Ask any bartender worth his or her salt what their favorite cocktails are, and chances are good the sidecar will be on their list. It’s a refreshing, delightfully olde-timey mix of brandy, triple-sec, and lemon juice that I could drink until my face falls off. The sidecar is my absolute favorite cocktail, the drink I always order first at a bar, and something you should definitely put on your regular sips list.
Like any great classic cocktail, the sidecar has a murky past. The most famous origin story features Harry’s New York Bar in 1920′s Paris. Supposedly an anonymous American army captain who liked to ride in a motorcycle sidecar (or drove a motorcycle with a sidecar?) invented it. This story has always seemed a little too random to be believable to me, and Dale Degroff of The Essential Cocktail agrees, saying that the tale is a complete fiction and the sidecar was actually invented in New Orleans in the 19th century. “Sidecar” is a term bartenders use for the leftover liquor they pour into shot glasses, which is more likely where the cocktail got its name (although how or why I’m not sure… still more believable than the motorcycle theory, though).
Another controversy surrounding the sidecar is how to make it. It’s always shaken with the same three ingredients, but plenty of variation can be found in the proportions. This is actually a matter of intense debate, at least in my own mind. The classic French recipe calls for equal parts Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice; the classic English recipe calls for two parts brandy and equal parts Cointreau and lemon juice. The adaptations don’t end there: I’ve seen recipes that call for equal parts brandy and triple-sec, with 3/4ths part lemon juice; ratios of 8:2:1 brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice, similar to a daiquiri; and a recipe that called for a 3:2:1 ratio like a margarita (for some reason I find this to be very wrong even though the two cocktails are pretty similar, on paper anyway).
So which recipe is the best recipe? The rather unhelpful answer is it depends on the quality of your ingredients. If all you have on hand is cheap brandy and orange curaçao (desperate times…), then use equal parts brandy and curaçao. If you have a top-shelf orange liqueur like Cointreau or even Grand Marnier, you need to use less of it because the flavor’s more intense. Add in some good quality Cognac instead of brandy and you might want to try the classic French version.
But if you want a definitive recipe for the sidecar, my favorite is the classic English version that appears in the The Savoy Cocktail Book.
What you’ll need: a cocktail shaker, a sexy-ass coupe glass (actually you can use any glass you want to, I’m not a stemware Nazi), the best brandy and orange liqueur you can afford (there are a bazillion varieties, but Cointreau is probably the best in this case), lemons.
Step one: put the glass in your freezer. This is the number one way to convince people you know what you’re doing when you’re making cocktails.
Step two: add 3-4 ice cubes to the shaker (more ice cubes will water your drink down unnecessarily).
Step three: pour brandy, triple-sec, and lemon juice into your shaker using a ratio of 2:1:1. Lazy math version: 2 oz brandy, 1 oz triple-sec, 1 oz lemon juice. Or, if that’s too much alcohol for you, try 1 1/2 oz brandy with 3/4ths oz each triple-sec and lemon juice.
Step four: shake that mutha like a boss. For, like, 10 seconds.
Step five: strain into your sexy-ass coupe glass and drink the classiest cocktail ever.
A note on garnishes: I’m not a big garnish person, mainly because I’m lazy but also because I usually find garnishes unnecessary. If you love garnishes, though, you have two options: 1. rimming the lip of the glass with sugar, extra points for orange-infused sugar. I’m not a fan, but I prefer my drinks to be on the sour side. And/or 2. you can add a twist of orange, or even a flamed orange peel if you want to get super-fancy.