Friday Night Cocktail: Sidecar

When I first became interested in classic cocktails, the Sidecar was an early one to pique my interest. For me, it falls into the same category as the Martini, the Manhattan, the Daiquiri: classics that are classic for a reason; drinks that have never gone – and will never go – out of style.

But style is a funny thing. Not every tailor has materials that are the equal of the pattern, and even a classic suit can be poorly cut. I rarely order Sidecars anywhere but top-notch bars, because the quality of the ingredients is so important. Stay away from bottled, sweetened or otherwise preserved lemon juice: only fresh-squeezed will do. Avoid consorting with generic triple sec, and stick to top-shelf orange liqueur. Cointreau is what you want, although I won’t turn up my nose at Grand Marnier. The only allowance I will make to budget is in the brandy: I am not a purist about using VSOP Cognac in my brandy drinks, because I can’t afford to be. Use the best aged grape brandy you can afford.

It’s generally accepted that the cocktail was invented at Harry’s Bar in Paris during or slightly after World War I, and may or may not be named after the motorcycle sidecar that transported the guest for whom it was invented. There are also two consecrated ratios, sometimes referred to as the “French version” and the “English version.” The former is equal parts of the three ingredients; the latter doubles the proportion of brandy, and is where the drink really shines.

Then there’s the question of the sugared rim. Some consider it essential; others, superfluous. I usually forgo it, but sometimes enjoy rimming half the glass, so I can play with the sweet/sour balance as I drink.

How to make a Sidecar cocktail, English style

  • 1.5 oz. brandy
  • 0.75 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz. Cointreau

If you want a sugared rim, prepare your glass: run a thin piece of lemon around the outside of half or all of the glass, then dip the glass in sugar. Place it in the freezer to chill for at least an hour.

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake hard for 15 seconds, and strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon twist or a half-wheel of lemon.

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