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To truly enjoy the holiday season this time of year it’s important to keep it simple. It’s a time to remember the little things in life and spend quality time with family and friends. The simple pleasures become amplified and take on new meaning and depth. Here’s a fairly “simple” puzzle box I received as a gift from a friend, a simple gesture yet one that means so much. “In a Cage” is by Japanese artist Shiro Tajima who designed it as a simple box with a complex secret. To toast this little marvel I made a replica of the In a Cage puzzle … in a cocktail! Sticking with the theme of something simple which has hidden complexity, I’ve created a variation on the classic Brandy Alexander, one of the more deliciously simple holiday cocktails in existence. I always seem to come back to this one during the holidays. Traditionally, brandy is combined with crème de cacao (chocolate liqueur) and heavy cream in equal proportions for a decadent dessert drink which dates back to 1915 and a bartender named Troy Alexander. He used gin in the original, but brandy became dandy soon after.

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For this version I’ve swapped the brandy for Pedro Ximenez Sherry, a seriously scrumptious dessert wine because why the hell not. But you really begin to appreciate this Alexander more and more as you experience it (much like the puzzle box …) thanks to the special holiday ice keeping it cool. The ice is made from cinnamon spiced cranberry syrup and Becherovka, the Czech Republic herbal liqueur which dates from 1807 and has been described as “Christmas in a glass”. Its flavors of ginger and cinnamon blend deliciously with the cranberry syrup and swirls of the melting goodness ebb into the Sherry Alexander as you sip it until you start to feel guilty about experiencing all this pleasure. There’s a puzzle in your hand, a toasty fire going, maybe a kitten in your lap and your family all lounging about looking at their phones. It doesn’t get any better than this, does it? Go on, you deserve it. Cheers!

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St. Nicholas Surprise

1 oz PX Sherry

1 oz Crème de Cacao (Tempis Fugit)

1 oz heavy cream

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Add a large prepared ice cube and grate some nutmeg on top.

Ice: Freeze mix of Becherovka : spiced cranberry syrup 1:1 with equal parts water. Volume depends on your ice tray.

Spiced cranberry syrup: Add 1 cup fresh cranberries, 2 cinnamon sticks and a few allspice cloves with 1 cup water to a sauce pan. Simmer until berries burst then mash. Add 1 cup sugar to dissolve and simmer for a few minutes. Strain the mix through a mesh strainer to remove the large solids. Scale up as desired, this stuff is delicious.

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For more about the simply delightful In a Cage puzzle box see:

Boxes and Booze: Feeling Cagey

For another Brandy Alexander variation see:

Sugar Plum Puzzled