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Cheers! Updated 1970s disco drink will make you feel like dancing

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The Fernet Alexander, an update of a 1970s disco drink.

The 1970s are not known for refined or complex cocktails. The ‘70s were all about “disco drinks.” They were sweet. A lot of drinks featured orange juice. Some had racy names such as Slow Screw which evolved into all kinds of drinks using variations on that name. Then there were the cream (or ice cream) drinks. Finally, add to the collection drinks that featured crème de ‘anything.’ You can find samples of popular 1970s drinks here and here.

"I don't know they managed to fit into those (tight) pants when they were drinking that amount of cream regularly," Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said.

Think about all those people dancing to ABBA, the Bee Gees, and Gloria Gaynor nearly every night. That had to burn some calories, right?

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
"I don't know how they managed to fit into those pants when they were drinking that amount of cream regularly."

Tammy calls her update of one of those drinks, "a mash up of a brandy Alexander and a grasshopper."

During a recent episode (find it here), Tammy made her own crème de cacao and there was some left over.

“I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to come up with a Michigan disco drink,” she said.

She did not want one sweet liqueur on top of another on top of another, so she decided to use a less sweet and add a bit of bitter liqueur that has hints of mint and chocolate flavors, fernet.

Fernet Branca is very popular, but in Lansing American Fifth Spirts has made its own fernet and that’s what Tammy used in what she calls the Fernet Alexander.

“A lot of the taste we’re talking about (in the brandy Alexander), plus a healthy dose of bitter which, for me, balances it all out,” Tammy said.

The first attempt at Fernet Alexander didn’t turn out the way she wanted. The beginning of the drink was fine, but the finish was not quite right.

“I needed to tweak it a little bit to get the recipe right where I wanted it to have something that's definitely a dessert cocktail, but still delicious. I ended up adding a half ounce of simple syrup to kind of bump that up. And then some chocolate bitters to bring a little bit more chocolate to the table,” Tammy said.

There are some of us who are not especially enamored with dessert drinks. You can safely make an exception for the Fernet Alexander. It’s more complex and not cloyingly sweet. As K.C. and the Sunshine Band might put it, “That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.”

Fernet Alexander

1 oz Fernet (American Fifth Distilling)
1 oz crème de cacao
1 oz heavy cream
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 dash chocolate bitters (optional, will depend on your Fernet and crème de cacao brands if you need it)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake very well, then strain into coupe or martini glass. For prettiest drink, double-strain through a fine mesh strainer to keep the ice chips out.

Featuring DIY creme de cacao made using Mindo cacao nibs https://www.seriouseats.com/diy-chocolate-liqueur-how-to-make-creme-de-cacao-recipe

Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham are the authors of Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers from the University of Michigan Press. The book is based on the Cheers! episodes heard on Michigan Radio.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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