The best way to pretend you’re a WWI fighter pilot
The sidecar is a favorite classic cocktail.
If ever a cocktail earned the term “classic,” it is the sidecar. While its origins are unclear (New Orleans? London? Paris? A city with a long and storied drinking history, that’s for certain), the sidecar came into habitual public consciousness and popularity in France during World War I. The term “sidecar” can refer to both a little one-wheeled attachment to a motorcycle or a small slops bucket for leftover liquors that a bartender uses, so the cocktail may have derived its name from either source.
While shrouded in a bit of mystery, the sidecar remains a favorite among cocktail connoisseurs worldwide. Uncomplicated yet sophisticated, this is one that bartenders will generally respect you for requesting, and don’t mind making.
The English variation demands more cognac, but this is the original French recipe, which we think is loveliest: equal parts of each ingredient means a perfect balance of flavors — and a lower alcohol content. That may not sound ideal, but trust us when we say that the sidecar’s punch has a tendency to sneak up on you.
Click here for our Best Classic Sidecar Recipe
Jess Novak is the Drink Editor of The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @jesstothenovak
In Search of the Ultimate Sidecar
The first cocktail arrived at the table without a sugar rim. Half the people seated there were disappointed. The other half were relieved.
The Top Three
Chip Tyndale's Sidecar
Franky Marshall's Sidecar
Joaquín Simó's Sidecar
“I hate having any kind of rim on a cocktail,” said Chloe Frechette, senior editor at PUNCH. “I don’t know how to drink it.”
Jelani Johnson, a bartender at Clover Club in Brooklyn, differed. “It depends on the spec itself,” he said, noting that if the sugar is included, the drink should lean drier to maintain balance. “I do kind of miss it. I like the rim overall. Without the crusta, it’s a different drink.”
Falling somewhere between the two was Toby Cecchini, owner of The Long Island Bar. “I hate having rims on drinks, too, but the Sidecar’s a thing where I think you’re just being a spoilsport if you don’t have it. That’s part of the fun of the drink.”
And so the blind tasting for the ultimate Sidecar began, proving yet again that classic cocktails, however simple they may seem in theory, continue to inspire debate. On a recent afternoon at The Long Island Bar in Brooklyn, a panel of judges tasted through 10 examples of the drink, drawn from bartenders across the country (though New York was heavily represented—not surprising, given the city’s ingrained taste for the classics). Joining Johnson, Cecchini and Frechette as judges was William Elliott, of Maison Premiere and Sauvage in Brooklyn.
Among the panelists, there was at least one Sidecar fanatic. Cecchini called the cocktail one of his “go-to” drinks, saying he ordered it frequently in bars. And, in contrast to certain hard-to-please cocktail writers, he maintained he was satisfied with most of the Sidecars he’d been served in his barhopping. “I think it’s a very hard drink to screw up,” he said, “though they’re often sweeter than I like.”
The Sidecar has long been associated with the early 20th-century expatriate scene in Europe, during the years Prohibition was in effect in the United States. The drink is frequently mentioned in connection to Harry’s Bar in Paris, whose owner, Harry McElhone, included it in his 1922 book Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails. Early recipes called for equal proportions of Cognac, lemon juice and orange liqueur, typically Cointreau. Today’s bartenders, however, almost never go for the 1:1:1 recipes. Or, as Johnson put it: “Fuck, no!” Instead, a heftier measurement of brandy is used, typically 1 ½ ounces to 2 ounces. It is usually paired with ¾ ounce lemon juice and ¾ to 1 once of orange liqueur. The sugar rim, meanwhile, was not part of the early recipes. It’s an accouterment that the cocktail picked up at some point and has never been able to shake. (A widely printed 1980 AP article asserted that the sugar rim was an American innovation. According to the French bartender Fernando Castellon, who has made a study of the Sidecar, the earliest mention of a sugar rim comes in the 1932 American cocktail book Wet Drinks for Dry People.)
Cecchini compared the drink to a Daiquiri, in that every component of the recipe is vital to its success and must be carefully considered. “Everything is important,” he said. “There’s nothing to hide behind.”
That included the garnish (which the judges said could be an orange twist or lemon twist), necessary to provide the drink with some harmonious aromatics, even if the twist was discarded after its oils were expressed.
That the brandy base be Cognac was a no-brainer for the panel (though one competing drink did call for the American brandy Sacred Bond). In terms of liqueur, the judges were a bit more flexible, though Cointreau was the fallback choice. “Cointreau just jumps out at you,” said Cecchini. “It’s clean, super orangey, not cloying.” Johnson agreed, while saying that he found Pierre Ferrand’s dry Curaçao equally suited to the task.
Most of the competitors stuck close to the classic Sidecar model. Some specimens were on the dry side, some on the sweet a few opted for the sugar rim, or half rim and many kept the twist as a garnish. The most common departure from tradition across the recipes was the addition of a small measure of simple syrup—with only one recipe forgoing this modern addition—thus boosting the body and sweetness of the cocktail. The panelists approved of this move. “I don’t think any drink that’s sweetened can just rely on liqueur alone,” said Johnson.
A surprisingly high proportion of the drinks found favor with the judges, with four running neck and neck in the rankings up until the very finish. In the end, however, the Sidecar of Chip Tyndale, of Dutch Kills in Queens, won out. The traditional spec asked for 2 ounces of Rémy Martin VSOP, ¾ ounce each of lemon juice and Cointreau, a teaspoon of 2:1 demerara syrup, and an orange twist. The cocktail delighted the panel immediately. “It leaves you with that taste in the back of throat that makes you want to go back for another sip,” said Elliott.
Second place went to bartender Franky Marshall, one of the only contestants to split her brandy base, using 1 ounce Pierre Ferrand 1840 and 1 ounce H by Hine. For the orange liqueur, she opted for ¾ ounce of Grand Marnier, a Cognac-based modifier. Completing the recipe was ¾ ounce of lemon juice and ¼ ounce of demerara syrup.
Coming in third was Joaquín Simó, of Pouring Ribbons in New York’s East Village. His formula was identical to Tyndale’s, aside from the Cognac and orange liqueur brands. Simó opted for Pierre Ferrand 1840 and Pierre Ferrand dry Curaçao. The panel thought it a balanced and “iconic Sidecar” in flavor. None of the top three featured a sugar rim.
Also liked, and just missing out on medal status, was the Sidecar of St. John Frizell of Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance. His blend included 1 ½ ounces H by Hine VSOP, ¾ ounces Combier Liqueur d’Orange, ¾ ounce lemon juice and a scant ¼ ounce of simple syrup. The mix was topped with a flamed orange twist and adorned with a half sugar rim.
As often happens with the PUNCH “ultimate” tastings, the survey left some of the judges questioning their previously held prejudices. Even the Sidecar nut was moved.
Ah, I used to have to explain to bartenders how to make a sidecar. It has now arrived! The best (and I never had to explain it there, of course) is at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis, NY.
I enjoy a sidecar when we go out to dinner. This recipe comes pretty darn close to my favorite ones. I like the differences in each restaurant's side car and this one fits into my favorites lists.
Excellent, very strong but well balanced. I used a cheaper orange liquor because cointreu was a bit out of my budget, and I didn't have the sugar. It's great even with the cheaper one. As a sidenote someone lwft a poor review because they said that it ruins the taste of a good cognac, this is meant to be made with mixing cognac, your like SO or VSOP (I used a vsop) if you are using Napoleon or above cognac then don't make a cocktail, it's meant to be drank straight at that point.
Gorgeous. A dash of orange bitters does not go amiss in this recipe.
I had never had a Sidecar but thought Iɽ give it a go and was very pleased with the result. A nice balance of flavors, the fresh lemon juice with the hint of sugar from the rim-delicious!
Classic cocktail and one of my favorites. Do NOT use bourbon or rye, only cognac and do NOT use Triple Sec, only Cointreau. You can adjust the amounts but I prefer this recipe. But be careful. they will sneak up on you!
Sidecars are fantastic! Most bartenders I meet don't know how to make them. I use armagnac instead of cognac typically. I also use Freshies Brand Sweet n Sour Lemon Squeeze instead of lemon juice (it is made from juice).
Use cinnamon sugar to rim the glass
I do enjoy a good Cognac. However, this drink ruins the flavors that good Cognac has to offer. Very disappointed.
OK, Iɽ make it again if I could stand up! Very strong but good.
This is my favorite non-margarita drink by far, and always gets interesting looks from bartenders. I also feel like I belong in another era ) WHATEVER YOU DO, don't let anyone serve you a 'Sidecar' with cheap brandy, or rye (tho I heard bourbon or whiskey is OK?) or lime juice - some have tried! THE BEST by far is in NYC's Blue Smoke or downstairs' Jazz Standard - it's on their menu - and they make it soooo well!
I am so happy to see this recipe! The Sidecar was my mother's favorite cocktail and this is the absolute BEST recipe. I always feel cool, elegant and almost of another time when I drink one of these. You will love it. I rim the entire glass with the sugar. Yummy!
- 7 large English cucumbers
- 4 large sweet onions, peeled
- ¼ cup pickling salt
- 3 cups white sugar
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- 3 cups distilled white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 4 (1 pint) canning jars with lids and rings
Grate the cucumbers and onions into a large bowl using the large holes of a box grater. Sprinkle the pickling salt over the top. Cover tightly, and allow to rest at room temperature overnight.
Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the cucumber mixture set aside. Whisk together the sugar, flour, turmeric, ginger, and celery seed. Heat the vinegar and water in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Whisk in the sugar mixture until smooth. Stir in the cucumber mixture. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 15 minutes.
Sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Pack the relish into the hot, sterilized jars, filling the jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Run a knife or a thin spatula around the insides of the jars after they have been filled to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars with a moist paper towel to remove any food residue. Top with lids, and screw on rings.
Place a rack in the bottom of a large stockpot and fill halfway with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then carefully lower the jars into the pot using a holder. Leave a 2 inch space between the jars. Pour in more boiling water if necessary until the water level is at least 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to a full boil, cover the pot, and process pint jars for 10 minutes.
Remove the jars from the stockpot and place onto a cloth-covered or wood surface, several inches apart, until cool. Once cool, press the top of each lid with a finger, ensuring that the seal is tight (lid does not move up or down at all). Store in a cool, dark area.
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THe secret ingredient
Cointreau isn't quite as sweet as simple syrup so pairing it with an equal measure of lemon juice creates a drink that is just a tad on the tart side.
By adding up to 1/4 oz of Demerara syrup you balance the drink out while also adding some caramelized sugar flavors that compliment the Cognac nicely.
Want to try something a little different?
Switch out the Cognac for whiskey and have a rye or bourbon Sidecar. You could also make a whiskey version if you have whiskey at home already and want to test the waters before buying a bottle of Cognac.
Place some sugar on a small plate. Moisten half of rim of a coupe glass with a little lemon juice and dip into sugar shake off excess. Set aside.
Combine brandy, triple sec, and remaining ¾ oz. lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill shaker with ice, cover, and shake vigorously until outside of shaker is very cold, about 20 seconds.
Strain cocktail through a Hawthorne strainer or a slotted spoon into reserved glass.
How would you rate Sidecar?
Recipes you want to make. Cooking advice that works. Restaurant recommendations you trust.
You can buy all the ingredients right from the shop. The best thing is, you don’t need to cooking anything, just shaking it up!
Moreover, learn how to make your own sugar syrup from scratch is dead easy and simple. Additionally, I added a sugar syrup recipe in the recipe card for you!
You can use sugar syrup for many other cocktails and keep it in the cardboard for ages.
Lets start shaking: fill up your shaker with ice, add courvoisier, cointreau. sugar syrup and lemon juice. Why not squeeze your own lemon juice as well, only 15 ml.
Shake all the ingredient well in the shaker, open the lid and pour into martini glass. Add a slice of dry orange as a garnish and you are ready to enjoy a Sidecar Drink made at home.
Is Sidecar Drink Aperitif or Digestive?
I would recommend to have Sidecar drink as an aperitif with some olives and nuts.
What about a platter of our cured meat and cheese?
Nevertheless, try some nibbles like suppli al telefono or another delicious finger food- funghi fritti! I know some of you would prefer to use it as a digestive, due to contain of brandy.
Drink it as you please, as long as you enjoy a Sidecar drink!
For your sweet tooth I would suggest trying a lovely creamy panna cotta, low fat nutella mouse or a simple and quick recipe for polenta biscuits!
Ultimate Sidecar Recipe
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker
- Add ice and shake until well-chilled
- Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass
- Garnish with a lemon twist
Despite being unable to actually bake, Emma is a whizz at decorating cakes. She spends most of her time watching old re-runs of Masterchef US and Kitchen Nightmares - basically anything featuring Gordon Ramsay. Her stories base themselves around the latest food trends, recipes even she can cook and whatever Instagram says is cool that day. Emma will never, ever say no to pizza.
Bourbon sidecar cocktails + exciting news
My three year-old’s world is full of delight. The very changing of the seasons seems to amaze her. I envy her excitement over everyday sightings like stop signs or flowers. My own sense of surprise and wonder has faded somewhat, what with bills, schedules, and all that. But on the train, some of that wonder returns. Hurtling across the Susquehanna, seeing passing cities and industrial decay of all manner, or just catching a fleeting look at a herd of deer, are all quiet joys little surprises that keep my eyes glued to the train window.
I was on a train to New York, a city I hadn’t visited for two years, when the ding of an email drew my attention from the foggy, choppy Chesapeake Bay. This blog, this blog, is a Saveur Blog Awards finalist! In the category of Most Delicious Food! I was alone there on the train when I got the email and I did the only thing I could – send Brian a series of curse- and emoji-laden texts with hundreds of exclamation points. (Adulthood at its finest.) Needless to say, I was totally delighted. Sometimes I go long stretches wondering if my site is on the right track and getting this kind of news has me over the moon.
If you’d be so kind, head over to Saveur and vote for your favorite blogs (and I hope that includes us). The voting process requires quick registration, and after you can tick off your favorites (it’s a really great list this year, so you’ll find many favorites to endorse.) Then, let’s celebrate.
In fact, let’s celebrate with a drink. Bourbon sidecar cocktails with plenty of lemon are a refreshing way to bridge the still cold temperatures and our anticipation of actual spring weather. They’re also terribly simple, which is exactly what I want in a cocktail, especially when I’m dizzy with excitement. Bourbon sidecars are a slightly more laid back take on the classic Cognac variety. Ours is lemony and bright, and skips the traditional sugared rim. As far as triple secs go, Cointreau has the cleanest flavor, but any variety will work in a pinch.
Finally, this good news caught me a little off guard while on the road. I’m incredibly grateful to my good friends and hosts, Natalie of Golden Calf and photographer (and dapper hand model) Wesley Ham for their respective prop styling and photo assistance. If you’re looking for beautiful things or stunning photography, they’re your people.