Sidecar Cocktail

EntertainingDrinkBrandyCocktail

The sidecar is a classic cocktail made with Cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. It’s equally appropriate at a backyard barbecue or a fancy dinner party! Try some of our favorite variations, too!

Photography Credit: Sam Schick

Spiritous, bright, and as popular today as the day it was created, the Sidecar is a classic sour cocktail made with cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. It’s traditionally made to be on the slightly sour side of balanced, occasionally served in a glass with a sugared rim, and is always the life of the soiree.

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WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE SIDECAR?

The most well-known descendant of the Crusta—a delightful, sugar crusted sour that was one of the first great drinks published by legend Jerry Thomas in 1862—the Sidecar made its debut early in the Roaring Twenties. It appeared in both Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails and Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them in 1922. Like the Crusta, the Sidecar was built on Cognac (a brandy), lemon juice, and an orange liqueur, streamlined without the Crusta’s Maraschino accent.

Instead of the Crusta’s sugared rim, sugar syrup is added directly to the mix. This gives you more control over the drink’s sweetness, tempering the bite of the lemon and providing a balance between the tartness and the high-strength orange liqueur.

Person holding a sidecar cocktail with a lemon wedge.

BRANDY, COGNAC OR ARMAGNAC?

Cognac and Armagnac are both types of brandy made from white wine grapes in the very regions for which they’re named. While Cognac goes through two rounds of distillation in a pot still, Armagnac undergoes but one, with fewer of its “impurities” filtered out.

What does that mean for their taste? Cognac will be slightly more subtle in flavor (after more extensive distillation), while Armagnac will have a fuller, more complex flavor.

So which should you choose?

  • If what you have is a basic brandy, go for it; you’re still in the right place.
  • Cognac will be better still, with more character and elegance.
  • Argmagnac will either be more difficult to find, or not entirely worth the higher price tag it might command, though you may still find it has more personality.

In this recipe, we’re going with Cognac VSOP (indicating it has been aged for 4 years) for its affordability and quality.

TRIPLE SEC OR COINTREAU

The orange liqueurs Triple Sec and Cointreau have a relationship similar enough to that of brandy and Cognac: Cointreau is triple sec, which like curaçao, is made from the skins of bitter and sweet oranges.

While relatively interchangeable in most recipes, Cointreau is better balanced between bitter and sweet, typically of higher quality than your average Triple Sec, and at 40% alcohol (against Triple Sec’s 15% – 30%), Cointreau better compliments the structural strength of the Cognac.

Another option would be Grand Marnier, an orange-flavored liqueur with a brandy base, and a similarly high ABV, or strength.

A sidecar cocktail in a cocktail glass with a lemon cut next to it and sunflowers in the background.

ANY FUN VARIATIONS ON THE SIDECAR?

  • Bourbon Sidecar: 2 oz Bourbon, 1 oz Cointreau, .5 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 tsp simple syrup
  • Champs-Elysees, or Chartreuse sidecar (Chartreuse was sometimes used in early daisies, another type of sour cocktail): 1.5 oz Cognac, .5 oz Green Chartreuse, .25 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice, .25 oz simple syrup, 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • Parisian Sidecar, created by Simon Difford: 2 oz Cognac VSOP, 1.25 oz St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, 1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Chelsea Sidecar / White Lady, replacing the Cognac with gin: 2 oz dry Gin, 1.25 oz Cointreau, 1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice, .25 oz simple syrup
  • Between the Sheets: 1 oz white rum, 1 oz Cognac VSOP, 1 oz Cointreau, .75 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Margarita (a tequila sidecar!): Replace the Cognac with tequila, and the lemon juice with lime
  • Chocolate Sidecar, created by Wayne Collins: 1 oz Cognac VSOP, 1 oz Darke crème de cacao liqueur, 1 oz Tawny port, 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice, .5 oz simple syrup

TRY THESE OTHER CLASSIC COCKTAILS!

Sidecar Cocktail Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cocktail

If you’d prefer the aesthetic pleasures of a sugar-crusted rim, scale back or leave out the simple syrup. The drink may come off as slightly less balanced, but may also feel (and look) like more of a treat.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounce Cognac (Rémy Martin V.S.O.P.)
  • 3/4 ounce Cointreau
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • Lemon twist (for garnish)

Method

1 Shake: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake until cold to the touch.

2 Strain: Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass

3 Enjoy! Garnish with a twist of lemon

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Sam Schick

Sam Schick is a designer and drinks historian living in Seattle, WA with his joy Megan Gordon (our Marketing Director!) and their two small kids. There he helms the design firm Neversink, savors every quiet last sip of an Islay Scotch, and tirelessly works on new chartreuse recipes.

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2 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Cheryl

    A really good, smooth drink. I love it just as written.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Pamela

    This is one of my favorite cocktails. However rather than use simple syrup I sugar the rim of the glass. The original is perfect. Don’t know if I would be up to any variations but they look interesting.

    xxxxxyyyyy

Sidecar cocktail with a halved lemon to the left and a lemon peel on the edge of the glass.Sidecar Cocktail