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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