Contrary to popular belief, the Sidecar cocktail is probably not named after the side-seat of a motorcycle. And, in all likelihood, it wasn’t even invented in Paris.

“That’s the problem with many classic cocktails,” says Lyon-based drink historian Fernando Castellon. “A bartender prefers to give a good story, even if it’s wrong.”

Geographically, the assumption couldn’t have been too far off the map. The Sidecar does features two French spirits, after all: cognac, which is high-end brandy from the Cognac region, as well as Cointreau, a liqueur flavoured from sweet and bitter orange peels. And, the third ingredient—lemons—do grow in the country.

Castellon’s own research on the Sidecar reveals it was indeed first created in France in the early 1920s—but likely in Cannes, not Paris. He hypothesizes it was in the sunny south of France where vacationing Brits fell in love with the libation’s strong and sweet-tart charms, and brought the cocktail’s magic formula back to London, where it first appeared in print in 1922.

The original recipe, published in both Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them, and Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s A B C of Mixing Cocktails, calls for one part each of cognac (brandy), Cointreau and lemon juice. This makes for an adequate, albeit tart, tipple, with the lemon somewhat overpowering the star spirit: cognac.

Modern bartenders, such as those at Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Paris, play with the ratios by pouring in more cognac and going easy on the lemon juice. It works, though Ritz head bartender Colin Field says the proportion is a guideline only; any good bartender will adapt and personalize each Sidecar they make.

With the drink still a popular choice, this ability to adapt may be the key to its longevity as it continues to challenge bartenders to create original offerings using cognac as the base.

Three Creative Sidecar Cocktails to Try

Champs Élysées at Woodwork in Edmonton

Green Chartreuse (a bracing French liqueur), cognac, lemon juice, simple syrup and aromatic bitters are used to create this Sidecar that’s decidedly more herbal than the original.

#94 at Bar Fausto in Denver

Bar manager Christina Acosta starts with cognac, but passes on Cointreau in favour of a lemongrass syrup. Aquavit adds an earthy flavour to this drink, which is finished with a hint of lemon.

Between the Sheets at George Restaurant in Toronto 

This Sidecar riff uses less cognac and replaces the balance with white rum before combining it with Cointreau and lemon juice. George Restaurant also shakes in egg whites to add another dimension.

Cocktail Recipe for The Sidecar

2 oz. cognac

1 oz. Cointreau

1/3 oz. lemon juice

Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

—Recipe courtesy Ritz Paris head bartender Colin Field


[This story appears in the September 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]