Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Recipe Time Out: The Sidecar

Today, Naptime Huddle ventures into a new category of recipes:  the cocktail.  One of my very favorites is the Sidecar.  In my last year or so as a practicing lawyer, I went through a phase of asking for this drink at every happy hour or other such gathering.  Many times, however, I was actually denied the opportunity to partake in this sweet cocktail.  Why?  Because many bars don’t stock brandy, the main component of the Sidecar, behind the bar.  Who knew?  Also, many bartenders (usually the younger ones) never heard of it.

Many of you must be thinking, “So, feeling lazy, huh?  This will take you what, all of three minutes to list the ingredients and the directions?  Which are what, ‘mix and pour’?”

Oh, that’s where you’re wrong, my friends!  Not only are there different formulations of the Sidecar, but the origins and history of the drink itself are unclear.

Though the ingredients and preparation of the Sidecar are always the same, mixology connoisseurs disagree about the proportion of the ingredients, which are:  brandy (or, traditionally, Cognac), Cointreau (or other orange liqueur) and lemon juice.  These should be shaken with ice and strained into a frosted cocktail or martini glass, garnished with either a wedge of lemon or a lemon rind twist.  You also have the option of lacing the rim with lemon juice and dipping it into sugar—um, before pouring.

So, how much of each ingredient do you use?  There are, believe it or not, three formulas:  The French School, The English School and the 3:2:1 blend.

The French School

One story about the Sidecar’s origin, as told by David Embury in his 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, is that the cocktail was invented in Paris during World War I.  As the story goes, an American Army captain entered a Paris bistro nursing a cold and asked for something to ease his symptoms.  The bartender reached for the brandy, with its obvious medicinal benefits, and, seeking to add something for Vitamin C, added Cointreau and lemon juice.  This concoction became the captain’s favorite drink and he returned for it on a regular basis—shuttled back and forth in the sidecar of a chauffeured motorcycle (like the one pictured above).  Harry’s Bar* in Paris is credited for being that bistro, but the Ritz Hotel in Paris also claims to be the location of the drink’s invention.

As for formulation, The French School recipe is the easiest variation, calling for equal parts of the three ingredients—e.g., 1 ounce brandy, 1 ounce Cointreau and 1 ounce lemon juice. 

The English School

A less romantic, and probably more credible, story is that the Sidecar was invented by a bartender named Pat MacGarry at Buck’s Club in London (left), also during or soon after the First World War.  This story was put forth by Harry MacElhone in his 1922 book Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails (in later editions, MacElhone claims to be the creator himself), and by Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails and How to Mix Them from that same year. 

The English School calls for a 2:1:1 ratio of ingredients:  2 ounces of brandy and 1 ounce each of Cointreau and lemon juice.

3:2:1 Blend:   This formula, as you may have guessed, requires 2 ounces of brandy, 1 ounce of Cointreau and ½ ounce of lemon juice.

You will also find a long list of variations on the traditional Sidecar, with one or more ingredients replaced with other libations.  For example, gin replaces the brandy in the White Lady (right); substitute applejack for the brandy and grenadine syrup for the Cointreau and you get a Jack Rose; and replace the brandy for golden or dark rum to get, more simply, a Rum Sidecar.

So, which recipe should you use?  My advice is to play around and try each version.  If you prefer not to take this route, however, consider what you want from your drink.  If you want something nice and strong, go harder on the brandy; to avoid a drink that is too sweet, don’t skimp on the lemon juice; to limit the pucker factor, use less lemon juice and more Cointreau. 

Despite its romantic history and its delectable flavor, the Sidecar mysteriously dropped out of the mainstream after World War II.  Though not yet as fashionable as the martini, it's starting to made a comeback.  Hopefully the day will come when bartenders don't look at me like I sprouted a second head when I ask for one.

Thirsty yet? 

*Harry’s Bar is actually “Harry’s New York Bar”; the original owner, Tod Sloane, wanted to recreate the look and feel of an American bar, so he had the interior of a bar in Manhattan taken apart and shipped, piece by piece, to Paris.  It has always been a favorite of American expats and was a favorite haunt of American writers living in Paris, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  The establishment celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011.

1 comment:

  1. I bet the Rum Sidecar would be delicious frozen!


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