52 Drinks 52 Weeks – Sidecar

Here’s a riddle. It’s the 1st World War, we are in Paris. An army captain goes to a bar and orders a drink. The bartender concocts one. The captain asks, whats the drink called. The tender looks at his motorbike and names the drink after it. What was the drink called?

It was called Sidecar.

History of Sidecar

The sexy drink that is simple to put together but easy to get off-balance. A bonafide Prohibition-era classic that’s making noise at bars once again.

The parent of the Sidecar is the Brandy Crusta, a cocktail that has its roots in New Orleans, America. Put Brandy, Curacao, Lemon Juice, Bitters, and Gum Syrup together, shake and pour in a wine glass that has its rim rubbed with a lemon peel, and voila there you have it.

Much like any mother cocktail, Brandy Crusta went through some innovations too. The Crusta made a two-fold change to become Sidecar. One, there was a fancy sugar rim (as noted by Jerry Thomas in How to Mix Drinks) and another the addition of lemon garnish to the glass. 

Citrus wasn’t commonly used in drinks in the mid-19th Century, unless you were a sailor trying to avoid scurvy. It was expensive too, and using every bit of it was only natural.

The Disputed Origins of Sidecar

Like any classic cocktail, the origins of Sidecar are disputed. The more commonly believed one is that where the French take the cake. It’s believed it was created at the famous Harry’s Bar in Paris during World War 1, requested by an Army Captain who rode up to the bar in the sidecar of his friend’s motorcycle. When he asked for a pre-dinner drink, the suggestion of a Cognac-based cocktail came up and that’s how the drink was created.

But then Pat MacGarry, the bartender at the Buck’s Club in London, is also often credited with creating the drink. He’s the inventor of the popular, but less well regarded, Buck’s Fizz cocktail as well.

We can’t tell which is the true story there. However, there’s one more story to Sidecar that must be shared, this time not of its origins, but its name.

Dale DeGroff, and his book The Essential Cocktail, says the portion left over in the shaker after pouring the drink in the glass and serving to the guest, the bartender pours it out into a shot glass on the side – that little glass is called a sidecar” Could that be the reason why the drink is called so?

The changes and two schools of Sidecar

History is interesting but confusing at times. The evolution didn’t stop and prohibition-favourite, Sidecar has never really lost its popularity. With standardisations coming in place, brandy eventually disappeared and was replaced with a more standard and bankable quality Cognac. 

The same with Triple Sec. Curaçao was hard to find. It was made from bitter + inedible oranges. It was substituted for the emerging Cointreau, an orange liqueur, also from France, with a much better pedigree. 

Now, some even use Grand Marnier!! But there still is one ingredient that may be hard to standardise, lemon juice.  

In this tussle of standardising the ingredients and produce, emerged two schools of looking at the drink. The French School and the English one. The French School promotes a perfect recipe of equal measures – 1 part each of Brandy Triple Sec and Lemon Juice (1919 ABC of Cocktails) which even today is very popular

The English school prefers 2 parts Brandy and one each of Cointreau and Lemon Juice (1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book)

The more modern recipe suggests 2 parts Brandy 1/2 part Triple Sec and 1/4 part Lemon Juice (1948 Fine Art of Mixing Drinks) but some complain of it producing a very dry interpretation.

Cognac, Ports, and post-dinner drinks may have not made a big wave in India but Cognac classics have done well. Be it Sidecar, French 75, Vieux Carre, or Sazerac, we have always seen them on the lists before they are deemed ‘complete’ 

And we believe after the lockdown lifts we will soon head to our favourite bars and order some classics. Maybe we are looking at an emerging trend there – the return of the classics.

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