Mixology of the mouth: The Sidecar

A sugared rim adds elegance, texture, and forward sweetness to the classic Sidecar — which is why you need to mess with the recipe.

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Demerara sugar adds a certain “whole grain crunch” to the classic Sidecar.

Regular readers of this blog — both of them — may note that controlling sweetness is a sort of crusade of mine. A perfectly balanced drink rides that delicate edge where tart and sweet and booze all contribute equally, none getting too much attention.

Which brings me to the Sidecar, a pre- [or during-] Prohibition [-ish] drink that in most contemporary renditions is mixed 2:1:1 — 1.5 oz cognac, .75 oz lemon juice, .75 oz Cointreau.

Harry Braddock’s [him again] 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book has it at .5/.25/.25 [more evidence of the giantism that’s gallumphed into cocktaildom over the past few drinking generations.]

The Sidecar is a wonderful, and yes, perfectly balanced, drink —  solid, simple, satisfying, the color of parchment. Classic, as they say.

Just add sugar…to the rim

Somewhere along the way — let’s call it 1934 just for sport — the drink picked up a sugared rim. The great Dale DeGroff, in his 2008 The Essential Cocktail, recommends the 2:1:1 ratio along with the sugar rim, explaining that the flourish is an adaptation of Jerry Thomas’ [him again] Brandy Crusta [page 52 of his Bartender’s Guide, for those following along via knockoff reprint].

And so with the contemporary Sidecar we have a classically balanced drink — with an added garnish that tips it, for me, into an unwholesome sweetness.

And so it’s tinker time again.

A Measured Spirit’s Sidecar Recipe

  • 1.5 oz cognac
  • .85 oz lemon juice
  • .65 oz Cointreau
  • Sugar
    • I use Demerara, which adds a certain “whole grain crunch” that musters a bit of pre-manufacturing age authenticity 

nb: The comically precise portions of Cointreau and lemon above can be easily translated to: “A little more than .75 lemon juice, a little less than .75 Cointreau.” Here, the eyeball method is sufficient — the exception that proves the rule. 

How to make the Sidecar

Sugar a glass [coupe, martini] by moistening the rim and half an inch or so of the outside edge with the face of a sliced lemon. Put a tablespoon of sugar on a saucer and roll the glass’ edge carefully and slowly so the sugar adheres. With multiple orbits you’re just as likely to lose sugar as add it, so try to get a smooth coat the first time through. Put it in the freezer.

Combine ingredients, shake.

Taste the mix. If you say,”Not bad, but that’s a little too tart,” you’ve nailed it. If needed, add a tiny bit of lemon juice and reshake quickly.

Strain into the sugared glass.

How to drink the Sidecar

Place your lower lip on the glass so  you pick up a good bit of the sugar.

Transport the sugar, pachyderm-like, into your mouth. Sip the drink slowly, holding the liquid in your mouth a bit longer than usual.

Mix in your mouth, not in your hand

I suspect you know where this is going. You’re actually finishing the drink in your mouth, adding sugar to the slightly-too-tart drink .

It’s a remarkable sensation, and rewarding in curious ways: The act of drinking actually completes the beverage. The drinker becomes collaborator, not mere recipient.

Notes:

  • If you’ve used Demerara sugar, you get extra frisson on the lip. A purist might cringe — but they probably cringed at the sugar rim anyway, so what the hell.
  • The Sidecar has a typically rollicking, uncertain, and compelling back story, involving several mutually exclusive claims of authorship, some guy’s motorcycle, an extension of cultural hostilities between the English and the French, and a lineage of recipes a whole lot sweeter and drier than where contemporary consensus has landed.
  • Inspired by a cheerful barkeep named Jay at a now-shuttered French restaurant in Georgetown, D.C., I sometimes use as a base Armangnac [toggle to translate this link from French to English]. Like brandy, armangac is a distilled French wine, but with some added fragrant, woody notes. It contributes some subtle flavors that add interest to the drink, in my estimation. Another shiv into the ribs of a classic, I realize.
  • The taste buds that pick up sugar may or may not be located at the tip of the tongue. If true, that would really validate my approach. But most scientists now think the whole tongue-diagram thing is bullshit, or semi-bullshit. No matter. Your mouth picks up the sweet. Everything else is geek pendantry.

Author: Craig Stoltz

Cocktail enthusiast with no professional standing, former Time.com Top 25 blogger, and ex-Washington Post editor. I live in Bethesda, Maryland.

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