Experience caramel smoothness with hints of citrus and sweetness in a classic Sidecar—a complex cocktail perfect for those after-dinner moments spent in comfortable confines and compelling company.
The Sidecar comes to us from 19th-century New Orleans, as many American cocktails seem to. It’s based on the Brandy Crusta, an established drink that featured the ingredients of a Sidecar, as well as gum syrup, bitters, and Curacao. Call it laziness on the part of the innovator but the Brandy Crusta was eventually simplified and called a Sidecar. It’s also been claimed that it was created in Paris (at Harry’s New York Club) or at Buck’s Club in London during the Prohibition era, when many American bartenders, who couldn’t ply their trade Stateside, headed across the Atlantic to earn an living.
A Sidecar is notable for its wide range of flavors. It has a caramel smoothness to it, thanks to the brandy; a hint of citrus, which is down to the lemon juice; and the sweetness of the orange liqueur; and we can’t forget the optional sugared rim. You’ll need to pay attention to every sip if you want to identify all the notes of its flavor profile.
It reminds me of an Old Fashioned with its variety of liquors and tastes, both sweet and mellow, as well as drinks like the Margarita and Gimlet, which both have that blend of sweet and citrus built upon a base spirit. The Sidecar, though, because of that brandy, seems like the perfect drink to sip after a big meal and serves as a digestif. Now I’m not sure whether it actually aids your stomach but I do know there are few beverages I’d rather mix and collapse on the couch with than this!
What is the Difference Between Brandy & Cognac?
The short answer: not much. That’s because cognac is a type of brandy that is made in the Cognac region of France. (Similar to how Champagne is sparkling wine that is made in Champagne, France.) Cognac is smooth and refined, and works well as part of a Sidecar. Brandy is a broad term to define liquor distilled from fermented fruit juices, be it apple, cherry, pear, etc. Cognac uses white grapes exclusively and is aged twice in barrels. As a result, it tends to have a dark amber color and a warm caramel taste.
As for those letters on a bottle of cognac, they describe how old the liquor is (i.e., how long it has been stored in the barrels). ‘VS’ (Very Special) is at least two years old; ‘VSOP’ (Very Special/Superior Old Pale) is four to six years old; while a ‘XO’ (Extra Old) label means the cognac is at least six years old. The older the cognac, the finer and more expensive it will be.
- 2 oz. brandy or cognac
- 1 oz. Cointreau or Grand Marnier
- 3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sugar for rim (optional)
- twist of lemon for garnish (optional)
- Run a slice of lemon along the rim of your glass. Dip the glass rim into some sugar. Place your glass in the refrigerator to chill.
- Fill a cocktail shaker with the brandy/cognac, Grand Marnier/Cointreau, and lemon juice. Fill halfway with ice.
- Shake vigorously (~20 seconds) until your drink is thoroughly chilled, with frost on the outside.
- Pour the cocktail mix into your prepared glass. Add a twist of lemon to garnish, if you'd like.
Tips & Tricks to Making the Perfect Sidecar Cocktail
- Use a quality cognac as the base, one that you enjoy sipping on its own. You don’t need to break the bank here but, as the main ingredient, the cognac (or brandy) should be sufficiently pleasant.
- Cointreau isn’t as sweet as the Grand Marnier, so, choose the one to suit your palate.
- Don’t be discouraged if your first Sidecar is underwhelming. It’s all about balancing those sweet, sour, and strong booze flavors. Make note of the ratios you use and then adjust.
- Shake to your heart’s content. This will chill your drink, mix the ingredients, and form a nice frothy finish.
- Use an orange twist. It’s sweeter than the lemon twist and fits in alongside the orange liqueur. Squeeze it gently over the drink to release its essence then run it along the rim of your glass (makes sense to do so BEFORE applying the sugar rim).
Sidecar Cocktail Variations
Modern Sidecar: Lose the sugared rim, increase the brandy, lower the cointreau, and use an orange peel.
Between the Sheets: Replace half the brandy with rum.
Champs Élysées: Use Green Chartreuse instead of Cointreau.
Sidecar Mocktail: The Sidecar goes heavy on the spirits, but you can make a mocktail by replacing the orange liqueur with orange juice, and you can splash in some white grape juice and a few drops of vanilla extract as well!
You can also make a Rum Sidecar, Whiskey Sidecar, or Tequila Sidecar, which all replace the brandy with their respective spirits.