The Sidecar, for me, is among the best classic cocktails out there. It is a straightforward yet well-balanced sour drink. It is a Brandy-based cocktail, which in most cases, means that Cognac is the fundament for a solid Sidecar drink.
However, the ultimate key to making a delicious Sidecar cocktail is the balance of flavors. Therefore, carefully selected ingredients and accurate ratios will make the perfect Sidecar drink.
So let’s take a closer look at the Sidecar, its history, and how to make it extra delicious.
The history of the Sidecar drink
The history of the Sidecar cocktail is pretty uncertain. There are multiple stories on how, when, and where it most likely got invented. What all these accounts have in common, though, is the time of invention, which dates around World War I (from 1914 – 1918).
One of the more credible versions of the origin says that the Sidecar drink got invented in a Bistro in Paris, France. This claim can be found in David Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”, published in 1948.
There’s also another claim from Paris, more precisely from the Ritz Carlton hotel bar. That version names Frank Meier as the inventor of the cocktail that we all know today as the Sidecar.
Other sources throw in Buck’s club in London or Harry’s New York Bar (don’t let the name confuse you, it is in face located in the heart of Paris) as possible inventors of the famous Brandy cocktail.
As with many other classic cocktails, it is impossible to tell which of the many stories is closest to the truth.
How the Sidecar got its name
There are two different versions of how the Sidecar cocktail got its name. The first version appears in David Embury’s story of the Parisian Bistro that supposedly created the first Sidecar. It says that a man who came to the Bistro in the sidecar of a motorcycle invented the drink.
Veteran bartender Dale DeGroff has his own theory. He claims that the name of the drink refers to the mix left in the cocktail shaker. Strained and served in a shot glass, this additional drink so-to-speak is a sidecar of the actual cocktail.
Ingredients of a Sidecar cocktail
The Sidecar belongs to the group of cocktails made of only three ingredients. The right mix of Brandy, Triple Sec, and lemon juice is enough to create this drink so delicious.
The base of the Sidecar is usually Cognac. In the past, there were also numerous recipes using Armagnac and also Cherry Brandy on rare occasions. Over the years, however, publishers of Sidecar recipes more and more agreed on Cognac as the ideal base spirit.
Triple Sec is the second essential ingredient of a proper Sidecar. Triple Sec is not referring to a specific brand or one distinct spirit. It is defining a category of products, just like Brandy does. For me, Cointreau is usually the Triple Sec of choice. And that’s also the case for the Sidecar cocktail. Cointreau offers a beautiful orange aroma and an excellent balance between bitterness and sweetness.
Regarding the lemon juice, it’s needless to say it should be fresh. Make sure to use freshly squeezed juice from ripe lemons, and you will be fine. There is no magic trick required here, just the use of fresh and juicy fruits.
About the Cognac
Traditionally the Sidecar is made with expensive luxury Cognac. But in fact, the beauty of this cocktail is that it doesn’t require a pricy Cognac. Frankly, most of the time, Cognacs in the medium price range are even better. Strongly aged, top-quality Cognac usually carries beautifully subtle aromas that would be lost when using it in a cocktail. That would be a waste you don’t have to worry about when sticking to the mid-price range.
If you’re not familiar with the typical Cognac types, here’s a short guide. Depending on the age, Cognacs fall in those categories:
- VS / 3 stars – aged for 2 years
- VSOP – aged for 4 years
- Napoléon – aged for 6 years
- XO – aged for 10 years
Some Cognacs of the XO category can be very expensive. Be prepared to pay around $200 or more if you want to purchase a good XO Cognac. But as I said, in a Sidecar drink, a VS or VSOP is absolutely good enough to achieve great results.
There are plenty of riffs and variations on the Sidecar cocktail. Probably the most obvious approach to experiment with the drink would be to use another type of Brandy. The possibilities are endless, and your could start by trying a Cherry Brandy as some older recipes recommended or Pisco to get a sweeter version of the Sidecar.
Another option is to add a bit of syrup. Some might feel that when prepared according to the traditional recipe, the drink is too tart. Therefore, some drops of syrup work a treat in balancing the Sidecar to their liking. Besides the obvious choice of simple syrup, you could also choose Demerara syrup to add a bit of flavor depth. A more tropical syrup could also create a nice twist. Why not try a pink dragonfruit syrup to add a hint of sweetness and color.
Perfect sugar rim for Sidecar cocktail
A sugar rim is optional and not required in terms of balancing flavors. But it is a common way to serve a Sidecar. To get this right, you want to moisten the outside of your glass with a juicy lemon wedge and then gently dip the glass into sugar.
Try only coating the outside as you don’t want the sugar to fall into your cocktail. Also, make sure to use fine-grained sugar. Superfine sugar not only sticks better to your glass, but you also swallow less sugar when your drink from it. If you’re using regular granulated sugar and add too much, your sugar rim could end up making your cocktail far too sweet.
How to make the Sidecar cocktail
To obtain a delicious Sidecar drink, the right balance and ratio are crucial. Most recipes use two parts of Cognac for one part lemon juice and one part Triple Sec. While this undoubtedly works, I recommend a different proportion. I would go for a 3:2:1 ratio. That’s also what I go for in my recipe below.