The Sidecar

Gatsby car2

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!

Gatsby car4

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!)

Gatsby car3

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.)

Gatsby car5

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 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!

BirthdayCakeMartini

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 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?

The Rinfrescante Italiano

I want to say two words to you. Just two words. Are you listening?

Aperitifs, digestifs.

There's a great future in aperitifs and digestifs. I don't just mean that in a Benjamin-Braddock-searching-for-meaning-in-the-60s-oh-I-get-it-she's-referencing-The Graduate kind of way. Italian liqueurs are mega-trendy big right now and I say good on it, because they're relatively cheap (~$20 a bottle, less for vermouths), a little goes a long way, they're becoming easily available, they have the best ad posters, they were born to make nice in endless kinds of cocktail recipes, and once you start you'll want to collect them and play with them and come up with neat at-home displays for them like you used to do with your Smurfs.

The Rinfrescante Italiano is the first cocktail we've come up with in house to make use of our new-favorite toy/aperitif, Aperol, which is like a lighter-bodied version of Campari. Like yesterday's Champagne Julep, it's a fizzer. With the Aperol's bittersweetness and the bubbly's carbonation mixed together, Sean's cousin Chris said it tasted like an Italian soda, hence its given nomenclature, "the refreshing Italian."

(Speaking of Chris' toys, I must interrupt myself here to explain what you're seeing in the pic above, a gift he received for Christmas. It is basically a six-sided jigger, with each side recessed to a certain degree, such that each in effect works like a pyramid-shaped liquid measuring cup. It appears from the online homework I've done that Chris' comes from Vat19.com. It blew me away at  first look but disappointed me at first try, mainly because it is very awkward to pour. You know how sometimes have to pour something from a cup into another container and if you don't pour at just the right speed the liquid winds up cascading down the side of your cup and not into its intended receptacle? That's what happened here, unless I poured from the jigger while holding it with two hands, in effect making me feel like a toddler trying to pour her own milk for the first time. Yes, the cube jigger has corners that kinda look like they should work like spouts, 'cept they kinda don't. I'd much rather have me a single, classically designed jigger with several easily visible notches inside.)

Oh! And, back to the Rinfrescante, it has applejack, aka Jersey Lightning, which was my street name in high school is like a super-strong, apple-based brandy. Chris and his cohorts had some lying around, and that's another liquor you're going to hear a lot about in the coming year, and another one I'd been dying to try for a while, 'cept that in Fronche Canada you have to settle for (equally awesome) Calvados.

The Rinfrescante Italiano

1 ounce Laird's applejack brandy

1/2 ounce Aperol

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

About 3 ounces Champagne or sparkling white wine

Lemon twist, to garnish

Pour applejack, Aperol and lemon juice into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled Champagne flute. Top off with Champagne. Garnish with lemon twist.

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