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Zen, Motorcycles and Cocktail Making...

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

The Sidecar

What a strange name - the rumour machine has it, that the Sidecar Cocktail was conceived by a dashing American Army Captain who was seen to ride around the streets of Paris during World War 1, always holding one of these cocktails to hand.

Mmm. Not so sure about that one, but a little bit of romanticism rarely hurt, so let's just go with it for a while....

My all-time hero - Steve McQueen

having sidecar fun on the

set of "The Great Escape"

Before we look at “The Sidecar” - please indulge an early digression into the land of Zen…..

It sorta makes sense because as I was researching the topic for this week and inevitably there was an e-trip to Wikipedia…:

… The Ritz Hotel in Paris claims origin of the drink. The first recipes for the Sidecar appear in 1922, in Harry MacElhone's Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails and Robert Vermeire's Cocktails and How to Mix Them. It is one of six basic drinks listed in David A. Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948)….

This is where the Zen part comes in…. And it shows that the wheel is rarely reinvented. I had heard this sentiment mentioned and I couldn’t quite place it…. Let me explain…

In “The Finer art of Mixing Cocktails” the opening page of the Sidecar chapter (p111) reads as follows…

The sentiment is one that sits well with me as it fits comfortably in the cocktail template framework that I am trying to expound. Know the basics and apply them in each situation and rely on the principles to guide you through each cocktail you make whatever the ingredients.

Then it suddenly dawned on me, where had I previously heard this statement. In fact it is postdated and is a zen-like quote from Bruce Lee:

So - the principle is there - practice well a small number of cocktails and then people will be admiring your skills as a cocktail maker rather then trying all the recipes under the sun and relying on the law of averages to get it right!

However - to get back on track….

What’s a sidecar…? Well, it’s characteristically Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice.

Classic Sidecar recipe

1 ½ measures of Cognac

1 measure Cointreau

¾ measure of lemon juice

(Garnish with an orange twist, expressing

the twist over the drink then rubbing

the twist around the glass rim)

Essentially Sidecars evolved from the Daiquiri - which as you now know is a ‘sour’ based cocktail - bright and slightly acidic drinks, the sidecar is a cocktail that showcases by suitable usage of a liqueur, thereby giving a rich, liqueur/citrus combination that is wholesome and brings very different flavours to the glass compared to our previous two items, the Martini and the Daiquiri. For me personally, this is where the most exciting flavours come into play.

Perhaps more remembered versions of this type of cocktail are the Margarita and the Cosmopolitan.

Why choose ‘The Sidecar” as a template then when there are better known siblings..? It seems that the clever cocktail people suggest that to be able to understand the relative ratios of cognac, curaçao and lemon juice as demanded by a sidecar, is a skill that shows mastery of this particular template. Who am I to say…!


Provides the mainstay of this drink in classic form. It has the strength of taste to stand up to the rich citrus and also balance a liqueur with both its ABV and its sweetness.

So there’s:

  • Cognac - Southwest France is the home to this option and it is supposedly relatively consistent in taste from year to year. The grades of VS, VSOP and XO are grades that we can see in the supermarket / off licence. The XO being the highest quality mark. (Hor’s d’âge is a name given to a bottle of a similar quality to XO, but is supposedly older.)

  • Armagnac - a close cousin to Cognac. Geographically it comes from the same part of the world but is reckoned to be ‘spicier’ in character. Grading is similar from VS through to hors d’âge).

Then there’s Spanish brandy / Apple brandy (esp Calvados) - it doesn’t take too much to work out the replacement options here… and ….then we start to go into pear brandy, cherry brandy apricot brandy - so the transition to the liqueur spirits seems a bit more obvious.

It’s Margarita time now.

Agave-based spirits

Can be brought to mind to replace the cognac part of the equation. So we’re now onto tequila. I am far from a tequila expert, but it seems that the difference between good and bad tequila depends greatly on the 100% agave based options (good) and the mixto option (bad) which is a mixture of agave and other sugars.

Agave tequila

Add in Mezcal and Bacanora and it becomes obvious that the options are numerous. I think I’ll stick with tequila myself! However, Tequila doesn’t have quite as much of the roundness and depth of flavour that a cognac displays and so if substituting the cognac with tequila, considering pulling back a bit on the cointreau - otherwise the drink will be overpoweringly ‘orangey’ in nature.

This is similar to the use of gin in the cocktail - something that we will tend to to at the Herbal Gin Company & The Aviator Gin Bar - for obvious reasons. So, again, pull back a bit on the Cointreau otherwise it’ll just taste of orange.

This is exemplified in the gin version of the sidecar classic….

White Lady

2 measures gin

½ measure Cointreau

¾ measure lemon juice

¼ measure simple syrup

1 egg white (we’ll do flips, whose territory

we are sorta pushing into, here, in a couple of weeks).

1 lemon twist as a garnish

Given the egg side of things - I’ll maybe make that one in the Flip section of the series - instead I enclose the recipes for the two cocktails that I made on yesterday’s videos:

Pegu Club Cocktail

2 measure gin

¾ measure curaçao

¾ measure lime juice

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

Garnish - a lime wedge

Corpse Reviver #2

¾ measure of gin

¾ measure Lillet blanc

¾ measure curaçao

¾ measure lemon juice

Small dash of absinthe

What’s in a liqueur…?

Liqueurs are a mixture of alcohol, flavouring and sweetness. The sweetness and the proof have a great influence.

Fruit focused liqueurs eg cassis or framboise tend to be sweet.

Compare this to citrus based liqueurs that tend to create dryness. (Orange curaçao as an example for this.)

Orange liqueur

Also known as triple sec or curaçao. The classic names here are Cointreau and Grand Marnier. Beware,they are NOT the same. Both have orange and spices to support, but the Cointreau has a neutral spirit base whilst Grand Marnier has a brandy base which inevitably leads to a very different taste outcome.

Cointreau as a rule of thumb is great for shaken drinks because of the cleanness of taste (neutral spirit) but Grand Marnier tends to pair better with rum for instance (Mai Tai for instance).

Berry liqueurs - are decadent tasting things. Think of raspberry, cherry, apricot liqueurs and you’re on the right lines.

Elderflower liqueur - now here’s a thing. It appears to be call ‘Bartender’s Ketchup’ as it goes with most things - it adds juiciness without overloading with sweetness - worth while laying your hands on som methinks.

Creme de menthe - mint - great for cooling a drink down (by taste and look too!)

Herbal liqueurs - don’t be to phased - most of us know these sorts of liqueurs as :

  • Benedictine (Singapore Sling)

  • Chartreuse

  • Galliano

Rich liqueurs seem to come more into ‘Flip’ territory (cocktail template #5 in this series) but liqueurs they are - so here we go….

Crème de cacao

Vanila liqueur

Coffee liqueur (one of these days I’ll get my hands on some Galliano Ristretto for this style)

Regardless - get to know the proof of the liqueur that you’re using. If it’s higher ABV than Cointreua - as is likely - be prepared to lower the base spirit or up it, if the ABV is less of the liqueur.

Doctoring the glass

Rather unglamorously called ‘rimming’ I prefer to use the term ‘doctoring’ the glass to allow for adding sugar or salt onto the rim of the glass when having either a Sidecar, a paloma, Margarita or a Blood Mary.

Doctoring ‘skinny’ or ‘fat”

For salt / sugar - use half a normal rim

For chilli (yes - chilli) use a thinly rimmed glass (I wonder why?)

Trial and error here / preferences for the liquid to be used to bind the doctored granules to the glass - either citrus (wipe the glass edge with the citrus) but you can also use coconut oil or your sugar syrup of whatever flavour that you have made.

What about trying doctoring mixtures of:

  • Salt & pepper

  • Salt and fennel

  • Salt and pepper (chilli or cayenne - wow!)

  • Salt and paprika

  • Sugar and cinnamon

  • Sugar and nutmeg

However, remember that the Sidecar is ALL about balance and that extrinsic sugar / salt / mix of whatever option is on the lip of the glass - can very easily harm the overall balance - but if used right can be awesome. Just remember to chill the glass after doctoring the edge.

So there we have it. The Sidecar.

Balance and innumerable permutations of spirit / citrus / liqueur. Just make sure you balance well and in doing so be prepared to have some trial and error. However you do it - drink with enjoyment but above all else drink with care.

Stay low and stay safe.

Cheers everybody….!

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