Thursday, October 25, 2007


* 2 ounces Brandy (cognac)
* 1 ounce Cointreau
* 1/2 ounce lemon juice

Shake with ice. Strain into cocktail glass.

DrinkBoy Says: Ingredients and Proportions are very important with this drink. Cointreau and fresh squeezed lemon juice are critical to the Quality of the final product. Add the Brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice to a shaker with ice, shake well, and strain into a well chilled cocktail glass. You can also wet the rim of the glass with the wedge of lemon, then coat the rim with sugar. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

My own adventures in cocktail mixing have taught me to appreciate the Sidecar cocktail as an excellent way to understand the importance of using Quality ingredients when making cocktails.

Recently, while talking with Colin Fields, the head bartender at the Bar Hemmingway at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, another very important aspect of the Quality cocktail was brought to my attention by way of the Sidecar. He commented on the importance of the history of a cocktail in order to understand how it was originally intended to be served. While the true origins of many cocktails are lost to the ravages of time, and others suffer from too many contradictory origins, anything that can help you put more behind a cocktail then just its list of ingredients, can help you to add a sense of character to your drinks.

Colin recites that the Sidecar was developed during WWI, when a certain regular customer arrived at the Ritz on his motorcycle (replete with sidecar), and asked the bartender for a cocktail that would help take off the chill. The bartender was caught in a dilemma, a drink to remove a chill would appropriately be brandy, but brandy was traditionally an after dinner drink, and his patron was wanting something before dinner. So he combined cognac, cointreau, and lemon juice to mix a cocktail whos focus was on the warming qualities of both the brandy, and the cointreau, while the lemon juice added enough of a tartness to make it appropriate as a pre-dinner cocktail. So a properly made sidecar should betray its roots as a drink that warms your palate if not your bones.

As I mentioned already, my own experiments with the Sidecar taught me the importance of ingedients. Lets consider the ingredients of ths cocktail, Brandy, Orange Liqeur, Lemon Juice. These ingredients offer a lot of flexibility. For Brandy, we can select from a broad range of qualities, including Cognac, Armagnac, or just a good Quality brandy. For the orange liquore, we can use simple Triple Sec, Orange curaco, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or a number of others. And for the lemon juice, we can use fresh squeezed, bottled, or (shudder) bottled sour mix.

For my first experiment with the sidecar, I chose to use a middle of the road Brandy, and then test the differences between Cointeau and Triple Sec, and fresh versus bottled lemon juice. My first drink used Cointreau and fresh lemon juice. I was struck by the almost velvety smooth texture of the drink, while still providing the bite of the lemon. It had a certain character that almost begged to be the object of contemplation. A truly enjoyable cocktail. Next I tried to substitute Triple Sec for the cointreau. My hope was that the lemon juice would silently mask the differences between these two orange liqeures, after all cointreau is about three times the cost of many Triple Secs. Unfortunately, my frugal side was going to take a beating on this one. I found the difference to be astounding. The Triple Sec turned this previously exquisitely wonderful cocktail into just a simple and unassuming drink. The sort of cocktail you might grab off of a full tray that was making its way through the room and absent mindedly sip on it as you chatted politics with a small group of friends. Next for my test, was to see if fresh versus bottled lemon juice made enough of a noticeable difference. To give this test as much of a chance to succeed as possible, I switched back to cointreau. My lesson here, was that this variation was essentially a total waste of my precious cointreau. While my liqour cabinet still stocks Triple Sec, it no longer contains bottled lemon juice.

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