What Is The History Of The Alexander and Brandy Alexander.
The first printed recipe for the Alexander is from the 1917 book “Recipes For Mixed Drinks” by Hugo Ensslin. This first Alexander is gin-based, and this is backed by the Alexander recipe in the Old Waldorf-Astoria, which also uses gin as the Alexander’s base.
The earliest printed recipes for the Brandy Alexander come from both “The Savoy Cocktail Book” by Harry Craddock and “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails” by Harry McElhone. When the Alexander cocktail made its way over to Europe, it began to be mixed with brandy. Both books refer to it only as “Alexander” and not specifically a Brandy Alexander. Interestingly the Savoy list both the older 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. I noticed this with all the European cocktail books I looked through from the 1930s. They all had both a gin version and a brandy version and referred to them as Alexander. The gin-based one often being called Alexander #1, and the brandy-based one is called 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 cocktail 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. Naturally, colored creme de cacaos are either a light pale brown or looks like a normal 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.