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 Month-Old Manhattan (Day 35)

Time moves more slowly in Canada. I move more slowly with child. Put 'em together and what've you got? A 35-day month, but one that's worth the wait, for at the end of it lies the Month-Old Manhattan.

When I first mixed this drink in May, having gotten the recipe's inspiration from a restaurant's cocktail menu in St. Louis, I commended its use of old-school rye whiskey instead of bourbon as a base and marveled at the inclusion of curacao, which gave it a more playful (but still not juvenile) flavor. I'm paraphrasing myself here, but I described its unaged taste as appealingly scratchy-smooth-sweet on the palate.

Well; what a difference a five-week month makes. After spending that span of time sealed tightly in a Mason jar, the Month-Old Manhattan now boasts a shooting-out-of-the-gate upfrontness, like it couldn't wait to get down somebody's gullet, pronto. What may surprise you most, though, is which parts of its original profile are doing the tastebud-grabbing and the ass-kicking. This cocktail is, first and foremost, orange. Like, woah, orange. Like, oh!-range. And that's despite that fact that I'd subbed rail-quality triple sec for top-shelf curacao.

Second to that in oh!-ness is how round and smooth aging has made it. This is obviously not as surprising -- that's what aging is supposed to do, round out the corners, sand down the edges. It makes this Manhattan dangerously drinkable. In fact, if you've ever fancied shooting a Manhattan, this would be how to do it. But of course, good shots only come to those who wait.

The Month-Old Manhattan

(Adapted from the cocktail menu at Eclipse Restaurant in St. Louis)

2 ounces Old Overholt Rye Whiskey

3/4 ounce triple sec

3/4 ounce Stock sweet vermouth

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Orange peel, to garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in a clean Mason jar, stir briskly and briefly with a bar spoon without ice, and tightly seal jar lid. Let stand for one month in a cool, dry place.

To serve, pour jar's contents into an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir vigorously with a bar spoon until drink is well chilled. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish.

Tasting Notes

If the overly orangeness is scaring you off, my suggestion is to reduce the triple sec down to a half-ounce.

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The Month-Old Manhattan (Day One)

Damn you, St. Louis! Damn your exploding cocktail scene, three-and-a-half years after I move away. Damn you and your 150-libations-long cocktail menus and your Tales of the Cocktail award noms, your Ted Kilgores, your envy-inducing, membership-only cocktail boites that just happen to be housed in the most awesomest speakeasy-style restaurant space EVER.

And damn the recent cover story in Alive Magazine (a local lifestyle rag for chicks with meticulously maintained blonde highlights that I make fun of a lot in my head, but still) listing the top 20 cocktails in the city, which just so happened to be the current issue  when I swung through town a few weeks ago, reeling as I customarily do from the timewarp-mindfuck that comes from revisiting my once-hometown, coupled with the fact that I'm still pregnant and can't shouldn't really no damnit can't drink anyway. You are killing me Saint Louis.

So yes, raging jealousy was my default reaction to this fine piece of journalism, followed closely by an intense desire to recreate at least one of these 20-best potations. I settled on the Month-Old Manhattan because, like many cocktails I've made of late, I already had all of the ingredients in the house. I haven't toyed with aging a cocktail in a while. The Month-Old Manhattan recipe came from Eclipse Restaurant, owned by my old bud Joe Edwards.

Joe Edwards is the king of the Loop, one of StL's happening-est nabes. Joe Edwards is a gentle, aging hippie and a shrewd, wickedly successful entrepreneur, whose hospitality and entertainment empire speaks to his endless love for all things Americana kitsch: Blueberry Hill (a resto/bar/college hangout/music venue where Chuck Berry still performs); Pin-Up BowlFlamingo Bowl; and the Moonrise Hotel, which houses Eclipse. I got to know Joe Edwards back when I was the restaurant critic at StL's alt-weekly. Also, Joe Edwards went to Duke. Go to hell, Carolina, go to hell!

So we mixed up the M.O.M. and found it's got a hell of a lot going for it besides its titular aging. This Manhattan is made with rye whiskey (as was the norm back in the day), sweet vermouth, bitters -- and, curiously, curacao. If I had Grand Marnier on hand I'd use that (Grand Marnier being a most upscale curacao) but I went downmarket and just used no-name triple sec.

Even unaged and no-name-triple-sec'd, I am already a big fan of this drink. The rye-curacao combo offers a rare scratchy-smooth-sweet trifecta on the palate.

The Month-Old Manhattan

(Adapted from Eclipse Restaurant, as published by Alive Magazine)

2 ounces Old Overholt Rye Whiskey

3/4 ounce triple sec

3/4 ounce Stock Sweet Vermouth

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Clementine segment (rind on), to garnish

To make your aging sample, combine all liquid ingredients in a clean Mason jar, stir briskly and briefly with a bar spoon (no ice necessary), and tightly seal jar lid. Let stand one month in a cool, dark place like a cupboard.

To drink straight away, stir all ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass briskly for about 20 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange or clementine segment, if desired.

Tasting Notes

Like I said, I was happily surprised by the smoothness and well-calibrated sweetness of the M.O.M. even using crappy triple sec, so I can only imagine that going with GrandMa as your curacao would knock your socks off. In fact, you might even want to try scaling back to 1/2 ounce GrandMa if you do so -- I'm just guessing on that, though. Cointreau would, of course, be a fine, middle-of-the-road substitute between those two.

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The Honeymoon

Do you ever wonder how so many cocktails are invented and everyone keeps them all straight -- or doesn't? Like how you can consult one Very Trustworthy Published Source and get Recipe A for a cocktail of some historical note, and then you reference Another Such Source and Recipe B is variegated enough that you're like, huh? Because if roads and bridges, whatever the recipe is for making them is, if those had been so casually bandied about we'd all be geographically stranded at best and dead from falling asphalt at worst.

Sometimes I think about those things. I thought about them recently while we were mixing Honeymoons. Doing so was actually the PhoBlograpHusband's idea, since we recently acquired our first-ever bottle of Applejack. We got Laird's, natch, because JERZEEEEE! (Like Laird's, Sean and I are from New Jersey.)

Anyway, here are different historical factoids about Honeymoons you can choose to accept or ignore at will, because apparently everybody else has:

- The Honeymoon was created in the 1930s in "a long since departed New York bar called Brown Derby."

- Or, the Honeymoon "is one of the signature cocktails from the Brown Derby in Hollywood that was probably featured alongside other 1930s legends."

- The cocktail also goes by The Farmer's Daughter.

- It is made with raw egg white, or not. Or, it is made with lemon juice, or not. Basically, there are permutations with and without either or both. ("Even if you are right, that'll be one plus one plus two plus one not one plus TWO plus one plus one.")

The morals of the story: Fobody's nerfect. The world is a strange and muddled place. Let's shut up and drink already.

The Honeymoon

(this is the recipe we like best for it)

2 ounces Laird's Applejack

1/2 ounce Benedictine

1/2 ounce triple sec

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

Lemon peel, to garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel.

Tasting Notes

I am sure this tastes ah-MA-zing with an ounce of raw egg white as well. If you go this route, do a dry shake (in the shaker, all liquid ingredients, no ice) before your wet (with ice) one.

The Chow.com iteration of the recipe swaps in apple slices for lemon peel on the garnish, but then again, they also don't call for lemon juice. Just FYI.

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