Whether it was demanded by an American army captain riding in a sidecar at the Paris Ritz Hotel’s Harry’s Bar during World War I or not, this brandy cocktail is a classic: the Sidecar.
Two things seem to be clear, even if the origins of this cocktail don’t appear to be: there is a very definite French version of the Sidecar – and an English version. What separates them is the ratio of the various components making up the cocktail.
Difford’s Guide refers to this anomaly in the proportions, stating that the French opt for a straight 1:1:1 ratio while the Savoy or English version (as detailed in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book) sees two parts brandy to one each of the Cointreau/triple sec and lemon for a 2:1:1.
One thing sources agree on is that the cocktail appears to have announced itself in the 1920s, a time known historically as the Roaring Twenties because of all the changes that were happening worldwide, artistically, culturally, economically and musically. Fashions changed dramatically with flappers flouting their legs while dancing energetically, it was the time immortalised by F Scott Fitzgerald, the economy was booming, aeroplanes took to the skies and cars took over the streets from horses and carriages in greater numbers.
So back to London or Paris … Wikipedia details the Ritz Hotel’s claim by stating that the first recipe for the Sidecar was printed in Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails by Harry MacElhone in 1922. But it also appeared in Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails and How to Mix Them the same year. The confusion arose because in early editions of the ABC, the creator of the drink is credited as Pat MacGarry, “the popular bartender at Buck’s Club, London", but in later editions MacElhone claims the credit! The original claim is backed up by Vermiere’s book which states the drink was “very popular in France. It was first introduced in London by MacGarry, the celebrated bartender of Buck's Club”.
And the name of the drink was credited to an American army captain in Paris during World War I and named after the motorcycle sidecar that the captain used.
As already mentioned, the Savoy’s 1930 book post dates these two and differs in its proportions. “Both MacElhone and Vermiere state the recipe as equal parts Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, now known as “the French school”,” Wikipedia states. “Later, an “English school” of sidecars emerged, as found in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), which call for two parts Cognac and one part each of Cointreau and lemon juice.”
An alternative theory put forward by Dale DeGroff, author of The Essential Cocktail, takes a bartender’s perspective. “The word sidecar means something totally different in the world of the cocktail: if 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 out that little extra into a shot glass on the side – that little glass is called a sidecar.”
50ml Cognac or brandy
25ml triple sec or Cointreau
25ml lemon juice
Handful of ice
Optional: dash of bitters
Put a coupe glass in the fridge to chill. Tip all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker.
Shake well, until the outside of the shaker feels cold, then strain the cocktail into the chilled coupe glass.
If the lemon juice is too sharp, add the bitters to taste but this is purely a matter of personal choice.
As is always the case, people have tinkered with the drink over the years and developed a host of spinoffs. Like the Side by Sidecar which adds pomegranate liqueur to the triumvirate of brandy, orange liqueur and lemon juice, Liquor.com reports. Not only is it an inviting shade of red, it adds typically tart berry fruit flavour to the drink.
Another innovation which didn’t form part of the original drink is the use of a sugared rim. That too, is a matter of either bartender or client preference. Some folks like a half rim of sugar in order to add a slight sweetness to the tangy drink.
Then there’s the Apple Strudel sidecar detailed by BBC Good Food website.
Apple Strudel sidecar
2 Tbsp castor sugar
200ml pressed apple juice
1 cinnamon stick
100ml Cognac or brandy
50ml Madeira wine
Juice of 1 lemon
A large handful of ice
Dip the rim of four martini glasses in a saucer of water, then into a saucer or small dish of castor sugar. Pop the glasses into the fridge until ready to serve.
Warm the apple juice in a small saucepan with the cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and leave to cool. Once cold, discard the cinnamon stick and pour into a jug.
Put the Cognac/brandy, Amaretto, Madeira wine and lemon juice into a cocktail shaker with a large handful of ice. Shake together until the mixture is chilled. Strain into your glasses, top up with the spiced apple juice and serve immediately.
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