Some of the greatest drinks in the mixological canon are deceptive in their simplicity. Consider the Old Fashioned, the Daiquiri, the gin Martini—preparing a cup of coffee in the morning is more complicated than making these drinks. But through the basic combination of two or three ingredients, with some ice thrown in for excitement, a perfect match of flavors can be achieved.
Add another drink to this list: the Sidecar. As with most cocktails, the origins of the drink are hazy (be suspicious of those who state with certainty when or where the Sidecar was first mixed), but this entrancing mixture of brandy, lemon juice and orange liqueur started making the rounds in the most fashionable watering holes in London and Paris during the 1920s. Very simple in structure, the Sidecar is complex enough in flavor to satisfy even the most jaded palates, but not so over-the-top with mixological gewgaws as to frighten away the casual tippler.
Two quick things to consider when mixing a Sidecar: first, quality matters. Use a cheap mass-market brandy or a cut-rate triple sec, and your Sidecar's gonna suck.
This is a time when you want to break out a nice (but not outrageously old or expensive) VSOP cognac, a good Armagnac or an excellent California brandy such as Germain-Robin, and for the sweetener, pretty much only Cointreau has the right mixture of dryness and sweetness to make a Sidecar sing (and as for the lemon, just make sure it's fresh and tasty).
Second: feel free to tinker with the proportions. Early recipes call for equal amounts of the three ingredients, which is way too boring for most people; many guides call for a 2:1:1 ratio of brandy:lemon:Cointreau, but for some that's too tart. I'm going with a tad more Cointreau than lemon, to help everything hold in balance—but I encourage you to do as I did, and wiggle with the proportions to find the mix that's right for your taste.
- 2 ounces VSOP Cognac, Armagnac, or good California brandy
- 1 ounce Cointreau
- 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice, to taste
- superfine sugar, for garnish (optional)
Optional: prepare cocktail glass by making a slit in a lemon wedge and running the cut edge around the rim of the glass; then dip the rim in a saucer of superfine sugar to create a thin crust; chill the glass until needed.
Combine brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake well until chilled, about 10 seconds. Strain into prepared glass; garnish with a twist of orange or lemon peel, if the urge comes across.