The Sidecar

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H.L. Mencken called the martini the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet, but I think the Sidecar goes one better: It's as engrossing and enrapturing as the Great American novel.

Cue the Jay-Z soundtrackbandwagon sound effects Jazz Age music -- it's The Great Gatsby week at The Five O'Clock Cocktail Blog!

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Honestly, few cocktails rival the singular, joyful, I'd-know-it-blindfolded taste of a Sidecar. It's so much more than the sum of its triumvirate parts. How one drink with only three ingredients -- cognac, triple sec, lemon juice -- can prove so palate-memorable is beyond me and always has been. How that same drink has stood the test of time so well, having been invented in either Paris or London during WWI, only boggles the mind further. Most Sidecar tales note that the bar patron for whom the drink was made was an American officer stationed overseas during the war, so like the Martini, we Americans can at least claim some bit of its heritage. Also, kinda like Gatsby -- erm, Fitzgerald, erm, Gatsby -- with the pond-traipsing and the Paris in the roaring 20s and all that Jazz Age, right?

(By the way, I should mention that I've tagged all of the blog's appropriately Gatsby-esque cocktails for easy perusing here. Bonne fete!)

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Although it contains more than a splash of lemon juice, the Sidecar reminds me in flavor and look of A-list, all-time-classic cocktails that are liquor-only: the Manhattan, the Negroni and, mais oui, the Martini. Visually, it bears a beautiful translucency and a melon-gold-sunrise hue (as unique as its taste) that, I mean -- the Sidecar is a one-glance, one-sip, complete endorphin rush, is what I'm trying to say.

One potential peccadillo I must own up to here. I prefer my Sidecars with a granulated sugar rim. That may sound sidecrass to some, but let me assure you that this cocktail's overall flavor profile is only buoyed by the piquant, saccharine sting of some table sugar. (Yes, I even prefer it to my ballyhooed favey fave, the confectioner's sugar rim.)

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As you can see in the pic above, I got a little Art Deco-playful with my sugared rim for the sake of the Gats. Isn't there a moment in one of the Great Gatsby trailers when Carey Mulligan's pearls go flying? There we go; we're sipping our Sidecars, we're riding shotgun with one of the great American love storeis and like F. Scott, the pearls are tripping in the wind and we're riding high on life.

The Sidecar

2 ounces Cognac Salignac

1/2 ounce triple sec

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice (plus a little extra for stickying up the rim of your glass)

Granulated sugar, for the rim

First, prepare your glass: Dip the rim of a cocktail or martini glass into a shallow saucer of lemon juice. (Or, alternatively, run a cut lemon along the lip of the glass.) Then dip or roll your sticky'd-up rim in a second saucer of granulated sugar. Set glass aside. Combine three liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into your glass.

Tasting Notes

The Sidecar is so foolproof, you can more than get away with no-name triple sec and whatever-name cognac, both of which I've used here.

To make the more dramatic sugared rim I mentioned and pic'd above, take a cut lemon half and use it to sort of draw a big, fat, diagonal stripe on a portion of your martini glass' bowl. Then roll that portion of the bowl in a saucer of sugar.

Yes, I know a round-bowled cocktail couple would've been more Gastby-era apropos than a V-shaped martini glass. I like the V's for doing sugared stuff.

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The Applejack Saze-wack

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Some people discover pencillin. Others spill battery acid and then somehow, suddenly, they've invented the phone. Me? I improvise Sazeracs with applejack brandy.

While riffling through my ever-beloved Difford's Encyclopedia of Cocktails recently, I was stopped dead in my tracks by Simon Difford's recipe for a Sazerac. Ask any goomba how to make a classic one and you'll be told rye whiskey, bitters (Peychaud's, sometimes Angostura too), a sugar cube, and an old-fashioned glass coated with absinthe. Well, that's just not good enough for Monsieur Lord Simon Difford, Esq., Ph.D. VII...

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I know I reference Simon's namesake book a lot, and as a straight-up, serious-minded reference tome it practically cannot be beat. But I'm starting to think Simon Difford might be part peacock. He's quite the fancy lad; you can tell from his recipe write-ups, with their ostentatious notations. Oftentimes he'll call for "chilled mineral water (omit if wet ice)" which I will admit to you, my fellow peanut-gallery proletariats, I just don't get. Is Simon McFoppishstein making his cocktails with dry ice? Does he live in a space colony?

Rather than rye, Master Simon's Sazerac employs a mix of cognac and bourbon -- cognac because Mr. Peychaud often mixed his eponymous bitters with brandy, and bourbon "as is more communally used to make this drink today." (Um, no, Knight of OnePercentershire; us down here in Proleville use rye, not bourbon, and by the way, the word is commonly.)

Because I am a class warrior, I decided to take on Difford's rococo Sazerac. (Never mind that I've yet to craft an actual -- ahem, I'm sorry, communal -- Sazerac for this blog.) Then I discovered gravity our cognac had been 86'd by a PhoBlograpHusband who'd taken to secret brandy nightcaps as of late. So I grabbed the neck of my next-closest bottle: Applejack brandy.

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My new favorite way to describe bourbon-based cocktails is chewy, and the Applejack Saze-wack is like the freaking caramel nougat of bourbon-based cocktails: Mondo chewy. Nay, even rococo chewy. Freaking Baroque chewy. It's absolutely delish -- well-balanced, intriguing -- and my new favorite mistake.

The Applejack Saze-wack

(A riff on Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D.'s Simon Difford's Sazerac as found in his book on page 367)

2 ounces Laird's Applejack Brandy

2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

1 ounce Lucid absinthe

1 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes Peychaud's bitters

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine brandy, bourbon, simple syrup and both bitters in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled, absinthe-coated highball, rocks or old-fashioned glass.

Tasting Notes

I will concede to Mr. Difford that his method for coating a glass with absinthe is preferable to the norm. Rather than rolling a splash of absinthe around the interior of a glass by hand, he simply fills the glass with ice, pours in his absinthe, then fills with cold water. (Or, as he insists upon, "chilled mineral water.") Then he lets that stand while preparing the cocktail. In this way, you can chill and coat the glass at the same time. Point, Difford! En garde!

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The Birthday Cake Martini

Cherries

When I tended bar at The Royale Food & Spirits in St. Louis, floating in the ether inside that hallowed drinking hall was something called the Birthday Cake Shot. By "floating in the ether," I mean it was a concoction that wasn't in our top-secret, behind-the-bar recipe binder or on our official menu -- but it was on patrons' minds all the same, and many of them knew to ask for one on their (or their friends') birthdays. Hence, we tenders had to have the shot committed to memory.

Except I never quite did. Instead, I often and repeatedly annoyed my fellow bar employees by asking them to remind me what was in it. I resented the Birthday Cake Shot because I was there to make grown-up cocktails, goddamnit. The Birthday Cake Shot wasn't even a concoction so much as a contraption, because it was one of those where you had to do it by sucking on a slice of lemon at the finish, and maybe lick some sugar beforehand... again, I can't remember whatever particular gymnastics were involved. Also, there was Frangelico, and somehow the lemon and Frangelico wound up tasting like yellow cake mix when combined on the tongue. Anyway, you get the point -- it was one of those shots wherein its puerile overcomplications were taken as clever by the completely blotto.

So when it came time for me to include a Birthday Cake Martini in The Big Book of Martinis for Moms (because, hey, of course a book called The Big Book of Martinis for Moms has to have a birthday-cake martini; I may be a cocktail snob, but I'm not an idiot), I decided that we were gonna do it a little more grown-up-like. Because hey, like it or not, growing up is in fact what a birthday is about.

Now let's jump to today for a sec. There's another reason why I posted the Birthday Cake Martini today, besides just it's-the-last-day-of-the-week-of-blogging-cocktails-from-my-book-oh-you-haven't-heard-about-my-book-yet? Today's also the birthday of two of my favorite ladies/drinking companions. Hi, Michelle! Hi, Harley! Michelle also just gave birth, like, 10 days ago, so she definitely needs someone to buy her my bookA DRINK!

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The Birthday Cake Martini

(From The Big Book of Martinis for Moms)

2 ounces cherry brandy

1 1/2 ounces dark creme de cacao

1/2 ounce Benedictine

Splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice (plus a little extra to sticky up the rim of your martini glass)

Confection's sugar, rainbow sprinkles and maraschino cherry for garnish

First, dunk the rim of your martini glass into a saucer of lemon juice to get the lip sticky. Then dunk it in a second saucer of confection's sugar. Set aside. Next, combine brandy, creme de cacao, Benedictine and lemon juice in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Carefully strain into your martini glass. Finish off with a maraschino cherry that you've rolled around in some sprinkles.

The Fort Washington Flip

There are oh, so many things that are inappropriate about the Fort Washington Flip at the time of this writing. One: It's clear from a quick scan of the cocktail's ingredients -- nutmeg, people; nutmeg -- that it ain't really meant to be quaffed in hot weather. (And it is hot up in herre, good people of places other than Montreal. It is so hot in Montreal today.) Two: Then I actually bothered to read the write-up this drink got on Serious Eats, like, four years ago (a time lapse that, while not outright inappropriate, surely gives away my occasional, self-loathsome tendencies towards procrastination) and, turns out, it was invented by a Cambridge, Mass. bartender in honor of Easter. Easter four years ago. An Easter that was  an "early Easter" that year. So again, faux pas sur moi. (If anyone else was surprised to read "Easter," because the nutmeg made you think Thanksgiving/Xmas... me, too!)

The Easter connection was represented through the use of a whole egg -- hence, this cocktail's proper nomenclature as a flip. (Flip = a whole, raw egg in the drink. There isn't a term for when you just use raw egg white, like in my World's Greatest Cosmopolitan.) I made this drink the other day, I made it myself and I made it diligently, not half-assed, and I poured it for the PhoBlograpHusband and for our next-door neighbors and then I poured some for myself (a teensy portion, I swear) and then I drank my teensy portion and then I went home and like 30 minutes later I said, "Oh God, Sean. I'm pregnant and I just drank raw egg."

This put me in one of those I'm-going-to-be-a-terrible-mother tailspins, but I won't bore you with all that. Suffice it to say, the fetus and I are still kicking. And now that that Charlie Brown-style guilt cloud has passed, I can speak to you positively about the Fort Washington Flip. It is endlessly pleasant. It is full of fun, pleasant ingredients that anyone can and should and probably will easily like.

And here is the mixology lesson behind the Fort Washington Flip: It is one of the few successful flips Sean and I have encountered over our years. Flips can be very tricky to figure out, calibrate and recipe-ize, you see, because when you add that whole egg, it tends to lay a thick, dense, creamy Army blanket of flavor-annihilation over whatever your other ingredients are. Flips we've experimented with have, more often than not, wound up tasting annulled. So I'm starting to suspect that it's not a coincidence that this flip and the other one I've blogged about most memorably, the Cynar Flip, have one key thing in common: No base liquor, only liqueur(s) included.

The Fort Washington Flip

(As published on SeriousEats.com, as invented by Misty Kalkofen, bar manager at Green Street in Cambridge, MA -- at least, she was four years ago)

1 1/2 ounces Laird's Applejack

3/4 ounces Benedictine

1/2 ounce maple syrup

1 fresh egg

Freshly grated nutmeg, to garnish

Pour everything but the egg and nutmeg into a cocktail shaker. Then add the egg, fill shaker with ice and "shake very vigorously for at least 10 seconds." Strain into chilled cocktail glass; garnish.

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The Vieux Carre

I can feel another Eric Felten rager coming on -- my curious condition wherein I just want to make cocktails from his book, How's Your Drink? -- and as this one coincides with the advent of the new season of Mad Men, I give you the Vieux Carre.

First, please allow me to quote liberally from Felten's prose regarding the Vieux Carre's New Orleans origins (New Orligins?):

"Then there's the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar, where the circular bar revolves slowly under a whimsical carnival canopy of carved wood, mirrors, and bare bulbs. The barstools don't go up and down, thankfully, but the experience can still be a little disorienting; get caught up in a conversation, and the next thing you know, you're on the other side of the room. Ask bartender Marvin Allen to mix you up a Vieux Carre, a terrific drink invented by the Carousel's barman in the 1930s, and unknown to most mixologists outside of the Hotel Monteleone."

He goes on to talk about the Crescent City's rightful place in history as the birthplace and current-day cultural keeper of the cocktail, and that's kind of where Mad Men comes in. One could make the argument that, as of the zeigeist-y right-now, Mad Men is carrying the mostwater for cocktail culture. The mustachioed, suspendered, arm-gartered, vested, tattooed mixologist, we're all tired of him and his haberdashery tropes, no? But we still can't get enough Mad Men, and when we watch Don Draper mix himself an Old Fashioned, zomg it looks so good. (Don would also chafe at the obligatory fawning that often seems expected from the modern-day barkeep.)

The only problem with Don is, he drinks Old Fashioneds! The man needs to evolve his whiskey-based cocktail repertoire, and I believe the Vieux Carre would be the perfect potable for the job. The Benedictine gives that needed sweetness (srsly, Don, you pussy) while the bitters likewise add a familiar component to a cocktail that otherwise offers something different.

Also, "vieux carre" translates to "old square," which is probably what Megan thinks of Don these days...

The Vieux Carre

(Adapted very little from How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well)

1 1/2 ounces St.-Remy Brandy

1/2 ounce Bulleit Rye Whiskey

1/2 ounce Stock Sweet Vermouth

1/2 teaspoon Benedictine

1 dash Peychaud's Bitters

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Lemon twist, to garnish

Mix all liquid ingredients over ice in a short glass. Garnish with twist of lemon.

Tasting Notes

Aside from noting the specific brands I used, the only change I made to Felten's recipe was using brandy instead of cognac. This is a swap we always make around here for spending-cap reasons.

Also, the Felten/Carousel Bar recipe calls for all ingredients to be mixed "over ice in a short glass." Meaning, build it in the glass rather than pre-stirring it in a shaker or mixing glass. This goes against today's conventional wisdom, which would probably dictate a vigorous mixing on its own in a separate vessel before pouring it over fresh ice in your drinking glass. But really, what would Don Draper do?