The Devil You Should Know

It should be said, I love brandy: specifically cognac, a brandy from the Cognac region of France. I have had a fairly long love affair with it. It was the first alcohol I purchased when I turned 21. Yes, the first booze I bought was a bottle of Hennessy V.S.O.P.

In my defense, I needed it to make tiramisu. The tiramisu was one part 'birthday treat' and one part 'spite' for the regulatory geniuses that prevented me from cooking with booze until my senior year of college. (You may have noticed, I like to use alcohol in recipes.) From that point on, I was hooked. I’ve drunk it out of flasks and in tasting flights. I enjoy it straight and even more so with dessert. I love to soak prunes in it, naturally. It’s just special. And apparently, I am not the only one who thinks so.

Cognac is aged in Limousin oak casks; a little cognac evaporates from the casks as the spirit matures, this portion is known as the “angels’ share.” I love that. This past winter, I had the luxury to go to a bar in New York City called Angel’s Share; except, in true form, I thought it was called “Angel’s Chair.”

To my credit, Angel's Share is a speakeasy-type bar that you have to enter through an unmarked door at the back of a Japanese restaurant. Also, I am a little hard of hearing and, let’s be honest, I had a few cocktails in me by the time we made it to “Angel’s Chair.” Regardless, I am very fond of cognac; it’s straightforward, slightly romantic, and comforting: even angels like it.

Now, if angels like cognac then the devil must fancy a Brandy Alexander, a cocktail with quite a reputation. A Brandy Alexander tastes like a boozy custard; it’s decadent. Drinking it is like sleeping in silk pajamas. It feels luxurious. It makes you question why you don’t do “this sort of thing” all the time, whatever “this sort of thing” might be at that moment. It’s downright corruptive. In Days of Wine and Roses, Jack Lemmon’s character, Joe Clay, orders a Brandy Alexander for his teetotaling date and the rest is history. They eventually get married, ride off into the sunset … and both become raging alcoholics. Oh, but the Brandy Alexander’s debasive nature doesn’t end there. Singer/songwriter, Feist, also sings about such things in her hauntingly sexy song, “Brandy Alexander”:

He’s my Brandy Alexander. Always gets me into trouble. But that’s another matter. Brandy Alexander … It goes down easy.

It sure does go down easy. And while I don’t recommend drinking it regularly—as it contains heavy cream and regular consumption may eventually require you to purchase a new, more spacious pair of silk pajamas—I do recommend drinking it on an occasional Wednesday or ordering it for dessert after a nice meal. Life is too short not to.

Brandy Alexander

2 ounces cognac or other brandy

1 ounce dark crème de cacao

1 ounce heavy cream

Freshly grated nutmeg

Shake in a cocktail strainer. Serve up.

Serves one brandy lover.


You really don’t need to use cognac in Brandy Alexanders; some may even argue it’s superfluous. But, once again, I think life is too short not to keep cognac around. My favorite is Pierre Ferrand.

As for the cream, I like Butterworks Farm from Vermont. Whole Foods carries it.

I’ve also made this with regular crème de cacao and it was just fine. The nutmeg is essential, don’t omit it.

If you are looking for a great Brandy Alexander in Boston, I highly recommend Barbara Lynch’s bar, Drink. Last time I had it, the bartender put coffee beans into her cocktail shaker and it added a new twist to the classic.

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