In my school of thought--and keep in mind, it's not a very well attended school--cocktails born in the heyday of gentlemanly drinking are to be revered. Drinks such as martinis, old fashioneds and the great sazerac came from an era when even the prettiest glass carried a big, stiff belt of alcohol and Singapore sling was about as silly as could get...well, except perhaps for the monkey gland.
The sidecar came along in the midst of this creative spurt. It started, most say, with a bartender in Paris at the end of The Great War, although stories also point to a guy in London or an American officer (who traveled by sidecar, of course).
But pursuing origin myths seems somewhat pointless. "It falls into the pantheon of great classic cocktails," says Charlie Papaceno of the Windmill Lounge--another way of saying 'who really knows just when and where it started.' More important, he says, is that the drink is "really simple but clean tasting. And it will knock you on your ass."
The sidecar consists of brandy--some insist on a VSOP Cognac--orange liqueur and lemon in a cocktail glass with a sugared rim. Proportions vary, depending upon who you talk to (or, more often, where they are from; the English and French traditionally prepared them differently), but the idea behind this combination is clear. The liqueur finds kinship with smoky traits in brandy while softening its profile. Lemon juice brings a lighter, crisper character. It's the same concept driving the margarita.
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In fact, because of the sidecar inventing the margarita hardly seems like a stretch. Replace brandy with tequila, add lime because that's what you have handy--voila!
Maybe the best aspect of the sidecar is its flexibility. Substitute gin, it becomes a white lady. Use Calvados and it's the famous Jack Rose. You can produce variations based on several brown or white spirits.
But I prefer the original (whatever that means) brandy version. Like Papaceno says, it's simple--and too many of them eventually leads (so I'm told) to the treating of none-too-pleased neighbors to a shrill serenade of Billy Joel's greatest at 3 a.m.
Never said I revered gentlemanly drinking, just cocktails from that era.