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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El Presidente #4

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In some circles, the El Presidente is otherwise known as a Cuban Martini. It's also one of those cocktails with slippery origins; in my Difford's Encyclopedia of Cocktails, this is the fourth of four known El Presidente recipes printed. Variations include:

- El Presidente #1: Light rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, grenadine; a slim change-up on a classic daiquiri, replacing its simple syrup with pineapple juice. (Which, now that I think about it, is a great idea.)

- El Presidente #2: Light rum, dry vermouth, bitters. Difford's describes it as "bone dry" and "rather like a rum-based, old-school Martini."

- El Presidente #3: Light rum, dry vermouth, Cointreau, grenadine. A Trader Vic's recipe, of which Vic himself allegedly said, "This is the real recipe." (But I think he claims that about all of his concoctions? At least about the Mai Tai, which he said he flat-out invented.)

- El Presidente #4: Light rum, dry vermouth, Cointreau. "Dry but not bone dry, with balanced fruit from the triple sec and vermouth." Ding ding ding ding ding, we have a winner!

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Now that I've tasted this, I might actually propose a fifth version with a splash of club soda or even tonic. The former because of  the mojito-Cuban link, the latter because this El Presidente also manages to remind me of a nice, sweaty gin and tonic, which is actually one of my most favorite things to drink on the first hot day of summer.

But as-is is still a-plenty good. Crisp, light... dare I say, in its own weird way, Moscato d'Asti-like? (There I go with the fizzy thing again.)

Just try it.

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El Presidente #4

(Taken pretty much straight-up from Difford's Encyclopedia of Cocktails)

1 ½ ounces Bacardi Superior light rum

¾ ounce Noilly Prat dry vermouth

½ ounce Cointreau

Lemon, lime and/or orange twists, to garnish

Pour all liquid ingredients into an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir briskly with a bar spoon for about a minute. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add your garnish.

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The Champagne Martini

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I have seen recipes for champagne martinis that call for just vodka and sparkler. I have come across others (more than I would have guessed) that all swear by a spoonful of raspberry puree in the bottom of the glass, with some fizz and whatever else on top. And I have read that just bubbly and Cointreau is what constitutes a proper Champagne Martini -- if "proper" is even a descriptor we can properly use when discussing a cocktail that bears, at best, a second-cousin resemblance to a proper-proper martini-martini.

My new favorite acronym is MINO -- Martini in Name Only. It was, I will admit to you devout drinkers, a fact of life I had to swallow (straight, no chaser) when I agreed to author a cocktail book called The Big Book of Martinis for Moms. Clearly, not all 175+ recipes in the book are vodka- and or gin-based, for one thing. Believe you me, I did strive to make as many of the book's recipes fall in line with a classic martini's most hallowed guidelines. As it turns out, Mom does not live on vermouth alone.

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Anyway, I wasn't down with all of those other Champagne Martini variants referenced above. Just vodka and bubbly? Too stiff and fumey. With a spot of jam? I'm intrigued (and inclined to adopt a British-nanny affect), but sounds messy, so pish-posh, ol' chum, and fanks but no fanks! (Besides, I don't think moms need any more messes to clean up. For that matter, do any of us?) Cointreau and champagne? OK, but can't we do better than that?

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Here's better.

The Champagne Martini

3-4 ounces champagne

3/4 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur

2 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters

Combine Cointreau, Luxardo, and Fee Brothers Peach Bitters in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir briskly for about a minute with a bar spoon. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with champagne.

Tasting Notes

Obvs, you can use either capital-C Champagne (du France) or little-c champagne (sparkling white wine) for this recipe, just whatever you have on hand.

For that matter, you can forego big-C Cointreau and just use little-t triple sec if that's what you've got.

Lastly, speaking of drink-it-if-you've-got-it, I find this is a great recipe for leftovers. Like when you need something to do with that opened bottle of bubbly, and who doesn't always have way too much triple sec on hand? (I swear my bottle of triple sec predates Will & Grace.) Leftovers -- they're not just for moms!

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The Stork Club

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The real reason we all drink, I think, when you get right down to it (and I'm paraphrasing myself here), is to whisk(ey) ourselves away in our mind's eyes to another place and time, preferably involving fedoras, garters, cigarette holders, evening gloves, watch fobs and other accoutrements of a halcyon generation past.

This is certainly true when you now do all your drinking at 9 p.m. in your messy kitchen, with your kid finalllllly asleep a couple rooms away, a geriatric dog who perpetually smells like pee hanging out at your feet and a mound of dirty dishes staring you down from across the room.

But I don't want any of you to think, now that I've got a daughter and a book that happens to be called The Big Book of Martinis for Moms, that this blog is taking a permanent turn towards all things parental. Far from it (just a little for my first week back, perhaps), and my proof to you of this is the Stork Club cocktail.

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In the book, I recommend the Stork Club as the perfect potable to toast the anticipation of a second (or third, or fourth) child. (And p.s., why my publisher let me get away with recommending that an expectant woman drink alcohol is beyond me, but good on 'em, I guess.) While the cocktail's name may sound like I made it up for the sake of the book, I didn't. The Stork Club was a real place in New York City that enjoyed a 35-year run (1929 to 1965, by most accounts) as the place to see and be seen -- and, I'd imagine, the picture-perfect place we all imagine when we imagine that other place we go to on our little magic cocktail rides. (A theory as to why the cocktail tops gin with lots of citrus is that bathtub gin was the hooch of the day during the Prohibition, and that its awful taste was often masked with lots of juice. Note the overlap between the Stork Club's opening and the end of Prohibition.)

Fruit

Take a gander at the Stork Club's commemorative website and you'll see what I mean. A scene from All About Eve was set at the Stork Club; so was a second-season scene from Mad Men. Enough said; pass me my make-believe mink stole.

The Stork Club

(From The Big Book of Martinis for Moms)

1 1/2 ounces gin

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

1 dash Angostura bitters

Lime and/or orange twist, to garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with citrus twists.

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The Is You Is My Baby

Let's just call Valentine's Day what it is -- a test -- and I'll openly admit to what I am, a flunky. Which means that this year, not only did I completely neglect to get a gift for my sweet, patient, kind and deeply attractive PhoBlograpHusband, but whenever it did occur to me that I oughta do a V-Day cocktail for the blog, I'd be all, "Err, d'ya really think those guys [Ed. Note: that's you] want a special drink for Valentine's? I don't know if they'd be into that..."

So this weekend, while away on a five-day, half-work/half-play trip to my old St. Louis stomping ground, I briefly mentioned to the PhoBlograpHusband via gchat that, if possible, it'd be great if he could whip up something holiday-appropriate while I was gone that we could then post. He's in the middle of a large project right now for a class on Hollywood film musicals, which helps keep things spicy in our relationship by causing me to wonder on occasion just how gay he is, because he's really into it, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, I brought it up once and that was that. And a couple of days later, he emails me the recipe and photos for the Is You Is My Baby. Now there is a man who can ace a test with flying colors even when it wasn't a test I was actually bothering to proctor.

I like to think that the Is You Is contains a cloaked test or two of its own, the main one assessing the willingness of the drink recipient's palate; most of us don't think jalapeno when we think Feb 14, but garnish heaps of extra credit upon those who do, or are at least up for giving it a shot. (Srsly dudes, life is too long and boring on its own to be with someone who won't.) Secondly, should mixology know-how be high on your list of must-have qualities in a mate -- which sounds shallow, sure, but we've all got our I'll-dump-him-if-he-doesn't-say-Manhattan-is-his-favorite-Woody-Allen-movie deal-breakers -- you can see if your sig oth is hip to how this cocktail is basically a margarita-sidecar hybrid.

Without a pre-purchased token of affection for my sweetie, I usually just resort to acting extra kissy-kissy on V-Day. Except that Sean and I kiss-kiss all the time. His kisses taste more intoxicating than anything I've ever blogged about here, in fact. Seanboy, You Is My Baby! (And yes, I'll now try to pawn off this paragraph on him as a thoughtful "present." Man, I am the worst.)

The Is You Is My Baby

2 ounces Cognac

1/2 ounce Cointreau

2 medium strawberries

A 1/2-inch piece of jalapeno

1/2 ounce sage-infused simple syrup 

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Cut a few, thin slices of strawberry and jalapeno for garnish and set aside. Muddle the rest of the strawberry and jalapeno with the simple syrup in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add ice and all liquid ingredients. Shake well. Strain into martini glass and add garnish.

Tasting Notes

I'll leave today's notes up to Sean: "Strawberries are romantic and jalapenos are spicy, like romance should be. I thought the sage syrup's herbaceousness combined the two nicely, but using plain simple syrup is totally fine. However, should you use a more downmarket brandy and a triple sec, instead of Cognac and Cointreau, you'll end up with a drink that lacks a certain depth.

"Flavor profile-wise, the lime and the jalapeno gave the drink a nice freshness without being too spicy. With the strawberry, the flavors married very nicely." Yay, married! (Sorry, couldn't help myself, I luv my hubs!)

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