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The Sidecar | History of A 100+ Year Old Cocktail!

three versions of the sidecar cocktail sit alongside one another

Hello, Friends of Cocktails. The Sidecar is legendary. It’s left its mark in history and today we’ll look at how it started and how it has evolved - the cocktail, not the vehicle. We’ll check out what makes it special and the different recipes throughout history, and at the end we’ll get to the bottom of the age-old question… What came first? The cocktail or the motorcycle attachment? So stick around for that, but let’s start with the obvious, what’s a Sidecar?

Sidecar in its core is a daisy cocktail, made with cognac, lemon juice and orange liqueur. Using the latter as the sweetener in place of simple syrup is what makes it different from a classic sour cocktail. The Sidecar is also often served with a sugared rim, and like many classic cocktails it has a fuzzy history. By most accounts it was invented around the end of World War I in either London or Paris, with the famous Ritz Hotel in Paris claiming the origin of the drink.

Some say it was named after the motorcycle sidecar, as a reference to a patron who would arrive at the bar in a sidecar and order this drink, but that would answer the question from our intro way too quickly, so let’s also float the idea that it might have been named after its unique presentation. Well, it turns out that sometimes only one side of the glass would be rimmed with sugar - side…car. The first confirmed recipes appeared in print in 1922 in Robert Vermeire’s “Cocktails“, followed by Harry McElhone’s “ABC of Mixing Cocktails” in 1923.

It’s amazing how many old cocktails books can be found online, specifically on EUVS Vintage Cocktail Books webpage. E.U.V.S. stands for Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiritueux, which refers to a Museum in Bendor Island in the south of France. From the first cocktail book by Jerry Thomas in 1862 to some 100 years later, almost all cocktail books can be found and read ther - although some information found there might not be 100% accurate.

For example, the Sidecar cocktail appears in the book titled 101 Drinks and How to Mix Them by an unknown author. The recipe calls for 3 parts french brandy, 2 parts cointreau, one part lemon juice and to shake it with plenty of fine ice. That’s all fine, but the website claims the release year of the book was 1910, which is more than 10 years before it appears anywhere else. According to our research it’s most likely that it was released around 1935, but that won’t stop me from making it as the first version of the day. It’s Cocktail Time!

orange oils are being expressed onto a sidecar cocktail

1910 Sidecar

● 45mL · 1.5oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac

● 30mL · 1oz Cointreau

● 15mL · 0.5oz Lemon Juice

Just for the fun of it, let’s garnish one side of the glass with a sugared rim before we start. For that just rim the glass with a sliced lemon then dip it in sugar, tap off the excess and that’s it. Now add your ingredients to your cocktail shaker, fill it with ice, and give it a quick shake. Then strain into the prepared cocktail glass and enjoy, cheers!

The orange and brandy flavors are in the forefront. It lacks a bit of acidity so the cocktail could use some balancing, but I can see why people liked it back then. The second version I’ll make was written by Harry McElhone in many editions of his “ABC of Mixing Cocktails”. The first one was printed in 1919, but it’s been lost in time, so we have to go by the 1923 and 1930 editions.

He credits the recipe to a Mr. MacGarry, a bartender at Buck’s Club in London. The equal parts ratio is something that was popular, so that’s how we’ll make our second version.

1930 Sidecar

● 30mL · 1oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac

● 30mL · 1oz Cointreau

● 30mL · 1oz Lemon Juice

Same as for the last one, add your ingredients into a shaker, shake hard with ice to chill and dilute then double strain into a chilled stemmed glass, this time rimmed all the way around with sugar. Let’s see how it compares, cheers! This version is citrus forward all the way from the aroma to the taste, with the higher amount of lemon and less of the spirit really making it a bright cocktail, but also one that would need to be balanced by more than just sugar on the rim.

Before I show you how to make my all-French version of this classic I think it’s worth mentioning a Sidecar version that’s widely regarded as the modern standard. This recipe is not so focused on specific bottles, but more on the balance of all ingredients, which we mentioned a few times today.

Modern Sidecar

● 60mL · 2oz Remy Martin 1738

● 22.5mL · 0.75oz Grand Marnier

● 22.5mL · 0.75oz Lemon Juice

● 1 barspoon Rich Demerara Syrup

● 2 drops 20% Saline Solution

You know the drill by now, only this time we’re adding a barspoon of rich demerara syrup to provide balance instead of adding sugar to the rim. So add the ingredients to your shaker along with ice and shake as before, then double strain into a chilled coupe glass. For garnish, express an orange peel and place the peel over the top of the glass. With that it will have a delightful aroma of cognac and orange peel. Cheers!

This Sidecar is the booziest of the bunch, but it has a nice harmony of cognac and orange liqueur. On the finish, there's a subtle burnt sugar note that lingers - this is a Sidecar as it should be. Now for the finale, an Exclusive Sidecar, made with grape verjuice. This ancient ingredient got its name from French “vert jus”, meaning 'green' or unripe juice. This will replace lemon juice in our Sidecar, so let’s give it a try.

Exclusive Sidecar

● 45mL · 1.5oz Pierre Ferrand Ambre

● 22.5mL · 0.75oz Dry Curaçao

● 22.5mL · 0.75oz Grape Verjuice

● 1 barspoon Gum Syrup

● 2 drops 20% Saline Solution

Final cocktail of the day, and it’s prepared in the same manner as the last 3. For garnish cut a small circle from an orange peel, express the essential oils over the cocktail and place the peel on the top - beautiful! The brandy-forward aroma promises a balanced cocktail. Orange complements it nicely, and despite the absence of lemon, it's not missing anything. Brandy's fruity and spicy notes make it an easy sipper, with a subtle floral undertone.

With that you’ve made it to the Bottom of the glass, chapeau! And it’s time to answer the question that’s been burning away at you since the start of the episode - what came first, the cocktail or the transportation device? We now know the Sidecar cocktail was created a little over 100 years ago, but did you know that in 1893 a French newspaper offered a prize to the person who created the best method of carrying a passenger on a bicycle?

That person was Jean Bertoux, a French army officer, who created a passenger seat for bicycles using an extra wheel. That means the sidecar not only predates this cocktail, but even production motorcycles. Who knew? Now back to something we know, we have amazing supporters who help us create this show, and the biggest supporters get a place on our Wall of Fame!

Bo Yin became our top tier Patron so he’ll be a part of our set with his very own brick inside the Cocktail Time clock. Thank you for the support! So there you have it, anduntil next time. Cheers, Friends of Cocktails!


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