Sidecar

sidecar-jmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

It is a little hard to believe that there are any classics left for us to try. When you study cocktails—an exaggeration of the idea of “study” if ever there was one—it is hard to believe there are so many cocktails available to try in general.

The Sidecar has the typical disputed history, but what is not in dispute is its origin. This is a drink that derives from the brandy crusta. David Wondrich (yes that guy again) notes the crusta as the genesis of citrus in a cocktail. A New Orleans bartender, Joseph Santini, created the brandy crusta at the New Orleans City Exchange bar in the 1850’s. The recipes for these early drinks are complicated by ingredients (gum syrup), garnishes (half a lemon peel) and glassware (a wine glass that isn’t what most would call a wine glass) that need interpretation. Here’s the gist of the crusta after Wondrich finished interpreting:

2 ounces brandy,

1/2 teaspoon curaçao,

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 dashes bitters.

Take a wine glass, coat the rim in fine sugar, add the peel of half a lemon, mix all the ingredients in a tumbler with ice then strain into the glass.

It is easy enough to see how the Sidecar evolved from the crusta, but the question remains: who did it and where did the name come from? One story traces the drink to the now familiar, at least to discerning readers, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Sometime after World War I an American serviceman, who very responsibly caught a ride to the bar in a motorcycle sidecar, asked for something fancier than straight spirit and was served a mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice in equal parts. The Ritz Bar is also given as a Paris birthplace of the drink but the back story is the same.

Those stories are countered by a couple of others. There is the version where the drink was born in Buck’s Club in London. In the English version the proportions may be different, but the motorbike accessory is still cited for the name. Another idea is that the evolution of the crusta occurred in the city where it originated—New Orleans. My favorite part of that one is the different explanation for the cocktail’s name. When a bartender mixes too much of a drink, the extra is poured into a shot glass, and it’s is referred to as a sidecar. Although I overdo the mixers all the time—that’s why I typically use a glass that can handle the extra—I am not sure I have seen a professional bartender make that mistake. I like the term though.

The final issue for this cocktail are proportions. As noted earlier, if you order the Sidecar in Paris you will get equal amounts of all three ingredients. Others suggest that the best mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice is 2:1:1 or 8:2:1. The latter is too complicated, and I like the lemon juice to be more dominant so I chose the former. Mix everything with ice in a shaker, shake and strain into a coupe that has been rimmed with sugar. Garnish with an orange peel. As my picture shows, I skipped the sugar and used a wedge of orange. I figure, if they can’t settle on a story, why should I follow the recipe exactly? That is why since Crustas were also made with other spirits, I made a Sidecar version with bourbon substituted for cognac. The whiskey was very dominant so I would suggest sticking with the classic version of the classic.

Here’s David’s Review:

sidecarThis cocktail is one of the few I’d tried when Jonathan and I started this blog, which, since I’d had about ten cocktails before this adventure, is saying a great deal. I was out with a friend who ordered a Sidecar and I took it as an omen. “I’ll have a Sidecar for his Sidecar,” I thought.

That was a long time ago, but I remember sitting with my friend at the bar watching the bartender agog at how unfussy the drink seemed, hardly the elaborate production of a libation I expected at the time.

Now I know, the only complicated aspect of most classic cocktails are their origin stories. Everyone, it seems, wants to get credit for making something so simple that anyone goofing around with basic ingredients might stumble upon it. The classics of the classics—like Old-Fashions and Manhattans and Martinis—morph into endlessly accessorized versions with the inventions and additions of ambitious mixologists. I’d be the last person to scorn their efforts because this blog is a tribute to some pretty clever combinations of spirits and mixers, but sometimes you just can’t improve on the essentials.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying the Sidecar is an essential. Like Jonathan, I followed Wondrich’s perambulations and experimented with proportions and ingredients—I’m with him on the bourbon, but, as I like a sweet counterbalance to lemon, I upped the curaçao a little—but really the recipe Jonathan offered is as sound as granite. And I liked this libation.

Would I make the Sidecar my signature drink? No. The conversation about “Which cocktail would you choose if you could only order one for the rest of your life?” continues. However, I am in awe of classic cocktails like the Sidecar because I can actually remember how to make them even months after my last one and also because they are reliably delicious.

Jonathan’s Take: In the beginning there were just spirits, then there were cocktails and after that there’s a sidecar load of variations.

David’s Take: The older I get, the bigger the appeal of the classics… but, then again, maybe I just want to become one.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Since Jonathan proposed a classic we’d somehow missed, and I’m going to propose a somehow missed ingredient—Sloe Gin. As always, introducing a new bottle to our liquor cabinets has to come with an apology, but I’m tired of walking past the Sloe Gin and thinking, “What IS that stuff anyway?” My research tells me sloes are wild and apparently beautiful British berries that have  astringent taste no one would like if it weren’t pickled in alcohol. I looked a number of recipes using it but finally settled on the naughtily-named Nice and Sloe (because I’m pretty sure Jonathan and I already own or can easily obtain the other ingredients).

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Serendipity

SerendipityProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

We don’t post as often now but having reached the three year mark it is increasingly difficult to come up with a proposal. While driving to the coast to meet friends, I was thinking about the gin and tonic alternatives I’d be serving them and wondering what I would suggest for the next drink. Nothing came to mind, but one of those friends was talking about a drink he had tried at a bar in Greensboro, N.C. He knew I liked cocktails topped with sparkling wines and thought it was one I would enjoy. The word escapes me but it was almost as if I had discovered my proposed drink by accident.

The Serendipity cocktail is a somewhat recent invention of the bartender Colin Field at the Hemingway Bar in the The Ritz Paris. The history of the drink is short, but that bar and others in Paris have long histories and are credited as having been the source of some of the classics. French 75, Sidecar, Monkey Gland, and (erroneously as it ends up) the Bloody Mary are just some of those.

The two bars were locations where the famous chose to drink also. Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, Humphrey Bogart, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were all known to drink at Harry’s New York Bar and The Ritz in Paris. Even James Bond, thanks to Ian Fleming, had a drink at Harry’s.

Despite the fact that the Serendipity is not that old there are various recipes. If we only had a time machine (pronounced in true Dr. Evil fashion) we could get an exact recipe from The Hemingway Bar. Or we could simply fly to Paris and ask since that bar and The Ritz recently reopened after a major renovation. The time machine sounds more fun though. Here are two similar options:

6 mint leaves
1 teaspoon bar sugar
3/4 ounce Calvados
1 ounce clear apple juice
3-4 ounces brut champagne

Mint
1 ounce apple juice
1/2 ounce Calvados
1/2 ounce pear brandy
3-4 ounce champagne
Slice apple

For both recipes you bruise the mint, add other ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a glass with ice, top with champagne and garnish (the apple slice in the second recipe or mint and peach slices for me). I also used mint simple syrup instead of sugar and a peach/pear brandy instead of Calvados.

This is a simple, subtle yet refreshing drink. The original concept was to use apple juice from Normandy with French Calvados and champagne. Since I couldn’t get apple juice from France I chose another (less expensive) option for the brandy and garnished with peach slices to make it a true fruit salad. I would suggest the sugar or syrup if using a brut champagne.

David’s Review:

SDMA friend in college famously combined unlikely foods in his dining hall meals. He like mashed potatoes with his tacos or a side of jello salad with spaghetti. He loved to squeeze a packet of Chinese mustard into his macaroni and cheese. When we commented, he always offered the same answer. “Hey,” he’d say, “it’s all going the same place.”

I’m still not sure I know what that means (or don’t want to think about it), but I get the spirit of his approach: only unimaginative people avoid crossing categories. It’s all food.

When it comes to cocktails, some people don’t like mixing beer with spirits… or wine with spirits… or beer with wine. Okay, I get the last one, but it seems a shame not to give an occasional beertail a try, and it’s a particular shame to avoid cocktails like the Serendipity that top the concoction with a splash of champagne.

What does champagne add? The current political climate leads me to believe there’s no convincing anyone of anything, but I’ll try anyway. Here are the pluses:

  • Effervescence: I’m sure it’s a trigeminal thing, but the the bubbles definitely contribute to creating a refreshing experience.
  • Subtle sweetness: The longer this blog goes on, the more my taste for sweet abates. Sparkling wine seems to add just enough.
  • A different sort of intoxication: Beer brewers sometimes add champagne yeast last in order to digest the last bit of unmetabolized sugar. There must be something to that.
  • An unacknowledged (and unnoticed) relation between ingredients: The connections between spirits are often hidden, but champagne and Calvados both come from fruit, apples and grapes.
  • Deep associations: Somewhere in my lizard brain is the notion that champagne is somehow more celebratory… though I doubt many lizards realize the connection.

I didn’t try the peach version Jonathan discussed, but I loved the common version of this cocktail. As is often the case with a classic, everything about it seems subtle. The mint is bruised, not muddled (and, like Jonathan, I tried mint simple syrup… but thought it was too much). Calvados, while obviously apple-y, isn’t cloyingly so. When Jonathan told me about the Serendipity, he apologized for sending me to the liquor store for another ingredient—both of our bars are now full with enough choices for a block party—but he needn’t have worried. Calvados has a more versatile taste than I expected and, in future experiments, will make my tasters say, “What’s that other flavor?” Finally, the apple juice adds a fresh element to this drink without overwhelming it. If fact, in my opinion, you could do without sugar or simple syrup altogether.

David’s Take: One of my favorites, though it seems too special to drink all the time.

Jonathan’s take: Another wonderful drink thanks to a champagne topper.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Here in Chicago we are just getting some relief from some hot days, but, on the east coast, it’s hotter today than anything we experienced. It seems time for a blender drink, so I’m proposing the Rock Lobster. Since we’ve already had B 52s, it seems appropriate, but I’m ready for some fruit. It will also be fun to use that banana liquor languishing in my cabinet.