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Drinks

Happy hour history: The Sidecar

Enjoy the experimentation.

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The sidecar is often described as a “prohibition-era cocktail” and most stories say that it was first poured during that era.

The best things in life tend to come in threes; girl bands, suits, cocktail ingredients – need we go on? Three truly is a magic number when it comes to concocting a cocktail, through the basic combination of three ingredients, with some ice thrown in for excitement, a perfect match of flavours can be achieved. One such example is the Sidecar. 

The Sidecar is as simple as a cocktail comes: cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice—shaken with ice and strained into a glass. Less simple, however, is the Sidecar's history. As is the case with most cocktails, the origins of this classic drink are hazy – but there are three stories that seem to be quoted most often.

The French like to take the credit, believing that the drink was made in Harry’s New York bar in Paris. The story is, that an American Army Captain would often travel to the bar in the sidecar of his friend’s motorbike. One night, he wanted a drink to warm him up before dinner, and cognac was the immediate suggestion. However, it was not seen as an appropriate drink so early in the evening, and so the bartender mixed some Cointreau and lemon juice with it. Thus, the sidecar was born. However, Pat MacGarry, bartender at the Buck’s Club in London, is also heavily cited with creating the drink. Some say that it came about in the same sort of way, i.e. a friend came to MacGarry's bar in a sidecar. Others believe that the sidecar is a variation of the Brandy Crusta, which is why it's also often associated with New Orleans. Where the Sidecar was first born is still heavily debated but one aspect of its creation that everyone can agree on is its date of birth: the early 1920s. 

But it's not just the Sidecar's history that is debate frequently, there are also arguments over the proportions of the drink's ingredients. It's widely agreed that the cocktail should be composed of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice. However, whether or not the glass should have a sugar rim garnish, is left to be decided. Also, there's no hard-and-fast rule with the ratio, either. For instance, the French version of the drink dictates that it should be equal parts of all ingredients whereas the British version specifies that it should be two parts cognac and only one part orange liqueur and one part lemon. Yet the New Orleans' take on the cocktail states it should be two parts brandy, one part orange liqueur and one part lemon to be mixed with two additional ingredients: simple syrup and lime juice. All of which explains why no two Sidecars you order at any two bars will be the same. 

But the great thing about this cocktail's complex ratios is that it can be customized to your tastebuds. If made at home, you can tailor to your own preference, adding more orange liqueur to sweeten and more cognac to sour it.

So the start experimenting, we reached out to the drinks experts over at Cointreau, to deliver the most basic of Sidecar recipes so you can tweak to your own taste. 

Ultimate Sidecar Recipe

Makes one

Ingredients: 

  • 20 ml Cointreau
  • 30 ml Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal
  • 10 ml fresh lemon juice

Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker
  2. Add ice and shake until well-chilled
  3. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass
  4. Garnish with a lemon twist

READ MORE: Happy hour history - the martini