November 3 is David Embury’s birthday so in honor of him we’re naming the Sidecar cocktail as Drink of the Day. Sure, it’s also the anniversary if Birdseye first marketing frozen peas and Laika becoming the first space dog launched into orbit. But while those are interesting historical tidbits, they’re not useful for cocktails. We owe a lot to Mr. Embury and need to do him justice before we get to the Sidecar recipe and why you want to mix it.
We immediately like any book in which the first sentence is simply “Anyone can make good cocktails.” That’s exactly what we find in Embury’s seminal work of 1948, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. And unlike other books we often refer to he was not a bartender. As he put it,
“My practical experience with liquors has been entirely as a consumer and as a shaker-upper of drinks for the delectation of my guests. This book is, therefore, purely and distinctly a book written by an amateur for amateurs.”
Just goes to show there’s hope for us yet. So let’s get on to the man and the Sidecar recipe. As you’ll soon see, it’s a foundation of your bar game.
David Embury was born in Pine Woods, New York, in 1886. He ended up going to Cornell University and then to Columbia Law School, which sounds dire enough. But then he became a tax attorney, rising to the level of senior partner at the Manhattan law firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosie.
Being a tax attorney is enough to make anyone drink and Mr. Embury was no exception. We can’t say exactly when he started, but he clearly set out to do something more useful with his life. By the late 1940s he put his accumulated wisdom on paper and improved mankind’s fate. He published the book in 1948.
Unlike most cocktail books, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks isn’t just a compendium of recipes. Indeed, the first 82 pages are his general guidance and discussion of ingredients. He doesn’t mince words here, for example noting to “never, never, NEVER use unsweetened canned juices.” Or strongly criticizing others for insisting drinks must be made to their exact proportions rather than the drinker’s own palate. Embury dismissed Bernard DeVoto’s precise 3.7:1 proportions for a Martini with an emphatic “phooey!”
Embury was the first to list foundational cocktails that anyone mixing drinks should learn how to mix properly and he discusses each at length. His choice of six were the Martini, the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, the Daiquiri, the Jack Rose and the Sidecar. Embury’s choices were largely the most popular drinks at the time, but his concept has been carried forward by others. More recently, the Death & Co folks published Cocktail Codex in which they describe six drinks as the foundation of all cocktails.
Their list, in fact, is remarkably similar to Embury’s. The later authors just put the Manhattan in the Martini category, the Jack Rose under Daiquiris, and add Highballs and Flips as basics. Like Embury, they consider the Sidecar foundational.
The Sidecar cocktail is a true classic, popular when invented and popular today, the most iconic of all Cognac cocktails. Embury claims it was invented by a friend of his at a bar in Paris during World War I and contained “six or seven” ingredients. The Paris part is entirely possible, but we’re skeptical about the ingredients claim.
The Sidecar Cocktail
The Sidecar first appeared in print in Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails and Cocktails: How to Mix Them, which was published by London bartenders in 1922. Nobody argues over the popular motorcycle attachment of the time as inspiration for the name, but the true birthplace remains a mystery lost to the sands of time and booze-addled memories.
Either way, it’s a great drink and a good example of Embury’s admonition that you make it to your palate, not a sacred set of ingredient proportions. The first Sidecar recipes called for equal parts of Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice. Sometimes known as the “French school” this is quite sweet.
Mr. Embury himself eschewed even barely sweet cocktails, and wrote that “…a good cocktail automatically eliminates a host of over-sweetened, over-egged and over-creamed concoctions…” He liked them bone dry and called for 8 parts Cognac, 2 parts lemon juice and 1 part Cointreau. Our Editorial Board considers that too dry for this drink.
We endorse the recipe published by Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book that uses a 2:1:1 ratio of ingredients. As you’ll note, the Sidecar is really a drink made using the sours template (spirit, citrus, sweetener) so its optimal proportions tend to parallel those found in drinks like a Margarita or Whiskey Sour.
This recipe straddles the line between sweet and sour, so depending upon your own tastes you may choose to sugar the rim of the glass. That’s entirely optional, most common in the U.S. and less so in Europe.
- 1½ oz Cognac
- ¾ oz Cointreau
- ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
- Garnish: (optional) sugared rim of glass.
- If you like your Sidecar with a sugared rim rub the cut end of a lemon around the edge of a coupe glass. Follow this by dipping in sugar spread across a small plate.
- Add all liquid ingredients to your trusty shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled coupe, sugared rim or not.
- Rinse and repeat.
This was my late father’s special occasion cocktail, and therefore one of the first I sampled illicitly.
Thanks for the memory.