The Sidecar cocktail is said to have been invented by an American Army captain living in Paris during the first World War. He was driven each night in a motorcycle sidecar, so it goes, to the small bistro where he helped conceive and christen this drink. On those wintery Paris nights, having been chilled to the bone by his ride in the sidecar, the captain found nothing more warming and rejuvenating than the combination of Cognac Brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice mixed in equal parts.
Perhaps he was nostalgic for a Daiquirí back home in Florida, and with no access to rum or limes, started improvising with what was on hand. I can only guess at what his true inspiration was, but it led to a cocktail that could be considered one of the most classic and well known around the world.
On a more sinister note, the Sidecar’s popularity has noticed a steady decline over the past few decades. This is due in large part to the fact that many bartenders are using cheap brandy, triple sec, and commercial sweet and sour mix to prepare this drink, instead of Cognac, Cointreau, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Trust me please, it would be false economics to cut corners on this particular drink.
I should mention, before posting the formula, that there are two popular schools of thought when it comes to the proportions of ingredients in this cocktail. The more classic “French School” adheres to the equal triad described above, whereas the newer “English School” swears by a ratio of 2:1:1. Having tasted both variations side by side earlier this evening I have to conclude that neither school is in the wrong. The French Sidecar is light, refreshing, delicate, and well balanced, with prominent, though not overpowering citrus elements. It felt like Spring in Paris. The more complex and serious English Sidecar felt like fall or winter. The Cognac was able to take center stage while Cointreau and lemon played backup. The harmony was beautiful! I recommend this method if you’re using a really fine Cognac or Armagnac and want it to to shine through.
Sidecar Cocktail (French School)
- 1 oz Cognac or Armagnac
- 1 oz Cointreau
- 1 oz Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sidecar Cocktail (English School)
- 1 1/2 oz Cognac or Armagnac
- 3/4 oz Cointreau
- 3/4 oz Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Combine ingredients in a shaker half full of ice.
- Shake or stir vigorously until very cold (no less than 20 seconds).
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with a strip of organic or well scrubbed orange or lemon rind (optional).
- Any quality brandy can be substituted for the Cognac.
- Any quality orange liqueur can be substituted for the Cointreau (Grand Marnier, Marie Brizard Grand Orange Liqueur, etc.).
- Always use fresh squeezed lemon juice (Meyer lemons can be used with delicious results, but you may want to cut back on the Cointreau to avoid an overly sweet drink).
- Some people like to sugar the rim of the cocktail glass, but I’m not one of them.
- Experiment with different proportions and find the combo you like the most.
- For more good reading on the Sidecar cocktail go here.