Wednesday, December 12, 2018

DAY 41: WWJD--What Would Jennie Drink?

Brandy Alexander
During this season of chilly winds and holiday cheer, the mind sometimes turns to liquid spirits. Gilded Age America invented the cocktail--but the English, who found such mixed drinks interesting but odd, stuck to their whiskey and wine. Gin, often of excrable quality, for the masses who lacked potable water and ice; Claret and Port for the gentleman lounging at their ease after dinner. But one particular strong spirit dominated the upper classes of the Victorian era, and London Society, popular among both men and women: Cognac, or its more common stepbrother, brandy.

Cognac is a fortified spirit aged in France, and the finest lies quietly in its barrels for sixty years before it is bottled.
A brandy warmer 
Warmed over a flame to release its complex notes, a snifter of brandy comes alive under the nose and on the palate. It was sipped neat, or on occasion, with water. Sometimes it was muddled with sugar and citrus--oranges, mandarins, or lemons--and sometimes with ginger or pineapple. All those ingredients were rare commodities in 19th century London, all imported, and thus were available primarily to the wealthy.  

Brandy or cognac was usually decanted from its original bottle and stored in decorative flasks on a sideboard. Engraved silver labels hung from the decanters to identify their contents.

One concoction that may have been particularly beloved by late Victorian imbibers was a variant of the Brandy Alexander, although some drink historians dispute this, arguing that it was developed after the turn of the century. There is a dispute over its origins, as well--was it first made in New York, or Europe? Some credit a bartender, Harry Alexander; others claim it was in fact named for the Russian Czar, Alexander II, who was assassinated in 1881. I personally plump for that idea, because Princess Alix's sister, Minnie--whose husband became Czar Alexander III--was such a frequent guest in London. Regardless, the Brandy Alexander is a perfect drink for the holidays. It could even take the place of dessert!

Brandy Alexander:
2 oz. brandy
1 oz. creme de cacao
1 oz. heavy cream

(Creme de cacao, turns out, was first made in the 16th century by French monks who were divinely inspired to add chocolate to their alcohol.)
Shake the liquids for thirty seconds over ice and strain into a glass; dust with fresh nutmeg. Yum.

And if your enthusiasm for the period knows no bounds, consider purchasing a bottle of 1880 brandy for yourself. Bottled in 1940, after the requisite sixty years in the barrel, this bottle of Remy-Martin 1880 goes for a mere $5,ooo.

Go on. It's the holidays. Treat yourself.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

No comments:

Post a Comment