Happy Hour History: The Brandy Alexander

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In a crowded field of sugary pretenders, the Brandy Alexander is the OG sweet-tooth cocktail. It predates Prohibition, was beloved by Beatles, and has been claimed by nearly every Alexander of note in the 20th century.

Originally a gin-based Alexander cocktail, it first appears in print around 1915 in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks. Historian Barry Popik places the cocktail’s creation at Rector’s, a popular New York City restaurant, where bartender Troy Alexander invented the drink for a party celebrating the launch of an ad campaign for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.

The campaign was built around the fictional character Phoebe Snow, a New York socialite who rode the Lackawanna dressed in white. You see, coal-burning engines made rail travel during that time a dirty business, but the Lackawanna used clean-burning anthracite coal, thus guaranteeing a soot-free trip. The Alexander, with its creamy complexion, was conceived to mark the occasion.


While that may be the popular history, a number of alternate theories exist. One suggests that the Alexander was created to commemorate the wedding of Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles, in London in 1922. Drama critic, Algonquin Round Table member, and noted blowhard Alexander Woollcott asserted it was made in his honor. Meanwhile in Russia, Tsar Alexander II claimed he was the inspiration. However, none of these stories seem to hold up.

According to Popik, the substitution of brandy doesn’t show up until 1941. This variation soon came to overshadow the original, gaining popularity in the mid-20th century. Both Ringo Starr and John Lennon were fans — Lennon apparently called it his “milkshake.” Mary Richards even asks for one during her interview in the pilot episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

While not exactly my type of cocktail, the Brandy Alexander is a sweet sipper that feels right at home on the dessert menu. Fans of Chocolate Martinis or other super-sweet fad drinks should give it a shot; it’s a sophisticated alternative that will impress your friends.

Brandy Alexander Recipe

2 oz. cognac, or another quality brandy
1 oz. dark crème de cacao
1 oz. cream

Directions: Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake for 10-20-seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Enjoy while listening to this.