The Alexander was the first cocktail recipe to shake my faith in the wisdom of the bartenders of old. In every tome of mixological lore I’ve opened, on the side of every vintage cocktail shaker I’ve shook, the standard recipe for this classic dessert drink goes like this….

3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz crème de cacao
3/4 oz cream
Shake well with ice. Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprinkling of fresh nutmeg.

Gin and chocolate hardly seem a natural match, know what I mean? And worse, gin with cream? The mind rebels.

Still, having some species of creamy chocolate cocktail on one’s boozing set-list is a must. So for a very long time I always opted to mix up a variant: the Brandy Alexander. Same 1:1:1 proportions as in the recipe above, just with the gin swapped out for brandy (naturally). Something about that combination seemed more… wholesome. And sure enough, it has always been a hit.

My guests have loved it. I’ve loved it.

That said, I did finally one day screw up my courage to mix one of the classic gin versions and wound up being suitably impressed. Those bartenders of old knew their business. There is something utterly fascinating about the standard Alexander. I think the herbal flavours in the gin help you appreciate the vegetal nature of the crème de cacao’s cocoa and vanilla. It’s more rainforest cocoa bean than Old World chocolatier, if you know what I mean. A compelling experience. Maybe even a little unnerving.

Fruity brandy, on the other hand, is no more surprising in an Alexander than raisins in a chocolate bar. It’s the comfortable choice.

I mixed up one of each this evening to see which I preferred and have to say I’m kind of stuck. I want to like the classic version best if for no other reason than to bolster my case for the supremacy of gin in the pantheon of alcoholic spirits. But at the end of the day, I’m going to have to confess that I think the brandy version is the better, more harmonious cocktail.

Of course, what does it matter what I think? Feist has pretty much guaranteed that the Brandy Alexander will be the cocktail on the top of people’s mind for years to come.