Classic Cocktail: The Sidecar

November 14, 2014

Like the Old Fashioned, the Sidecar has been around for ages. It’s a perfect example of a classic cocktail; simple ingredients, proportions, and execution. The Sidecar, with its three ingredients, achieves more than many concoctions of multiple juices, spirits, gimmicks, and flavours of the month.

Photos by ADV Photography

When made properly, the Sidecar is a perfect illustration of how three simple ingredients, when mixed in harmony and of the highest quality, can be transformed into a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

The Classic Sidecar (French School)

1 ½ oz brandy
1 ½ oz Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
1 ½ oz lemon juice

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice, shake, and strain into coupe.

The Classic Sidecar (English School)

2 oz brandy
1 oz Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
1 oz lemon juice

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice, shake, and strain into coupe.

You’ll notice there are “classic” variations of the Sidecar. The first appearance of the drink in print came in 1922 so, as you may expect, there is some murkiness regarding its actual origins. All you really need to know is that sometime toward the end of World War I, somebody in Paris or England put some Cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice into a shaker with ice and it stuck. It became popular in both countries, but each made it slightly differently.

French bartenders mixed with equal parts Cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice, while the English preferred a manlier two parts Cognac to one part each of Cointreau and lemon. The English version has become the modern standard and I tend to side with it. Decide for yourself, but once you pick a side, you may never go back!

If you want the full history, visit the wikipedia page here.

A Note on Ingredients

I’m all for pinching a penny whenever I can, but if you want to make an authentic Sidecar, do yourself a favour and use the good stuff. I’m not saying you need to break out a bottle of Remy Martin XO (which will set you back half a rent payment), but reach for decent VS or VSOP from a known producer. When making a cocktail with only 3 ingredients, the saying “garbage in, garbage out” applies. If you use low quality ingredients, you’re going to end up with a low quality cocktail.


The same applies to the orange liqueur. The first choice is orange Cointreau. If you have it, look no further. A high quality Triple Sec will get the job done as well. If you are in a serious bind, you can use orange flavored cognac liqueur, but expect the drink to lose some of its balance. Once again, use the good stuff.

As for lemon juice; if you aren’t squeezing your own fresh, I can’t help you. Move on.


Rim: Some people rim the glass with sugar. I don’t think the drink needs it. The orange liqueur adds the right amount of sweetness. If you order one of these in a bar, it may come in a glass rimmed with salt. Not my style.

Garnish: If you must have a garnish, a lemon or orange twist will suffice. I was once served a Sidecar with a cherry as garnish and I didn’t hate it. The cocktail is almost perfect as is, but if you must garnish, keep it simple.

Glassware: I’m more liberal when it comes to a serving vessel. The classic choice would be a cocktail glass or a coupe, but I don’t mind having it served in a lowball glass.

Between The Sheets

1 oz brandy
1 oz Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
1 oz light rum
½  oz lemon juice

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice, shake, and strain into coupe. Garnish with orange peel.

There are a few variations I feel like I should mention. Between the Sheets is probably the most popular. It swaps out some of the brandy for a light rum. I prefer the original, but if you’re a big fan of rum, you may want to give this a try. The recipe calls for a half ounce of lemon juice, but feel free to increase this if it’s too much on the sweet side. Rum tends to do that.

The Bourbon Sidecar

2.5 oz bourbon
1 oz Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
1 oz lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice, shake, and strain into coupe Serve over ice.


This is my favourite variation. I find myself making it as often as the original. You can get away with using any high quality bourbon. I usually have some Woodford Reserve lying around, so that’s what I typically use. This is my own recipe. I like the added kick of a ½ ounce of spirit and a few dashes of orange bitters.

Truth be told, no matter how many cocktails I make or try, I always find myself coming back to a Sidecar or a Negroni – balance and simplicity at it’s finest. It doesn’t hurt that they take only a couple of minutes to make either.

Try the Sidecar for yourself. You won’t regret it. If both the French and English like it, you know it’s gotta be good.

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