The Sidecar


Made with brandy / cognac, a triple sec and fresh lemon juice, this sour is a classic, originating in the 1920s.  Sour paired with sweet, finished with the taste of the cognac, with the fragrance of oranges and lemons on the nose, the cocktail lives and breathes a sort of delicious elegance. 

There is a lot of argument over the history of the Sidecar and when it was created: Ritz’s Little Bar and Harry’s New York Bar both lay claim to the cocktail’s conception, and both claim it in the 1920s (Hamilton 132).  During the 1920s and 30s, the cocktail stood by the wayside, becoming popular only in the “second wave of interest in classic cocktails” and due to this, it is still not well known (Ibid).  However, according to DeGroff, the cocktail is nothing more than a modernization of one of Jerry Thomas’ original cocktails, specifically the Brandy Crusta, invented in New Orleans by Santini, a Spanish caterer (DeGroff 134).  The Brandy Crusta’s name derives specifically from the act of dipping the rim of the glass in sugar and allowing it to dry to a fine crust: the rim is, according to DeGroff, an essential part of the Sidecar’s presentation (Ibid).  However, as William Hamilton points out, the question of the sugar rim garnish is one that should be answered by the costumer ordering the cocktail (Hamilton 133).

Concerning the name, “Sidecar”: legends have it that the drink was inspired by a patron who rode in a motorcycle sidecar.  As one individual points out, the cocktail was named after an individual “who was customarily driven to and from the little bistro in a motorcycle sidecar.  According to mythology, the officer was under the weather and asked for an aperitif before dinner” (  But as DeGroff points out, the name probably originates from the bartending phrase sidecar: “[i]f the bartender misses his mark on ingredient quantities so when he strains the drink into the serving glass there’s a bit left over in the shaker, he pours that little extra into a shot glass on the side-that little glass is called a sidecar” (DeGroff 134).  However, David Embury even argues for the illusive myth, saying that it was named after the sidecar in which this officer rode.  On account of such mixed receptions and historical findings, the true origin of the name remains a mystery.

Falling under the family of sours, which I have mentioned briefly before, the Sidecar stands as an avatar for this family rather well.  The sour is comprised principally of spirit, sugar (in this case the triple sec) and sour (lemon juice).  Yet, there is an argument about whether or not the sour flavor should be prevalent and dominating on the tongue (Wondrich 101-104).  Many times, especially in modern mixology, the cocktail will be sweeter, with less lemon juice, in order to be more adequately balanced, and appeal to a wider audience (Ibid).  The drink, comprised of three simple ingredients, has several variations which results from the relationship between cognac/brandy, types of triple secs, and variations in proportions on account of flavor profiles and the desired taste.  Original recipes call for a one to one to one ratio, while currently the principle spirit quite often dominates at a two to one to one ratio.  If you were to look at Embury’s ratio, you would see a eight parts spirit, to two parts sour, to one part sweet, making for a rather dry cocktail; to Embury, a spirit’s flavors should be augmented, and not masked.

DeGroff argues this must be made with cognac, since the cocktail itself screams elegance; however, given the nature of brandy and cognac, one could probably get away with brandy.  I personally use cognac, since it generally is of a higher quality than brandy.  Essentially, brandy and cognac are very nearly identical, similar to the relationship between calvados and apple-brandy.  Cognac seems a bit more refined on the palate however.  Both spirits are made principally from distilled wine, and rely upon the region of production  in order to distinguish the two.  In otherwords, cognac must be produced in the Cognac region of France, under specific guidelines, but possesses the same base ingredients and overall process of distillation as brandy.  As a sidenote, there is a third major variation, known as Armagnac, which is produced in the Armagnac region of France and is another type of terroir liquor.  According to Wondrich, brandy used to be stronger than the 40 percent it is currently bottled at, and as such, trying to dilute your drink with less modifiers is the only way in which you can approach similar strength of alcoholic content as in the past (58).  And to Wondrich notes that the use of Cognac is appealing in cocktails, since anything less than a VSOP Cognac will be rather disappointing (Ibid).  A final note concerning these spirits are that they are usually drunk warm, in a brandy snifter, where the hand warms the liquor to the temperature of the body, and are usually drunk after dinner to aid with digestion.

Cointreau is one of the original triple secs, or triple distilled liqueurs produced from oranges and/or orange peels.  Because of this, the flavor and aroma notes of the spirit are the simple notes of an orange. Triple secs vary drastically in terms of quality.  The higher quality stuff, such as Cointreau, are much more smooth, and thus skimping out on cash will result in an overly syrup-like triple sec, usually being far too sweet for a balanced cocktail.  I started off with the cheaper stuff, and moved into Cointreau, and there really is no cheaper alternative or substitute for Cointreau (though some would argue for Grand Marnier, but that has a brandy base, so it is somewhat different).  Furthermore, Cointreau is 40 percent alcohol by volume, and thus packs a bit more of a punch than some generic kind that is fifteen percent.

The Sidecar:

1 1/2 ounce Cognac (or Brandy)
3/4 to 1 ounce Cointreau
1/2 to 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice (or less, to taste)

Combine ingredients into cocktail shaker, shake, and strain into a stemware glass.  The glass may either be garnished prior to making the cocktail with a sugar rim or not, depending on taste.  Garnish with a lemon twist.


Craddock, Henry.  1999.  The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Originally published 1930.  London: Pavilion Books.

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Hamilton, William L.  2004.  Shaken and Stirred: Through the Martini Glass and Other Drinking Adventures.  New York: HarperCollins Books.

That’s The Spirit.  “Sidecar Cocktail.” (accessed February 15, 2010).

Wikipedia contributors. “Armagnac.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (accessed February 15, 2010).
–. “Brandy.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (accessed February 15, 2010). 
–. “Cognac.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (accessed February 15, 2010).
–. “Cointreau.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (accessed February 15, 2010).