Brandy Alexander I – Updated!

Many folks will be familiar with the creamy cocktail, the Brandy Alexander, but what about its ancestor, which was originally made with gin?

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The origins of the Alexander are not 100% clear, but the earliest written reference that I have found was in Recipes for Mixed Drinks by Hugo R. Ensslin from 1915, although I am reliably informed that in Harry Montague’s book from 1914 there is also a gin Alexander. Despite this, it is thought to have originated from bartender Troy Alexander of  Rector’s in New York. Legend has it that it was created as a “pure” cocktail for a party celebrating the advertising success of a character called Phoebe Snow, the mascot of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Back at the turn of the 19th century, the railway engines of the vast continent of America would often shower their passengers with soot, no good for Mark Twain and the other white suit wearers. But DL&W used anthracite instead of coal, which meant that an individual could dress all in white, without fear of a blemish to their dress, and Phoebe Snow embodied this message by always dressing in white. This is why the cocktail had to be pure white and why, really, it should be left ungarnished.

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The Brandy Alexander (also known as the Panama or Alexander II) seems to have come later and the first written reference I have found is in Harry’s ABC (1922).

There is also some evidence pointing to it having been created to celebrate the wedding of Mary, Princess Royal (the only daughter of George V) and the Viscount Lascalles in 1922 but there is a cocktail later in Harry’s book called the Princess Mary Cocktail which consists of equal parts of Gin, Creme de Cacao and Fresh Cream and is accompanied by the following note: “This cocktail was introduced by myself in honour of Princess Mary’s wedding to Lord Lascelles, February, 1922”

This seems to somewhat debunk the idea that the Brandy Alexander was dedicated to them but it’s easy to see where the confusion could come from.

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So the Alexander can be made with brandy or gin, but there is also variance with regards to the Creme de Cacao, which is available in two varieties: brown and white. I can’t speak on behalf of all brands, but the varieties that I use, made by Giffard, taste distinctly different: the brown has a darker flavour, more reminiscent of cocoa or coffee beans, and the white has a lighter flavour, slightly reminiscent of white chocolate.

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My favourite here was certainly the Brandy Alexander with the Brown Cacao, it was the most balanced and was the most balanced, I also liked the bitter notes.

If you usually find these cocktail a little rich, may I suggest replacing the crème de cacao with Mozart Dry Chocolate Spirit; this works particularly well with the gin creating a drink with the dryness of a Martini and some cream and chocolate – unusual but certainly worth trying.

Replacing the gin or brandy with vodka creates an extra-clean Alexander worthy of the drinks original snow-white purity.

Is this all there is to say on the Alexander? Not at all, they’ll be plenty more in the future!*

*Such as The Alexander was a favourite of John Lennon between ’73 and ’75 during his “Lost and Found” period or his “Lost Weekend”.

A special note of thanks to Jeff from Cocktail Kingdom for his help with my research.

Millionaire’s Cocktails

 

From Left-Right: Millionaire Sazerac, Millionaire Martini, Millionaire Manhattan, Millionaire Bramble, Millionaire Gimlet, Millionaire Brandy Alexander, Millionaire's Sidecar

During London Cocktail Week, I was told about “Millionaire’s” cocktails; these are essentially variations of any cocktail that are made as usual, but topped up with a small amount of champagne. Thus you can add a “touch of glamour” to any drink by making it a Millionaire’s version.

For example:

Millionaire’s Manhattan:

2oz Rye Whisky

1oz Red Vermouth

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a glass (making sure that the drink does not fill the glass).

Top up the cocktail with 1oz of Champagne.

With New Year’s Eve around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to look at some Millionaire’s cocktails so that you might be best equipped to try one on the big night.

Millionaire’s Martini
(Using Brokers Export Gin & Home Made Vermouth, 6:1 Ratio, Stirred)
As a Martini fan, I was intrigued to try this, although I am aware that some folk may see this as an abomination akin to the Death in the Afternoon.
It’s fair to say that I didn’t hold out much hope for the taste, but I was wrong: it wasn’t the best, but worked surprisingly well. It produced a very dry drink with the dry vermouth and dry Champagne working together; it may, in fact, be a touch too dry for some. I also quite liked the addition of bubbles.

Millionaire’s Sazerac
This definitely works and goes beyond the novelty of adding Champagne. It gives the cocktail a lighter feel. You meet the flavours of the whisky and anise at the beginning, with the taste of the bubbly coming through at the end. This reminded Mrs. B of liquorice; it is possible that the bubbles brought out the flavour of the absinthe rinse. An easy way to create an enjoyable drink and one worth trying.

Millionaire’s Manhattan
Very disappointing – the worst of the bunch. A clash of different flavours, which then disappear, resulting in a drink that is altogether rather dull. Neither the Champagne nor the cocktail does well here. Avoid.

Millionaire’s Bramble
Another triumph for the Bramble: the Champagne lengthens the drink without taking away the flavour of the ingredients; it all was nicely balanced. I thought this was a version of the original to be kept for special occasions, which is exactly what I think a Millionaire’s cocktail should be. If you usually find the Bramble too sweet, this may be a nice variation.
I also recommend straining out the crushed ice (or adding a straw), in order to make it easier to drink.

Millionaire’s Sidecar
Really very good – refreshing, with a little bite. The bubbles of the Champagne go well with the slightly sherberty flavour of the Sidecar. Once again, this could be a cocktail in its own right and not just a novelty. It is worth noting that, once the tasting was over, this was the first of the cocktails to be finished.

Millionaire’s Gimlet
The extra fizz is welcome; I do occasionally add a splash of soda to my Gimlets to give it a little extra zip. The drink is fresh and rather sippable. Despite its strong-flavoured ingredients, the Gimlet does still let some of the Champagne flavours through. Probably our third favourite.

Millionaire’s Panama (Brandy Alexander)
The reaction of the cream and Champagne made the top of this look a bit like meringue – how novel! Beyond that, it’s not that great. Although not unpleasant, it’s half-way to being a Ramos Gin Fizz, but doesn’t quite make it.

Conclusion
After trying a variety of Millionaire’s cocktails, it certainly seems that some work better than others and that, typically, the simple ones work the best. Our top recommendations for trying on December 31st would be the Sidecar, Gimlet & Sazerac. Either way, have an enjoyable New Year’s Eve.

Barroom Bookshelf #2 – Burke’s Complete Cocktail and Tastybite Recipes

Barroom Bookshelf #2:
Burke’s Complete Cocktail and Tastybite Recipes

The front cover of Burke's Complete Cocktail & Tastybite Recipes

I do not recall exactly when or where I got my copy of Burke’s Complete Cocktail & Tastybite Recipes, but I am sure that the term “tastybite” was a major factor in acquiring it.

Written in 1936 by Herman “Barney” Burke, this 8” book endeavours to detail the etiquette of mixing, serving and drinking beverages, with a  selection of cocktail foodbits recipes thrown in.

The author believes food and drink to be brothers and proclaims that, in consideration of their health, the wise drinker (and I’m not sure how many of those I have met) will accompany their cocktails with tastybites before, during & after the drink.

So it is clear that Mr. Burke certainly has his opinions and these are not restricted to the present; he has his views of the future too. Here are two of his predictions:

1) (The) cocktail period will probably pass to make way for (people) learning and enjoying drinks as connoisseurs.

2) US wine will (one day) be the best in the world.

Interestingly, you could definitely argue that the first one has come to pass; as for the second, well, I’ve had some nice Californian wines, but I’m far off making a definitive decision.

Burke’s is famous for containing one of the first written recipe of the Brandy Alexander but in addition to this the book contains recipes that I have not been able to find elsewhere (at least not without reference to this volume) so, in the name of experimentation, I tried a couple out:

Thunderbolt & Harvard Brandy Cocktail recipes – CLICK TO ENLARGE

1) Thunderbolt
Boom! This is a Thunderbolt. This golden, aptly named drink packs a punch, but its shaking means it’s got a little less edge than you might expect. I mixed this with Seagram’s Gin, Seagram’s Whisky and Brandy. It has a strong flavour but, like The Vesper, you’d only need one before dinner.

The Thunderbolt Cocktail

2) Harvard Brandy Cocktail
This has a sophisticated feel with a full flavour: a balance of herbs and spices. As this is stirred, it makes the drink that bit smoother and I think it makes a charming alternative to a Manhattan. The brandy and vermouth mix well, with the sugar syrup off-setting any bitterness, and the Angostura Bitters binds the drink together in its usual fashion.

The Harvard Brandy Cocktail

In Conclusion
Burke’s provides an extensive selection of cocktails and, more unusually, tastybite recipes. I haven’t focused on the latter so much, but the five types of caviar canapes are not to be missed. I also enjoyed Barney Burke’s insights and soothsaying of the bar world past, present and future, and the pages at the end for “Your own recipes” is a really nice touch.
Is the book essential for a fledgling vintage barroom bookshelf? No, but I am very glad it’s on mine.

A reprint of Burke’s Complete Cocktail & Tastybite Recipes is available from Createspace and Amazon and is currently priced, rather reasonably, under £10.

OR here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/35834544/1934-Burke-s-Complete-Cocktail-and-Tastybite-Recipe-by-Harman-Burney-Burke

Score: 3 stars

Mrs B.’s Drinks

Mrs. B’s Drinks

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Cocktails for Ladies

I have often found myself caught off-guard when asked, “What would you like to drink?”. With a lack of insight, I usually then found myself sipping a glass of orange juice, but longing for something more adventurous.

The world of cocktails, even just vintage ones, is vast and often expensive and so, after a couple of conversations with ladies in a similar situation to myself, I decided to raid the cellar and the bookshelf and find cocktails that could I recommend to female friends. I wanted to arm all of us with a list of choices – relatively straight-forward, easy-to-find choices – for those moments of ignorance and indecision that I had found myself dreading. I hope that this brief introduction provides some insight into a much bigger and vibrant world of cocktails.

From left to right: White Lady, Brandy Alexander, Rusty Nail, Harvey Wallbanger, Simple Rum Cocktail, Sidecar, Sweet Martini

The White Lady (8/10)

This gin-based cocktail was wonderfully smooth and, with its bitter, lemon flavour and creamy froth on top, was highly reminiscent of a lemon meringue pie, only without the excessive sweetness. I could easily see myself sipping and savouring one of these at any point in an evening, although I imagine those with a more refined palate than myself may enjoy specifying their choice of gin to make it even better.

Harvey Wallbanger (7/10)

Vodka, orange juice and Galliano come together to make this a sweet and fruity long drink that probably won’t hang around for too long if you have a sweet tooth and like the strong vanilla flavour. If find sugary cocktails hard to swallow, using Galliano L’Autentico, based on an older formulation, may be just the ticket: the sweet vanilla is then replaced with a subtle aniseed kick. Both variations are delicious with a slice of orange and, for a real treat, freshly squeezed juice.

I found the Harvey Wallbanger much easier to drink than The White Lady and wonderfully thirst-quenching, but thought it likely to disappear all too quickly to really savour.

Mrs B. samples a Harvey Wallbanger

Brandy Alexander (9.5/10)

I have to admit to being less than enthusiastic about cocktails containing cream, and so I was quietly dreading the Brandy Alexander (which I know to be a favourite of Mr. B), but this one was a real surprise. A dusting of nutmeg and chocolate flake draws you into a combination of brandy, crème de cacao, and (in this case, double) cream that is silky and rich, with the warmth in the brandy slowly seeping through after the ice-cream-like beginning. This is a drink that could very easily replace a dessert, in my eyes (and I like my desserts!).

Simple Rum Cocktail (6/10)

With a glass full of crushed ice, refreshing lime and a dash of cola, this cocktail brings back memories of many a summer evening. It is a very enjoyable way of drinking rum, both if you are a fan of the spirit or if you have just been introduced. The other ingredients complement the rum, making it more palatable for a fresh face, but the individual character of the rum still comes through; if you don’t use a rum that you like the taste of on its own, this probably won’t be your favourite.

Sweet Martini (ladies only, according to the Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts) (8/10)

Mixed using Old Tom Gin, which is sweeter than its modern counterparts, this martini was remarkably full of flavour, which was highly unexpected, given its cool, clear exterior. It certainly packs a punch, but the flavour goes far beyond just alcohol; I found myself reminiscing on olives and pizza, making me think that it might serve quite well as an aperitif for an Italian meal. Given its bold flavours, this probably won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s an unusual one to try, regardless of your feelings towards the dry martini.

Rusty Nail (8/10)

As a fan of whisky, I was looking forward to this one and wasn’t disappointed: with its combination of Drambuie, a honey and herb liqueur, and blended Scotch, it is a sweeter way to drink whisky without drowning it within a long drink. This would be a delightful drink to slowly sip by the fire at the end of a long day, feeling both the flames and the alcohol gradually warm you up.

Sidecar (9/10)

Finally, we have the Sidecar: a deliciously smooth and fruity cocktail and another one that surprised me, as I’m not generally a fan of brandy. The Sidecar, however, is a short, revitalising drink (that is, nonetheless, relatively easy to manage) with a sharp finish that reminded me distinctly of sherbet. The flavours come together nicely and I believe I could quite happily order one of these at any point during an evening. This is my top pick for a ladies’ cocktail.

In conclusion, by scores alone, the Brandy Alexander was my clear favourite, but, unlike a good cup of tea, I feel that I would need to be in a specific mood to enjoy one as much as I did in this tasting. Therefore, the top spot in my list of cocktails for ladies has to be the Sidecar, followed by the Rusty Nail and The White Lady, with the Brandy Alexander reserved for those times when I’m after a sweet treat, but can’t manage dessert!

There are, of course, many, many other cocktails to try and so I would greatly encourage everyone to try something new; why not ask a barman for a recommendation, stating your favourite spirit as a base? Create your own, tailored list so that you never again find yourself, as I did, unarmed with the perfect drink for an evening.