How to make the best sidecar cocktail
I bought a bottle of Solerno, a liqueur made of blood oranges, to experiment with, and it wasn’t long before I came upon the Sidecar family of cocktails: that is to say a cocktail comprising an orange liqueur (technically also known as a triple sec); with a spirit (usually brandy, although a Chelsea Sidecar, for example, is made with gin); and lemon or lime juice.
Some versions substitute the orange liqueur for limoncello, or a ginger liqueur.
But essentially a Sidecar is a mix of citrus, spirit, and a touch of sweetness. It’s one of the sour family of cocktails – others are the Gimlet, the Daiquiri and the Whisky Sour.
It seems likely that the Sidecar was invented by an American army captain billeted in Paris in the First World War…his favourite home-from-home in the city was Harry’s New York Bar (a haunt shared with Hemingway, Gershwin, Fleming ….) , and he named his tipple of choice after the motorcycle sidecar which ferried him to his heart’s desire.
Originally the proportions were equal between the three ingredients. The beefing up of the brandy element happened later after the drink became popular in London – the proportions below are those given in my 1930s-written bible, The Savoy Cocktail Book. The double dose of brandy makes this version of the Sidecar stronger and dryer – on the whole, an improvement.
The classic Sidecar is made with brandy (either cognac or armagnac, but I prefer the latter). The Salerno goes perfectly in this – it’s a bit less sweet, and a bit more interesting than Cointreau, Curaçao, or Grand Marnier.
Some bartenders say that sugaring the rim is traditional but I think that’s a bit in for a dig, and also ruins a great cocktail by making it too sweet. In fact the beauty of the Sidecar is that you should definitely KISS it…Keep It Simple Stupid…. adding sugar syrup, lime juice etc etc defies the whole essence of this drink. And it doesn’t need fancy garnishes.
But you do need to use the best ingredients – as my version, below, does.
Because of the brandy, this feels like more of a winter drink to me, and the recipe I give is a bit stronger than the norm. In the summer you could halve the amount of brandy, thus replicating the original version of this drink.
In a book by Karen Brooks et al, named Highballs High Heels the authors report that one night a woman demanded of cocktail philosopher, Michael Autrey, “a Sidecar that isn’t really a Sidecar”. Frustrated, he turbocharged his creation for her, using, as I do, the armagnac… but also adding Punt e Mes…. But why mess with what’s already a damn good blend?
Recipe for the classic Sidecar
- 2 tbsps armagnac….I use Baron de Sigognac, but this is an awful waste in a cocktail!
- 1 tbsp Solerno – or any triple sec
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon
- Keep the garnish simple – just a twist of lemon peel, or a small, thin slice.
- Mix all liquids together in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Strain into a chilled glass.
Music to listen to as you sip…
Side Car Cycle – Charlie Ryan & The Timberline Riders
Thank you very much for your article about the sidecar. Always interesting to read about the history. With this informations I can enjoy this cocktail very much. You know, the suger around the glass is from 1930, I very like it.
Thanks for your message Sandra! I’m delighted to hear you are enjoying the cocktail and the sugar too!