The sidecar is one of the best cocktails of all time. It is as popular today as it was a century ago and a brilliant introduction to the allure of well-balanced sour drinks.
The recipe was originally made with either cognac or Armagnac; either will create one of the most enjoyable brandy cocktails you can mix up. In the modern bar, bourbon is often poured instead (making it technically a bourbon sidecar), and some drinkers enjoy it with premium cherry brandy.
Whichever base liquor you choose, be careful with the sidecar's other ingredients. It is very important to find the balance between sweet and sour, and too much lemon or liqueur can quickly destroy the intended flavor. A popular embellishment first mentioned in recipes from the early 1930s, a sugar-rimmed glass, adds a sweet contrast to the sour drink.
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Gather the ingredients.
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist. Enjoy.
- Some people enjoy their sidecar with equal amounts of Cointreau and lemon juice; the pour is typically 3/4 ounce of each. The sweet-sour balance may need to be adjusted depending on the brands and styles of brandy you use.
- Fresh lemon juice is essential for a sidecar. A single lemon should yield about 1 3/4 ounces, more than enough for two drinks.
- To reduce waste, cut the lemon spiral before slicing the fruit open to juice it.
- For a cocktail that's just a touch sweeter, try Spain's brandy de Jerez.
- Pour the South American brandy pisco for a pisco sidecar.
- The sidecar has influenced many other cocktails. Some are also classics, while others are modern creations that play off the sour formula. The most popular recipes are the Boston sidecar, Chelsea sidecar (aka Delilah or white lady), and between the sheets. You can also pour vodka instead of brandy for a balalaika or add flavors. The blackberry sidecar and épicé sidecar (with jalapeño syrup) are two interesting cocktails to try.
The History of the Sidecar
As most cocktail origins go, there are a few stories about who mixed up the first sidecar. One common story is found in "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks" (1948) by David Embury. It says the drink was developed in a Parisian bistro during World War I by a friend who rode up to a favorite bar in a motorcycle's sidecar. While there is speculation, it is popularly believed that the establishment was Harry's New York Bar.
Another claim attributes Frank Meier who worked at the Paris Ritz Hotel. As Gary "Gaz" Regan pointed out in "The Joy of Mixology," this was later disputed by a man named Bertin who worked at the Ritz after Meier.
The next story moves to Buck's Club in London, the supposed home of the French 75. In his 1922 book, "Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails," Harry MacElhone credits the drink to Pat MacGarry, one of the great bartenders of the day. This was backed up in Robert Vermeire's 1922 "Cocktails and How to Mix Them."
It is important to note that MacElhone owned Harry's New York Bar and that he also credits Buck's Club for the French 75 in his book. While he was a popular bartender of the day, he was also (apparently) honest and did not take credit for many of the drinks that are often attributed to him.
Which story is correct will remain a matter of debate and opinion: the sidecar is a classic sour drink and that's not in question. Sours were popular during the golden age of cocktails in the early 1900s. Other great sour drinks were created at the same time, including the brandy daisy, whiskey sour, and margarita.
How Strong is the Sidecar?
What Cognac Is Best for a Sidecar?
Choose a cognac with a balanced flavor for a sidecar. Try Hennessy, Pierre Ferrand, Camus, H By Hine, or Rémy Martin.