending until it has the consistency of a milkshake (Ibid 213).  This is really an interesting way of making it, and produces an interesting cocktail, that honestly has a thick, rich flavor, which is lacking from the cream; plus if you are using vanilla ice cream, you add the dimension of vanilla to the cocktail, which rounds out the flavors of the cacao.  Personally though, I prefer the drink made with heavy cream, because it is rich and more smooth when quaffed.

Try the drink, or the frappé version the next time you are desiring a dessert.  As a cocktail, it goes well at the end of a meal, and doesn’t really encourage eating anymore because of the viscous and rich nature.  While traditionally topped with nutmeg, you can experiment not only with the liqueur but also the garnish; a light dusting of cardamom, clove, cinnamon, or ground anise would work as well.  I’ve tried making the drink with some Cherry Heering alongside the creme de cacao, and I have to say, it tastes utterly fantastic, making a rich and creamy sour cherry, chocolate shake.

The Gin Alexander or Alexander, No. 1:

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce dark crème de cacao
3/4 ounce heavy cream

Combine the ingredients in a shaker tin, fill with ice and shake hard and well.  When emulsified and chilled, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

The Brandy Alexander or Alexander, No. 2:

1 ounce brandy
1 ounce dark crème de cacao
1 to 2 ounces heavy cream

Same as the first.

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Craddock, Henry.  1999.  The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Originally published 1930.  London: Pavilion Books.

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Embury, David A.  2009.  The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.  Originally published 1948.  New York: Mud Puddle Books, Inc.  

Liquor and Drink.  “Alexander.”   http://www.liquoranddrink.com/Drinks/137-Alexander/ (accessed March 30, 2010).