The Sidecar Cocktail

Classic sidecar cocktail in a martini glass

The Spruce Eats

Prep: 3 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 3 mins
Serving: 1 serving
Yield: 1 cocktail
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
203 Calories
0g Fat
10g Carbs
0g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
Amount per serving
Calories 203
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 7mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 10g 3%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 11mg 55%
Calcium 10mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 36mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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The recipe was originally made with either cognac or Armagnac; either will create one of the most enjoyable brandy cocktails you can mix up.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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"The sidecar is a fantastic classic cocktail. Traditionally made with the luxurious cognac, it is bright, tart, and refreshing. Mid-shelf cognacs work just great in a sidecar, sometimes even better than a pricey one. Heavily aged spirits can lose their subtlety in cocktails." —Tom Macy

The Sidecar Cocktail Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for a sidecar cocktail

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  2. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well.

    Cocktail shaker

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  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

    Sidecar in a martini glass

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  4. Garnish with a lemon twist. Enjoy.

    Classic sidecar cocktail with a lemon twist

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Tips

  • If you like, rim the glass with sugar.
  • Cointreau is most often poured in the sidecar. If you're going to choose a different brand of triple sec, ensure it's top-shelf.
  • 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.

Recipe Variations

  • Some prefer to add a dash of simple syrup to take the edge off the tartness. Try a teaspoon of 2:1 demerara syrup.
  • 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?

Short drinks like the sidecar are served at such low volumes because they are heavy on the liquor and rather potent. With an 80-proof base liquor, the average sidecar weighs in around 26 percent ABV (52 proof). This is in line with similar cocktails like the martini and Manhattan.

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.