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 Gin Rickey

If that was Feh-bruary, I'm hoping this doesn't become Meh-rch.

Part of the reason I didn't post much last month was, Sean and I conducted a mega cocktailing session a couple weeks ago that yielded, like, 8 or so bloggable potations -- zero-ish of which I felt any excitement about. We were going for volume, and aiming to keep the necessary ingredients in line with what we already had on hand. Such cocktailing under pressure can still yield inspiring results -- and in fact, I always try to err on the side of fridge and pantry staples when composing recipes, because, you know, Shit At-Home Bartenders Have.

So maybe it was just Feh-bruary working its dour magic, or maybe the problem was that we relied on one book out of our entire cocktail reference library, a book I must now admit I find lacking in its organization, writing style, fonts and pretty much anything else you eyeball when you open a book.

(If you see this book cover, crack with caution...)

So, here I am with a backlog of recipes and a complete lack of anything to say about them... except, I suppose, this one. Because it doesn't matter how poorly laid-out a rickey recipe may be within the pages of a particular tome; a rickey recipe is forever timeless and foolproof (and boastworthy as its own mini-history lesson). Never mind the five inches of snow that's accumulated since this morning OF MARCH FIRST on the Montreal side street I look out at every day; wherever you're downing a rickey, it's at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. Writer's block may be the sad side effect of a neverending winter and a glut of who-cares concoctions, but a rickey can always get your juices flowing.

A rickey is one of those categories of cocktails -- well, firstly, it's not technically a cocktail, it's a highball; second, what I mean is, it's like a smash or a shrub or a julep -- defined not by its primary liquor but by all the other stuff, which in this case means lime juice, club soda and a lime garnish. So you can have a bourbon rickey, a Scotch rickey, a sloe gin rickey, a vodka rickey, a brandy rickey and so on. (Although whatever you do, don't have a vodka rickey. Drink with purpose!)

Really, the rickey embodies all those qualities that make me most love a five o'clock cocktail (it's not just a blog; it's a thing you can do!). It's a good and proper drink, imbued with history and flavor (the gin rickey's especially nice with its gimme combo of juniper and  citrus), and it's got that elegant simplicity thing going that allows a feeling of all-is-rightness to wash over me, even when I'm stuck in a glut of wrong.

The Gin Rickey

(Adapted from the book pictured above, and really, I"m not looking to start turf wars here, I just don't find this book as handy and delightful as many others)

2 ounces gin

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Club soda

Lime wedge or wheel, to garnish

Pour gin, lime juice and club soda, in that order, into a tall, ice-filled Collins glass. Stir briefly. Garnish with lime wedge or wheel.

Tasting Notes

A less-tall highball glass will suit if you don't have a nice, tall, slender Collins glass. Trivia: Add simple syrup or sugar to a rickey and you have a Collins.

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The World's Greatest Champagne Cocktail

In case you haven't figured it out yet, this week is unofficially-officially Leftover Champagne Week at the blog. Is this a case of bad timing on my behalf? Surely some of you poured your New Year's Eve backwash down the drain days ago. But what about youse guys who overstocked for your year-end blowout, and now must stare down the doldrums of January while half a case of perfectly good bubbly makes eyes at you from the top of your fridge? This week's for you.

And I really shouldn't endeavor any sort of Champagne Week without a proper, i.e. World's Greatest, Champagne Cocktail. I'm talking about the classic here, the one you could technically argue ain't even a cocktail because the only booze in it is bubbly. A single alcoholic ingredient, not even a liquor one at that: That's two strikes in mine and many other books.

But we give this guy a pass because champagne cocktails -- nay, the Champagne Cocktail is just so delightful and lovely and fun. There's something so whimsical (in a good way; my husband hates that word) about fashioning a drink with honest-to-goodness sugar cubes. Oh, the presentation effect! The precious look of them doused in bitters! It's enough to make me want to go hand-write a letter with an inkwell-dipped quill, which I will then seal using the family crest. (Do you think they drank champagne cocktails in Downton Abbey?)

The World's Greatest Champagne Cocktail

Champagne -- a flute's worth of it, the best kind you've got

2 cubes of sugar

About 5 dashes Angostura Bitters

Plop the sugar cubes into a champagne flute. Douse with the bitters. Fill with preferably-uppercase-C Champagne.

Tasting Notes

As I try to make the case for in every "World's Greatest" cocktails, the better the base, the better the drink. Certainly the bitters and sugar cube here will bring out the best in highbrow bubbly -- but the other great thing about the champagne cocktail is that it can turn your ordinary, $9.97 bottle of sparking wine into a delicious drink just as well.

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The Champagne Julep

I haven't told you yet how I spent my New Year's Eve, have I? Silly me. You're likely kvetching to know what a pretend professional drinker does on Alcoholics' Feast Day. (It's in the Bible, look it up.)

Our evening began early-ish, in the five o'clock hour (it's not just a blog, it's a thing you can do!), with the best pizza in the world and a list of champagne cocktails to make. Earlier, we'd picked up a cheapo bottle of bubbles, and of course to get every penny's worth of the $9.97 you just spent on lowercase-c champagne so embarrassingly embarrassing that I refuse to even mention it by name here, you have to plan for several fizzy drinks at once.

The recipe for this Champagne Julep came out of a cocktail book -- one of the several belonging to Sean's cousins, with whom we crashed over the holidays; it's a whole family of drinkers (what can I say, I know how to pick first husbands) -- but I wish that weren't the case. Because if ever there were a person put on Earth for the purpose of whimsy-ing up a recipe like this off the top of her dainty, demented head, it is me. Dammit, the Champagne Julep should dance nightly in my dreams. "Champagne Julep concocter" is what my tombstone should one day read, except with one word misspelled and no money left in my estate to fix it. Has the past year and change instilled not one inkling in me towards total julep brilliance?

Credit, though: It's a damn good recipe. Simple to the point of self-evident, as any worthwhile julep recipe oughta be. The resulting drink likewise reads organically on the palate. Picture in your mind what a fizzy mint julep might taste like, and so it does. Tastes fun, no?

The Champagne Julep

(From The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks: More Than 1000 Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Cocktails, by Anthony Dias Blue, with some adjustments and finesses)

About 3 ounces Champagne or sparkling white wine

1 1/2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

4 large mint leaves

1/2 to 1 teaspoon simple syrup (to taste)

Crushed ice

Bunch the mint leaves between thumb and forefinger and give one good tear through the middle of the leaves. Drop into bottom of a tall Collins glass and pour in simple syrup on top, just enough to cover leaves. Muddle well. Add ice roughly to fill glass. Pour in bourbon. Stir very briefly. If necessary/desired, put in more ice at this step to refill to top. Top off with Champagne. Once again, stir briefly. Taste and top off with more simple syrup if desired. Garnish with mint sprig.

Tasting Notes

Obviously, use the best bubbly you can afford. Also, if you're going to go with a wheated (i.e. sweeter) bourbon like Buffalo Trace or Maker's Mark, I'd recommend yin-yanging with a dry champagne. On the flip side, I bet this would taste great with a rye whiskey and a sweet sparkler.

I go into more detail about my little physical tricks I use to properly mix a julep in my World's Greatest Mint Julep post, if you care to read it. Basically, although here I suggest stirring briefly to agitate the drink, my most preferred method of mixing a julep is to make little downward stabbing motions in the glass with a swizzle stick.

I also advocate taking your mint sprig by the stem in one hand and giving it a few smacks against the open palm of your other hand. You'll see this done at high-end cocktail places a lot; it's great for releasing the leaves' aroma.

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The Corpse Reviver #2

Do more classic cocktails, is my #1 resolution for the blog this year. As much as I love, and have no plans to cease, inventing original recipes, perhaps I should ease up on bedeviling you all with my illimitable tipple perspicacity (resolution #2: consult thesaurus more) for the sake of some insightful, happy hour convo-worthy history lessons on drinks that have stood the test of time, or haven't but deserve as much. Plus, discuss how to make said vintage drinks at their finest, a la The World's Greatest Cosmopolitan. (Resolution Trois: I am the greatest!)

Let's start with Corpse Revivers which, like their titular cadavers, are making a comeback. The phrase refers to a genus of hair-of-the-dog cocktails; Corpse Reviver #1 and Corpse Reviver #2 are the individual species you're likely to encounter. Strangely, they resemble each other not at all. Their generally-agreed-upon ingredients break down thusly:

Corpse Reviver#1: Cognac, Calvados, sweet vermouth

Corpse Reviver #2: Gin, triple sec, Lillet, absinthe, lemon juice

It is my understanding that both can be traced back to the Savoy Cocktail Book, authored by legendary barman/American expat Harry Craddock and published in 1930. However, when mentioned elsewhere, #2 is almost always credited as an expressly Craddock creation whereas #1's genealogy seems much muddier, or maybe just less interesting. Maybe #1 was, like, made by his rival but still good enough to be included in his book? Cocktail history really is crippled by the fact that people were probably drunk (i.e. forgetful and/or brazenly self-aggrandizing) when they wrote this shit down.

There are other Corpse Revivers as well. Depending on the source you consult, you may come across "Corpse Reviver No.2 #2" (not a typo), "Corpse Reviver #3 or" the "Savoy Corpse Reviver," which apparently stems back not to London's Hotel Savoy circa the 1930s but to some dude in the 1950s...? Repeat what I just said about crippled history.

Anyway, so how's it taste? Because I was too drunkenly forgetful to write that shit down, I'm relying on what the PhoBlograpHusband had to say about it: "The general base was the citrus from the triple sec and the lemon juice, with the herbaceousness of the gin sort of getting along nicely in there. But that absinthe note really came through, it's really pervasive. It was really nice and bracing. I can see how old-timey people would have had this in the morning."

The Corpse Reviver#2

3/4 ounce Bombay London Dry Gin

3/4 ounce triple sec

3/4 ounce Lillet blonde

3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 dash Pernod absinthe

Lemon twist, to garnish

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with lemon twist.

Tasting Notes

Many recipes, even those that go way back, will insist upon Cointreau rather than no-name triple sec. I just didn't have any around.

Likewise, there's nitpicking to be done as to whether Lillet or dry vermouth is the proper ingredient here. Some sources will even cite Swedish punsch (Not a Typo #2) as the proper ingredient... you know what? All this history stuff is hard. I may be rethinking Resolution #1.

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