Classic Sidecar Cocktail

Indulge in a Sidecar cocktail, an iconic cognac drink that has stood the test of time. Explore its rich history, signature ingredients and the art of crafting this timeless libation with just three ingredients.

Two martinis on a tray with a slice of orange.

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Sidecar drink recipe

Drinking one of the classics is a great way to kick off a great evening. Many classic cocktails have shaped the drink recipes we know today.

Made with lemon juice, brandy and Cointreau, the Sidecar drink is one of those drinks with influence, but its recipe is inspired by yet another classic: the Brandy Crusta cocktail.

You’ll find the Sidecar is a delicious and timeless sidekick you can enjoy any time of year.

More classic cocktail recipes: Whiskey SourVodka GimletTom CollinsHemingway Daiquiri

A martini with a slice of orange on top.

Why you’ll love this recipe

Shake up one of the classics! You’ll love the classic Sidecar cocktail recipe for a few reasons:

  • It has just three ingredients, yet it’s an elegant and seemingly fancy cocktail.
  • It’s a great recipe for any home bartenders to add to their repertoire.
  • Brandy is often overlooked as a cocktail ingredient, but it’s a good one. It brings its fruit-forward notes and sweet strength.

What is a Sidecar drink?

The sidecar drink is a brandy cocktail made with brandy or cognac, lemon juice and Cointreau. It’s usually served in an ice-cold, chilled coupe glass with a sugar-coated rim.

The proportions of the Sidecar drink technically make it a type of cocktail called a Sour, specifically a Cognac Sour. This type of cocktail features a spirit, a sweetener and something sour, usually citrus juice. Other examples of sours are the whiskey sour, margarita and the daiquiri.

A martini with a peach garnish.

History of the Sidecar

According to bartender Salvatore Calabrese in his book The Complete Home Bartender’s Guide, the drink was created at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris during World War I. The owner Harry MacElhone named it for an actual motorcycle sidecar vehicle in which an unnamed army captain enjoyed chauffeured rides to and from the bar.

Another story suggests Frank Meier invented it while working at the Paris Ritz Hotel around the same time.

And the next story suggests bartender Pat MacGarry created it at the Buck’s Club in London. MacElhone credits the drink to MacGarry in his 1922 book, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails.

However, the inspiration for the Sidecar recipe goes back even further to the Brandy Crusta cocktail. It’s a cognac-based drink based on the old-fashioned and was invented in New Orleans in the mid-nineteenth century.

Two martinis with orange slices on a tray.

Tools & glassware

To make a sidecar, you don’t need a lot of special equipment, just a basic bartending set.

To serve, you’ll need a coupe glass or a martini glass. Coupe glasses are the ones featured in these photos, with their rounded, shallow bowl shape. The wide shape allows the cocktail to be close to your nose as you sip, bringing in the fruity aromas of the ingredients. Martini glasses, which have a V-shape,

It’s best to stick the glasses in the freezer for an hour or two before making the drink. This drink is best when served ice cold.

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A bottle of Cointreau on a white background.

Ingredients

You only need three ingredients for a sidecar, plus a couple of garnishes.

  1. Brandy: This fruit-based spirit is made by fermenting fruit juices or wine. It is typically enjoyed as an after-dinner digestif, but it can be enjoyed in cocktails as well, such as the sidecar and Brandy Alexander. Cognac is the specialty type of brandy that is most commonly used in this cocktail.
  2. Orange liqueur: A sweet orange liqueur pulls double duty as the sweetener in this drink. Specifically, you should use Cointreau, a clear-colored top-shelf orange liqueur; however, you could use triple sec as well.
  3. Lemon juice: A staple for so many cocktails! I always recommend using fresh juice if you can. The bottled stuff will work fine in a punch though! It still has plenty of lemon flavor.
  4. Sugar rim: You’ll want to dip the rim in simple syrup or lemon juice, then coat it in coarse sugar. This candy-like rim has been featured in Sidecar recipes since the 1930s, a nod to the Brandy Crusta.
  5. Orange twist: Use a vegetable peeler to take a swath of zest from a fresh orange. Leave it jagged or trim off the edges with a sharp knife. You can also use lemon zest for a lemon twist, too, but orange is classic.
Two glasses of orange juice with a slice of orange.

Best brandy for a Sidecar

The best brandy for a Sidecar is cognac, a specific type of brandy that is made from distilled white wine.

Smoother and more complex, the French say it’s made from l’eau de vie AKA “the water of life.” As such, it’s a protected type of brandy and must follow certain requirements to bear the name “cognac” on the label.

Brandy has different designations for the age of the brandy used in the bottle. VS cognac (which means “very special”) and VSOP cognac (which means “very superior old pale”) are aged for two and four years respectively, and both are good choices for cocktail mixing. Any older and the price tag goes up.

Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell and Courvoisier are considered to be the four big houses of French cognac. My advice is always to use the best brandy you can afford. In fact, that’s my go-to advice for any cocktail! However, you might want to save the really expensive stuff to sip on in a brandy snifter for an intense after-dinner conversation.

A gold tray with two drinks on it.

Variations and substitutions

With just three ingredients, the Sidecar is the perfect cocktail to play with if you want to try your hand at mixology.

Use a flavored brandy: Brandy can be made with different fruits or be infused. This Sugar Plum Sidecar is made with plum-infused brandy for a delicious holiday spin.

Use different types of citrus: Skip the lemon juice and try it with another type of citrus, such as lime juice or tangerine juice, as we do in this Tangerine Sidecar.

Try different types of alcohol: You can make a gin sidecar or bourbon sidecar by switching out the cognac for another spirit.

Directions for a sugar rim

The sugar garnish is optional, but it is a signature of this classic drink. Before you start mixing cocktails, get the rim added to the glass. To rim a cocktail in sugar:

  1. First pour some coarse sugar or granulated sugar on a plate.
  2. Rub a lemon wedge around the edge of the glass or dip it in simple syrup.
  3. Roll the rim of the glasses in the sugar to coat the rim. You can do the whole rim or just part of the rim for a different look.

How to make a Sidecar cocktail

Here’s how to make this Sidecar recipe:

A person pouring liquid into a glass.
A person pouring liquid into a glass.
A person pouring liquid into a glass.
A person pouring orange juice into a glass.

Start off by chilling a coupe glass in the freezer. When you’re ready to mix it up, rim the cocktail in sugar.

Then prepare the cocktail. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the cognac, lemon juice and Cointreau. Shake well.

A cocktail being poured into a martini glass.
A person is dipping an orange peel into a martini glass.

Strain into the prepared cocktail glass.

Garnish with an orange twist: Cut a 1-inch piece of orange peel with a vegetable peeler, then trim off the edges with a sharp knife. Twist it around your finger or a straw, then perch it on the edge of the glass.

Two glasses filled with orange juice and garnished with a slice of orange.

Tips & tricks

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:

  • Chill the glasses ahead of time to keep the cocktail ice cold.
  • For a candy-like rim, rim the glasses before chilling them.
  • Use a high-quality brandy such as cognac and Cointreau, a top-shelf orange liqueur for the most sophisticated flavor.

What to serve with a Sidecar cocktail

A Sidecar is delicious with your favorite elegant appetizers. Try it with fig crostini, a creamy baked brie or a charcuterie board.

It would also be delicious with seafood, which pairs nicely with the acidity and sweetness. Make a batch of popcorn shrimp for an appetizer or a classy dinner of sheet pan lemon salmon.

Two martinis on a tray with a slice of orange.

FAQ

Is Cointreau the same as triple sec?

While Cointreau and triple sec are both orange liqueurs, there are some key differences. Cointreau is a French orange liqueur brand that is considered to be top-shelf, making it a little more pricy. Triple sec is a generic term and is made by many brands. It is usually cheaper and can be a good substitute for Cointreau.

What is the difference between a whiskey sour and a sidecar?

A Sidecar and a whiskey sour are both types of sour cocktails, which feature citrus juice, a sweetener and a spirit. A whiskey sour is made with lemon juice, simple syrup and whiskey. A Sidecar is technically a Cognac sour, as it is made with top-shelf brandy. However, instead of a traditional simple syrup, it uses Cointreau, a top-shelf orange liqueur.

More brandy cocktails

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Two martini glasses with orange slices on a tray.

Sidecar Cocktail

Yield: 1 drink
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Indulge in a Sidecar cocktail. Explore its rich history, signature ingredients and the art of crafting this timeless libation with just three ingredients.
5 from 38 votes
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ingredients

  • 2 ounces cognac or brandy
  • 1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • orange twist for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar or granulated sugar, for the rim

instructions

  • Before mixing, chill a coupe glass for 1-2 hours in the freezer.
  • Rim the cocktail with sugar. Pour some coarse sugar or granulated sugar on a plate. Rub a lemon wedge around the edge of the glass or dip it in simple syrup. Roll the rim of the glasses in the sugar to coat the rim.
  • In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the cognac, lemon juice and Cointreau. Shake well.
  • Strain into the prepared cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with an orange twist: Cut a 1-inch piece of orange peel with a vegetable peeler, then trim off the edges with a sharp knife. Twist it around your finger or a straw, then perch it on the edge of the glass.

notes

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:
  • Chill the glasses ahead of time to keep the cocktail ice cold.
  • For a candy-like rim, rim the glasses before chilling them.
  • Use a high-quality brandy such as cognac and Cointreau, a top-shelf orange liqueur for the most sophisticated flavor.

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As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

nutrition information

Yield: 1 drink

amount per serving:

Serving: 4ounces Calories: 225kcal Carbohydrates: 11g Protein: 0.1g Fat: 0.2g Saturated Fat: 0.04g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.04g Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01g Sodium: 3mg Potassium: 39mg Fiber: 0.1g Sugar: 10g Vitamin A: 2IU Vitamin C: 11mg Calcium: 2mg Iron: 0.1mg
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