Cocktail of the Month: The Sidecar

Today, perhaps the most popular cocktail with WWI origins is the sidecar.

This pre-Prohibition cocktail is forged from Cognac (or brandy), orange liqueur (or triple sec) and lemon juice. Its moniker refers to the motorcycle attachment used for transporting passengers.

The exact place of invention is unclear,  with stories ranging from  Paris  to  London.  In Harry MacElhone’s 1922 book “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails,” the author credits Pat McGarry, a bartender at Buck’s Club in London, as the inventor. McGarry also invented the lesser-known Buck’s Fizz cocktail.

Later, in 1948, the recipe appears in David Embury’s revered cocktail book, “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.” According to “Difford’s Guide for Discerning Drinkers,” Embury says that the sidecar “was invented by a friend of mine at a bar in Paris during  World  War  I and was named after the  motorcycle  sidecar in which a  captain  customarily  was  driven  to and from the little bistro where the drink was born.” That bar is believed to legendary Parisian landmark Harry’s New York Bar (although there are rumors that it originated at the Ritz hotel).

Like many other pre-Prohibition tipples, the sidecar went under the radar until the classic cocktail revival. Another boost in popularity came from the “Mad Men” effect.  The  cult TV series took viewers back to an era of stylish drinking, with vintage cocktails such as Manhattans, martinis, gimlets and sidecars. Finding a bar to enjoy a sidecar on Armistice Day won’t be hard in cocktail-crazy D.C. Try Hank’s Cocktail Bar, the Round Robin Bar or All Souls.

With only three ingredients, it is also easy  to make at home. The star of the show is Cognac, which comprises a five-to-three ratio with both the orange liqueur and the lemon juice. So choose carefully, as that will have     a tremendous effect on the flavor profile. For something with a fruity taste and floral aroma, try Martell Cordon Bleu. If you prefer some spice, a good choice is Delamain Vesper.

As for orange liqueur, stick with a quality spirit such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Solerno. For a nice presentation, serve it in a coupe or martini glass. If your tastebuds lean to the sweet side, you can rim the glass with sugar.


Official recipe from the International Bartenders Association

  • 1 ¼ shot Cognac
  • ¾ shot orange liqueur
  • ¾ shot fresh-squeezed orange

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a glass.

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