Proposed 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:
This 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).