The Brandy Alexander has its roots in the 19th century but it really came into its own in the 70s. The Brandy Alexander—cognac, cocoa liqueur, and cream—just sounds like the 70s: . You can picture smoke-filled living rooms in which this drink was consumed; you can see the glassware and the chunky jewelry and the big collars and other cultural mistakes. And cream, well, once you get into cream-based drinks, it’s a slippery slope to ice cream as a luxurious variant. And once you get into ice cream cocktails you get into trouble. There are numerous accounts of bad Brandy Alexander experiences on the Internet for a reason—including Portland bar icon Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s hilarious account of his father confronting the infamous beverage.
Since you probably familiar with the sequence of the alphabet, however, you know that the Brandy Alexander is lodged firmly in the ‘B’ section of the Complete World Bartender Guide (our Ubertext is also a product of the 70s—even if the recipes are older). So we won’t be making this cocktail today. No, we won’t be making it for, well, about four and a half years. But we will be meeting a couple of Ms. Brandy Alexander’s weird ancestors today, the ALEXANDER YOUNG and the ALEXANDRA.
Strangely, there is nothing on the Internet about either of these drinks in spite of the luminance of the Brandy Alexander (if Ms. Alexander were Jackie Onassis, I was expecting the cocktail versions of her cousins who live at Gray Gardens). But no, there is nothing. That’s the first sign of trouble, but it’s not unusual for us to be proceeding without a road map so we just charge forward with the day’s labor.
First up is Alexander Young, who turns out not to be a distant relative at all yet still shows up at the party. This thing has bourbon, OJ, pineapple juice, grenadine, bitters, and lemon juice in it. Not even close! Oh, we are stupid, so stupid—why are we noticing this list of ingredients now? We scramble to find out who Alexander Young is to see if he too comes from a good bloodline—since he’s obviously not a relation. According to Wikipedia, these are our choices for Alexander Young’s real life identity: a 17th century Scottish bishop, a Scottish engineer who became a citizen of the Kingdom of Hawaii, a Scottish guitarist, an English tenor, a Victoria Cross recipient, and a Canadian politician.
Nobody from Kentucky, nobody who drinks bourbon, nothing. Still, we must do our duty.
1.5 oz. bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
.5 oz. orange juice
.5 oz. pineapple juice
1 tsp. lemon juice
A few dashes of Angostura bitters
A few drops grenadine
Combine with ice; shake well. Strain over crushed ice.
Brian: This tastes like a really old drink.
Eric: Old. Like it’s been sitting around?
Brian: I’ve seen recipes that my grandparents had—and older friends of my parent’s had—and it’s like this. You put booze in with a bunch of different fruit juices. It always ends with a lot of pineapple. I don’t like it, really.
Eric: When is orange juice successful in a drink?
Brian: Tequila Sunrise.
Eric: I feel like—
Eric: Is that successful? Shouldn’t this here be limier or lemonier? The citrus is murky. I don’t like it.
Brian: I don’t understand why you’re putting a pineapple it. There’s pineapple juice in there too.
Eric: Maybe it’s trying to be like a proto-tiki thing. But there’s no spice in it, there’s no sweet in it. This is like gin and juice, but with bourbon! You know, I might even rate it lower than a 3. It’s not offensive, it’s just banal. This is a banal drink. There’s nothing good about it.
Brian: Maybe it should be a 2.
Eric: It looks delicious, though! Even though I’m laughing at it, it looks amazing. It’s upsetting, actually. The whole thing is upsetting.
SCORES: Brian 3, Eric 2.5
The Brandy Alexander is sometimes referred to as an Alexander No. 2 (yes, we are back on track with the Alexander clan again!), which makes one wonder if there is an Alexander or an Alexander No. 1. And if so, how come we have never heard of it? Turns out there is an Alexander cocktail that has been largely lost to history—buried by its own shiny offspring like the Corpse Reviver #1 cocktail or the first Evil Dead movie. The original Alexander cocktail used gin—gin, dark crème de cacao, and cream—before getting kicked to the curb by its highfalutin, cognac-using progeny, the Brandy Alexander.
But we are not making the Alexander today. We are making the Alexandra, which is made with gin, dark crème de cacao, and cream—wait, that sounds exactly like the Alexander! What is this? Is this the same drink? Some digging around leads us to Simon Difford’s nice history of the Alexander, which links to a 1937 text called New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘em. Here there is a drink called the Alexandre, and for a moment I wonder if that’s how the Alexander became the Alexandre became the Alexandra, one letter at a time.
But no, this How to Mix ’em recipe adds egg white so it’s a different drink completely. And they address their creative “Frenchy” spelling: “If you have trouble with its pronunciation, simply hold your nose tight between thumb and forefinger. But, should you mischance pronounce it Alexander—it will taste just the same, And the taste is simply de-lovely.”
I don’t know what to believe anymore. My life is a lie. Either this is cocktail is just a misspelling that made it past the copy editor or the Alexandra is another historical example of a pioneering woman doing great work and getting none of the accolades.
1 oz. cream
1 oz. gin (Distillery 209)
1 oz. dark crème de cacao (Tempus Fugit)
Shake with ice and pour slowly.
Brian: “Pour slowly.” What’s that all about?
Eric: You know we have to pour it fast now. To see what happens.
Brian: As fast as possible.
Eric: What could go wrong?
We discuss which gin will work the best in this cocktail and decide that something a little less ginny might be in order. Brian digs out a small bottle of San Francisco based Distillery 209’s gin. Even though this modern New American gin is probably not historically accurate in this cocktail—it should be a London dry—we have high hopes for it. And in the end we do pour slowly, actually.
Eric: Wow, this one looks respectable. This one looks good!
Brian: (drinks) It is good. That was right of us to not choose an overpowering gin. If I were to use Hendricks or that Two James that I have in there it would have been way too floral.
Eric: (drinks) It’s delicious.
Brian: It’s great. Next time maybe we should end the day with cream drinks to coat everything that came before it.
Eric: Are you tasting the gin or is it buried in there?
Brian: I’m not getting any juniper or anything.
Eric: Hmm, then maybe we should have gone with something a little more forward. This is very desserty. It’s evocative of a white Russian in a way, but even dessertier for me because of the heavy cream and the crème de cacao.
Brian: This was one of John Lennon’s favorite drinks apparently. Because it reminded him of a milkshake!
Eric: The powerful Brandy Alexander lobby would have you believe that you can make music like the Beatles if you drink enough of these.
Brian: I’d say this is a solid 7.
Eric: Wait, are you ranking each drink as it compares to others or to the idealized form of itself? What is Plato’s idealized form of a cream and coffee or cocoa and neutral spirit drink? Because if you look at it in that context, it’s an 8.
SCORES: Brian 7, Eric 7.5, Plato 8
At long last, a good cocktail. Sweet as your last kiss. Thank God for little miracles! I can go on with life now.
Next week we continue this afternoon ramble through the Complete World Bartender Guide with the soupy ALFONSO SPECIAL (who the hell is Alfonso and what is so special about him?) and the ALGONQUIN, which has obviously has some kind of literary pedigree! The Algonquin has rye whiskey in it and pineapple juice (we meet again) and has the potential to be that most elusive of unicorny things: a cocktail both weird and amazing.
Plus Dorothy Parker must have had hundreds of these!