The History Of The Alexander Cocktail.
The first printed recipe for the Alexander is from the 1917 book “Recipes For Mixed Drinks” by Hugo Ensslin. This early Alexander is gin-based, and so is the Alexander recipe in the Old Waldorf-Astoria. This means the two oldest known Alexander recipes are both gin cocktails. Even though the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book was printed in 1935, it documented the bars recipes from the 1890s to 1920.
Europe, it seemed preferred to use Brandy instead of gin. The earliest printed recipes for the Alexander in Europe come from “The Savoy Cocktail Book” by Harry Craddock and “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails” by Harry McElhone. Both books refer to it only as an Alexander cocktail, not specifically a gin or brandy Alexander. Interestingly the Savoy list both the older style gin-based Alexander as an Alexander #1 and the brandy-based one as an Alexander #2. Harry’s ABC book only lists the brandy recipe and does not have the gin version. With all the European cocktail books I looked through from the 1930s on, I noticed that most had both a gin version and a brandy version and referred to both of them as Alexanders. The gin-based Alexander is often called an Alexander #1, and the brandy-based one is called an Alexander #2.
The first American book I could find to include an Alexander with brandy is the 1951 book “Bottoms Up” by Ted Saucier. He lists them as an Alexander (Gin) and an Alexander (Brandy). By the 1970s, the gin-based Alexander goes back to just being called an Alexander, and the Brandy one gains its more common current name of a Brandy Alexander. I first saw this naming convention used in the 1972 Trader Vic’s Cocktail Guide.
Personally, I like the Bottoms Up naming convention for the Alexander and its variations. It’s clear and descriptive and easily allows for additional variations.
Should I use Dark, White, or Clear Creme De Cacao?
None of the Alexander cocktail recipes specify precisely what kind of creme de cacao/chocolate liqueur to use, and honestly, they all taste the same. The dark, white, clear, or lightly aged color depends mainly on the base spirit used and if dyes were added. That being said, the white and dark brown chocolate-colored liqueurs are not naturally that color. Pigments are added to achieve that look. Clear ones were probably also manufactured using a super processed cocoa extract which is then added to sweetened vodka. A naturally colored creme de cacaos is either a light pale brown color or looks like a typically aged spirit like cognac. This depends on if the base spirit is an un-aged distillers alcohol/vodka or an aged spirit. You can easily see this at home by making your own creme de cacao. Add cocoa nibs to high-proof grain alcohol, let it soak for a few days, filter it, and combine it with vanilla extract, sugar, and water until you get a desirable flavor. The color will be a nice light pale brown from the soaked cocoa nibs.
Again the color is artificial unless it’s one of the two mentioned above and is not a result of the flavor extracting process, so get one you like. Ultimately all creme de cacaos are the same product, and the look and color are purely visual. Do you want a dark brown Alexander or a white one? They will taste practically the same so find a brand you like and go with it.