As the story goes with so many classic cocktails, the exact origins of the Sidecar are, sadly, lost to the mists of time. This Cognac drink, which combines the spirit with lemon juice and triple sec and is named after the motorbike attachment, is a simple yet pleasing libation that appears to hail from either Paris or London.
The cocktail first appeared in writing in bartender Harry McElhone’s book, ABC of Cocktails, which was published in 1919, with McElhone initially crediting the cocktail to Pat MacGarry, who worked as a bartender at the Buck’s Club in London.
To confuse matters, McElhone, who ran the famed Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, then appears to take credit for the drink himself in later editions of his book.
Arguments abound as to the best balance of the ingredients too. Some call for the drink to be made in equal parts, as per the first recipe published by McElhone, while others prefer to dial up the spirit, making it two parts Cognac to one part lemon and one part triple sec.
This latter recipe was included in bartender Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, and some refer to this drink as being from the ‘English school’ – as opposed to the equal parts of the ‘French school’.
An elegant cocktail that’s served straight up in a Martini glass or coupe, this is a drink that sits in the sour category of cocktails, and thus used to be served in a glass garnished with a sugar rim to give the drink more sweetness.
This practice has fallen out of fashion in recent years, with bartenders often preferring to simply garnish the drink with a twist of lemon instead.
With such a light, fruity flavour profile, the Sidecar works best with Cognacs that fall under the younger categories of ageing: VS and VSOP, which are made with eaux-de-vie that has been aged at least two and four years respectively. Cognacs that have been created especially for cocktails, and which may not have the traditional age categories on their labels, also work well.
Whatever your taste preferences, it pays to play around with the levels of the Cognac, lemon and triple sec to find the perfect Sidecar for you.
Best Cognac to buy
Courvoisier VSOP Exclusif
Developed especially for cocktails, VSOP Exclusif is made with eaux-de-vie from the four top growing regions in Cognac: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. A smooth Cognac boasting sweet flavours of apricot, plum, caramel and cocoa, mingling with ginger, cinnamon and vanilla spice. Alc 40%
Named after the year the Frapin family settled in southwest France, working first as wine-growers and then as distillers, Frapin 1270 is a Cognac intended for use in cocktails. Made with grapes grown exclusively in the Grande Champagne cru, this boasts a floral nose with accompanying aromas of leather. A palate of orchard fruit, caramel, cinnamon and dried fruits is rounded off with dry, toasty spice. Alc 40%
Hine H by Hine
Made with grapes grown in the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne Crus, H by Hine is another Cognac created specifically for cocktails. Appealing floral notes of jasmine and iris sit atop a body of butterscotch, caramel and vanilla. Chopped almonds, hazelnuts, black pepper and ginger spice come in on the finish. Alc 40%
Hennessy VSOP Privilège
The house of Hennessy is where the VSOP category was born in 1817, when King George IV of Britain requested a ‘very special old pale’ from the maison. This VSOP Privilège is a blend of over 60 eaux-de-vie, resulting in a rounded Cognac that’s designed to be mixed. It boasts candied orange and dried apricots drizzled with honey, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and clove. Alc 40%
Martell Blue Swift
Blue Swift isn’t technically classified as a Cognac, thanks to the fact that Martell took VSOP Cognac and further aged it in bourbon barrels, which is against regulations. However, this ‘spirit drink’ is revered for its versatility in cocktails, with flavours of rich stone fruit, apple crumble and vanilla custard, plus a dusting of cocoa powder. Alc 40%
Merlet Brothers Blend
A family-owned house that can trace its Cognac-making history back to 1850, Merlet’s Brothers Blend is a contemporary Cognac created by current family head Gilles Merlet for his sons Luc and Pierre. Made with eaux-de-vie that’s at least four years old, it’s a soft and approachable Cognac, full of stone fruit, jasmine, leather and vanilla, with a touch of cracked pepper. Alc 40%
Pierre Ferrand 10 Generations
Launched to celebrate the 10 generations of the Ferrand family that were involved in the business from its inception in 1630, this Cognac is made with grapes exclusively grown in the Grande Champagne region, with a fifth of the eaux-de-vie in this blend having been aged in former Sauternes casks. This helps to foster sweet fruit notes of pineapple, apricot and peach, alongside caramel, vanilla and tobacco. Alc 46%
Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal
Celebrating a royal warrant that King Louis XV gave to Rémy Martin to plant a new vineyard in 1738, this Cognac is rich and full-bodied, with fruitcake aromas leading to a pleasing palate of date sponge and toffee sauce, crystalised ginger, cinnamon, dark chocolate and leather. Alc 40%