A Sidecar is a methodical blend of brandy, Cointreau, and fresh lemon juice. When actor Robert Armstrong is told by a policeman that the airplanes got King Kong, he replies, “It wasn’t the airplanes; it was beauty killed the beast.” Well, it was vodka that killed—or severely maimed—the Sidecar. By the 1930s, the brandy Sidecar was merrily rolling along. H. L. Mencken praised it as one of a dozen cocktails of any real worth. As vodka cocktails entered the fast lane, followed in tow by rum drinks, classics like the Sidecar were slowly left in the dust. One occasionally hears them being ordered in bars, but their resurgence is still wishful thinking.
The Sidecar has been with us at least since Prohibition, when the drink’s authorship was claimed by Harry’s New York Bar and named for a customer who arrived in the sidecar of a motorcycle. David Embury gives us his version in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks: “It was invented by a friend of mine at a bar in Paris, during World War I, and was named after yet another motorcycle sidecar in which the good captain customarily was driven to and from the little bistro where the drink was born and christened.” Based on these stories, one may ask why there are no Motorcycles, Taxis, or Velocipedes on bar menus.
If you do find the Sidecar in your local lounge, chances are that your bartender uses a sour or lemon mix. Stick with straight lemon juice. Although an endangered species, the Sidecar is a classic obligatory for the home bartender.
The Sidecar has undergone dramatic variations, but the classic version is always made with a harmony of tastes and contrasts in mind. It should be the precise ratio of sharp, sweet, and tart—and always cold. Some bartenders lightly sugar the rim of the glass for a further subtlety. Once again, use straight lemon juice in a Sidecar. Since the brandy is there for its punch, you do not need to use your best brandy or Cognac.
Applecar: Substitute applejack or apple brandy for the brandy.
Boston Sidecar: Substitute 3/4 ounce brandy and 3/4 ounce light rum for the brandy, and fresh lime juice for the lemon juice.
BMW Sidecar: Substitute Grand Marnier for the Cointreau.