A Chocolate Lover’s Delight
The Brandy Alexander is a celestial mix of cognac (or brandy), crème de cacao, and heavy cream. The crème de cacao gives the drink its distinct chocolate flavoring — one that’s not overwhelmingly strong, but definitely noticeable. The cream adds richness, and the cognac provides some grownup interest. This is a very smooth and mellow drink that barely seems alcoholic at all.
With its rich creaminess, the Brandy Alexander is perfect for the winter holiday season — a time of year when many of us are looking for decadent, festive cocktails that we might not consider drinking at other times of the year.
You can have a Brandy Alexander before dinner, although you might find it a bit heavy in that role. But the drink is perfect after dinner — it’s almost a dessert in a glass! It also works well as a weekend mid-afternoon tipple, best sipped while munching holiday goodies.
I know there are people in this world who don’t like chocolate. If you happen to be one of them, stop reading right here: You won’t like this cocktail. But for the other 99% of us? Yes, please.
Recipe: Brandy Alexander Cocktail
The Brandy Alexander derives from an earlier cocktail called simply the “Alexander.” That drink is a mix of gin, crème de cacao (a chocolate-flavored liqueur), and heavy cream. The Brandy Alexander just substitutes brandy for gin. Presumably you could substitute other spirits if you prefer. I haven’t done it, but I suspect this drink would be delicious made with dark or aged amber rum. But I like the flavor of the classic Brandy Alexander, so that’s what I stick to.
My favorite recipe for this drink features equal parts of cognac, crème de cacao, and cream. This is also David Wondrich’s preferred formula. Other people think different. You can watch a video of Robert Hess making a Brandy Alexander using 3 parts cognac and 2 parts each of crème de cacao and cream.
Other mixsters favor 2 parts cognac to 1 part each of crème de cacao and cream. Still others like 1 part each of cognac and crème de cacao, and 2 parts of cream. That last one is really too rich to drink, IMO — but you may find it ideal. I’d suggest making the drink my way once. Then if you want to change it a bit to suit your taste buds, do so.
This recipe makes 1 cocktail, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare.
- 1 ounce cognac or brandy (nothing too expensive — a moderately priced VSOP or even VO like St. Remy or Raynal works well)
- 1 ounce crème de cacao (either white — clear — or brown; see Notes)
- 1 ounce heavy cream
- a dusting of ground nutmeg as garnish (optional but attractive)
- Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds, until the drink is cold. Be sure to shake well! This helps increase the foaminess of the cream, which creates a more attractive drink.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that has been chilled).
- Add a dusting of ground nutmeg if desired (freshly ground is particularly good), and serve.
- You can use either cognac or brandy when you make this drink. Cognac is nothing more than brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. (Brandy is what happens when you distill wine.) I tend to prefer the flavor profiles of cognac, so that’s what I always buy.
- People often think of cognac as expensive stuff served in a snifter that you enjoy after dinner. Although you can buy very expensive cognac that is ideal in that role, you wouldn’t want to waste it on cocktails.
- You can buy perfectly decent cognac at a price similar to American brandy, and it’s well-suited for mixing in cocktails. Shop around until you find one that you like.
- Crème de cacao is bottled as either a white (clear) or brown liquid. The flavor difference between them is very slight, and when mixed in this cocktail I can’t distinguish between the two. I buy the white version because some other drinks that require crème de cacao are best made with that variety. Brown crème de cacao will make a slightly darker-hued Brandy Alexander, which you might find attractive (all the pictures in this post were of drinks made with the white variety).
- You can find crème de cacao at almost every liquor store, in the liqueur and cordial section. Many brands cost around $10 per bottle. I haven’t done extensive taste testing of the various brands, but DeKuyper is widely available and I find it to be of decent quality, as is Hiram Walker. Marie Brizard is a good step up in quality, but costs as least twice as much. Although it's wonderful, I stick to a less expensive brand in this drink because when mixed with the cream and cognac, much of the flavor difference is hard to detect.
- BTW, when experimenting with the ratio of ingredients in this drink, do note that using equal parts of each ingredient results in a drink that’s fairly thick and creamy. If you increase the amount of cognac, the texture of the drink will become thinner — still good, but IMO you lose a bit of mouth feel.
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs took a sip of her Brandy Alexander and smiled. “Delicious! So smooth. And so rich!” she said. “But as much as I love the flavor, one of these is going to be enough.”
“It’s awfully good,” I agreed between slurps. “But you wouldn’t want to drink this all the time.”
“It’s almost like sipping melted ice cream,” observed Mrs K R, her drink half gone.
“Except for the alcohol part, which can catch up with you if you’re not careful,” I said.
“Fortunately, we only drink these once or twice a year, during the December festivities,” said Mrs K R, draining her glass. “Too bad there isn’t something similar, with a bit less alcohol, for those who want to drink their dessert.”
“Be careful for what you wish for, grasshopper!” I said. “There is indeed such a drink. It has less alcohol than the Brandy Alexander, and it combines the great chocolate taste of this cocktail with mint. Kind of like drinking an after-dinner mint.”
“When do I get to sample this concoction?” asked Mrs K R.
“We’ll be posting about it next week,” I replied, “so you’ll be sipping it quite soon.”
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