Invented in France during the years of America’s “noble experiment” with Prohibition, it’s puzzling that the Sidecar has yet to take its proper place in the modern cocktail renaissance. It’s a glorious drink when well made, but it does subject the bartender to a little bit of fuss.
As with many simple drinks, the quality of the ingredients can make or break this recipe; Robert Hess does an excellent job detailing the contributions of the various components. But even when using top-shelf brands, you’ll need to do a fair bit of balancing. Brandies vary widely in strength and sweetness, and even plain-old Eureka lemons change in acidity throughout the growing season.
The traditional recipe of equal parts brandy, triple-sec, and lemon juice is very sweet, especially when served in the customary sugar-rimmed glass. Although I won’t go as far as David Embury — who rationalized that a Sidecar is simply a Daiquiri clone, and advocated a bone-dry ratio of 7:2:1 — I do think that all but the sweetest palates will prefer something closer to two parts brandy to one part each Cointreau and juice.
Like many old-time recipes, the Sidecar has undergone a dizzying list of modifications over the past 70 years. Beyond modernizing the proportions, this recipe stands up to a fair bit of tinkering. Varying the base liquor gets you a Chelsea Sidecar (gin), a Boston Sidecar (rum plus brandy), or an Applecar (Applejack). Swapping lime juice for the lemon, or tweaking Cointreau for another liqueur yields even more alternatives.
For this month’s Mixology Monday — a Brandy theme, hosted by the lovely Marleigh at over at Sloshed! — we took our inspiration from a drink we enjoyed at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. The menu listed Belle de Brillet pear Cognac in place of the brandy (and you know we loves us some of that). Alas, the resulting mixture was jaw-numbingly sweet, but the concept was just too good to ignore; off we went to the home laboratory.
First we tried decreasing the sweet components: Reducing the Belle de Brillet diminished the beautiful pear essence of the drink, and halving the Cointreau flattened everything out. Starting out from the other direction, increasing the lemon juice made things too puckery. Dispensing with the sugared rim did help a bit, but it seems a shame to lose this sparkle.
At last, we turned to the Clear Creek Pear Brandy (or, better still, its sibling eau de vie in the captive-pear bottle). Hooray! We’d found plenty of pear and fruity warmth without the cloying sweetness.
Before squeezing the lemon, rub the cut side along just the outside edge of a chilled cocktail glass. (Resist the urge to dip the rim in water or juice — as you see sloppy bartenders do just about everywhere — or you’ll end up with sugar inside the glass and floating in your drink.) Dip the edge into a plate of sugar, rolling to create a sugar rim.
Shake the brandy, Cointreau, and juice with ice. Strain into the prepared cocktail glass.