Drink of the Week: Brandy Alexander

By Paul Nelson

It’s been another beautiful week here in the American Riviera, but clearly winter is coming.  Temperatures hover in the low 70’s during the day and can dip down into the 40’s at night, all of which puts me in the mood for house slippers and something liquid to drive away the winter chill. Flipping through another of my bartending resources this week, I opted for the classic Brandy Alexander.

Brandy is made by distilling wine (though brandy can also be made from other fruits) to increase the alcohol content and are rated based on how long they have been aged. Aging reduces the alcohol content by allowing some of the alcohol (as well as water) to evaporate slowly each year of aging. A bottle should indicate the length of aging with either stars or letters (V.S., V.S.O.P, X.O., Napoleon, etc.) as well as with the price tag. I recommend staying with a X.O. (extremely old) or Napoleon rated brandy, as these have been aged at least six years. You won’t be disappointed if you’re using it only for cocktails and it will be reasonably good if you just want to sip it. However, if you prefer to sip brandy neat, you might want to upgrade to a pricier, longer-aged brandy (or buy Cognac for good measure).

One tradition has it that the Brandy Alexander was born during Prohibition, when the little brandy that was available was of pretty poor quality. Cream was added to disguise the inferior taste. Many recipes call specifically for Cognac but you can use a good brandy instead. Cognac is one particular type of brandy with specific requirements for aging, the type of casks used for aging, and the variety of grape used. Start off with a good brandy and upgrade if you find yourself partial to it.

  • 1 part brandy (or Cognac)
  • 1 part crème de cacao
  • 1 part cream
  • A pinch of nutmeg

Shake or stir the first three ingredients together vigorously. If you like it chilled, shake or stir with ice but serve without the ice (straight up). Sprinkle a bit of the nutmeg on the top of the drink. The flavor reminds me a bit of eggnog, though decidedly lighter. Some folks like to experiment with more refined liquors than the crème de cacao, and there are a variety of white chocolate liquors that could be substituted.  Something to experiment with in the future. Enjoy!