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The Sidecar Cognac Cocktail

The Sidecar is a Cognac drink of such iconic stature that each of the big four Cognac houses, Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin and Courvoisier feature it on their websites.

If you are in the mood for a Cognac cocktail with citrus highlights, the Sidecar may be the drink for you. The Sidecar is a cocktail with a near 100 year history beginning in 1920’s or 30’s Paris or London, depending on which version you ascribe the most validity. The Sidecar is a tasteful mix of Cognac, triple sec and lemon juice.

The Sidecar Story

There are conflicting accounts regarding the origin of the Sidecar. Remy Martin’s web page devoted to the Royal Sidecar says it was named after a motorcycle sidecar and invented at the Ritz Paris in 1923, but made popular in London. Hennessy’s website itself contains conflicting claims. One page on Hennessy’s site says the drink was created by a British bartender in 1931. Another page of Hennessy’s website places the birth of the Sidecar at the Ritz Paris in 1920.

The World of Cognac by Gilbert Delos traces the origin of the side car to Harry’s Bar in Paris in 1933. This version has Harry MacElhone serving up a Cognac, Cointreau and lemon concoction at the request of an army captain who approached the bar in a motorcycle’s sidecar.

Most likely, both accounts contain some elements of truth. The Sidecar recipe did appear in the 1922 edition of Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, which would place the origin of the drink in the 1920’s rather than the 1930’s. The drink also appears to be referenced many times as having originated in Ritz Paris between 1920-1923. Frank Meier claims to have created the drink at the Ritz Paris.

One plausible theory that reconciles conflicting claims is that the drink was invented at the Ritz Paris and also served at Harry’s Bar in Paris where Mr. MacElhone took down the recipe for his book. Yet, in the 1922 edition Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, Harry complicates matters by stating that a London bartender Pat MacGarry invented it. In later editions of Harry’s ABC’s of Mixing Cocktails, however, Mr. MacElhone claims he himself invented the drink in Paris!

The Sidecar in Movies

In “Bonfire of the Vanities”, Arthur Ruskin (played by Alan King), the elderly husband of Maria Ruskin (Melanie Griffin), orders a Sidecar during a meeting with Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) at an upscale restaurant. Arthur orders a Courvoisier VSOP with the request to the waiter to “put it in a sidecar”. When the sidecar arrives, Arthur confesses, I’m not supposed to drink, but I love a sidecar.”

How to Make a Sidecar

The Sidecar cocktail is made by mixing Cognac, lemon juice and triple sec (orange-flavored liqueur). The Cognac, lemon juice and triple sec are shaken together in a cocktail shaker (with or without ice) then poured into a martini or cocktail glass.

Sidecar recipes vary as to the proportions of Cognac to triple sec from five to two; to two to one or to equal parts.

The types of Cognac recommended to be used in mixing a Sidecar range from VS to VSOP. Hennessy recommends either of its VS or VSOP Cognacs, Courvoisier recommends its VSOP Cognac, Martell suggests its VS Cognac and Remy Martin endorses the use of its 1738 Accord Royal Fine Champagne Cognac for use in creating a “Royal Sidecar” cocktail.

Remy Martin’s Sidecar recipe specifically calls for the triple sec to be Cointreau as does Martell’s. Hennessy recommends that the triple sec be Grand Marnier. Courvoisier is neutral, as its Sidecar recipe calls simply for triple sec.

Amounts of lemon also vary according to taste.

Some Sidecar recipes suggest a lemon garnish and a sugared glass rim.

The International Bartenders Association’s (IBA) Sidecar recipe calls for a five to two ratio of Cognac to triple sec and lemon juice. IBA’s Sidecar recipe calls for the ingredients to be shaken in an iced-filled cocktail shaker, and strained before serving.

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