The History of the Sidecar Cocktail

The Sidecar was created towards the end of the First World War. There are many conspiracy theories as to the origins of this drink, but there are two stories that seem to be quoted most often.
The French like to take the credit, believing that the drink was made in Harry’s New York bar. The story is, that an American Army Captain would often travel to the bar in the sidecar of his friend’s motorbike. He wanted a drink to warm him up before dinner, and cognac was the immediate suggestion. However, it was not seen as an appropriate drink so early in the evening, and so the bartender mixed some Cointreau and lemon juice with it. So, the sidecar was born.

However, Pat MacGarry, bartender at the Buck’s Club in London, is also often credited with creating the drink. MacGarry is the inventor of the popular, but less well regarded, Buck’s Fizz cocktail. Some say that it came about in the same sort of way, i.e. a friend came to his bar in a sidecar. Others believe that the sidecar is a variation of the Brandy Crusta, which would have been popular at the time.

Those who believe that the drink was created at Harry’s Bar, often state that MacGarry was responsible for bringing the drink from Paris to London. Frank Meier disputes both stories, claiming that he created the drink while working at the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

There are also arguments over the proportions of the drinks ingredients. It is commonly agreed that the drink is composed of cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice, with sugar around the rim of the glass. However, the French version of the drink dictates that there are equal parts of all ingredients. The English school of thought is that there are two parts brandy, and only one part of Cointreau and one part of lemon. If made at home, it is best to make to your own preference, adding more Cointreau to sweeten and more cognac to sour it.

David A Embury included the Sidecar in his book “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” (1948). He backs up the French version of the story. He also thinks that the original drink has been refined somewhat, with the original having far more ingredients in it. His beliefs are that the Sidecar is a version of a daiquiri, but with brandy instead of rum, and Cointreau instead of sugar syrup. This way of thinking means that the proportions of the drink should in fact be eight parts Cognac, two parts Cointreau and one part lemon juice. Simon Difford, creator of the “Encyclopedia of Cocktails” believes a middle ground is best and suggests that the drink should be three parts cognac, two parts Cointreau and two parts lemon.

The drink is quick and easy to make, regardless of which proportions are used. Popular variations of the drink include the Bourbon Sidecar, the Chelsea Sidecar, and the Boston Sidecar.

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Bartender's top tip

Ice plays a crucial role in cocktails, not just for chilling but also for dilution, which can help meld flavors together smoothly. Use large, clear ice cubes or spheres for spirits-forward drinks like Old Fashioneds, as they melt slower and dilute the drink less. For more refreshing, highball-style drinks, ensure your ice is fresh and plentiful to keep the drink cold and vibrant.

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