Essential Cocktails: How to Make, and Where to Find, the Perfect Sidecar

The seventh in a series of step-by-step drink tutorials from cocktail masters

You like drinking, sure, and maybe you even have a few favorite cocktails that you like to order when out and about. But do you know how to make ‘em for yourself at home? If not, stay tuned because over the next few weeks I’ll be spotlighting a few essential cocktails with which to start your home bartending career. Nothing crazy complicated, but rather, classics that everyone should have in their back pocket. I wager that after you’ve got these down, your friends will be asking you to bartend at their parties…. Um, OK, so maybe we won’t tell them about your new skills. And for the non-DIYers, I’ll include *THE* places to get the best example of the spotlighted cocktails.

Essential Cocktails, Week 7: The Sidecar

It was bound to happen: Today you’re going to add a sugar-rimmed cocktail to your growing mixmaster repertoire. But not to fear, this classic cocktail, the Sidecar, isn’t like the sugary, Sex and the City concoctions that do a number on your stomach. When done correctly, the sugar rim adds just enough sweet to counter the citrusy cocktail.

Like many classic cocktails, the Sidecar has a few different origin stories floating around; one involving an American general in 1930s Paris who would always get wasted at Harry’s Bar and need to be poured into a motorcycle sidecar to be taken home. But the simple truth is that the Sidecar cocktail is a modernized version of the Brandy Crusta, a cocktail invented in New Orleans in 1852. That’s all.

Turns out, the origin story of one of the best Sidecars in L.A. is probably more interestingAlex Straus, of Bon Vivants cocktail consultation company and Hemingway’s Lounge in Hollywood, attributes the success of his Sidecar to a little-known liqueur called Mandarine Napoleon.

People use Cointreau and Grand Marnier in their Sidecars but Alex says the Mandarine Napoleon aged cognac provides depth you don’t get in many crustas and sours. “The Mandarine Napoleon is essential. It’s the reason why I think my Sidecar is so special.

“In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte—who was from Corsica and always loved mandarin oranges—heard about this distiller in Belgium making a mandarin liqueur. Napoleon loved the liqueur so much that he blended it with his personal stash of aged cognac and they continued making this for years but it wasn’t available to the public until 1892.” 

Unfortunately, you won’t find the Mandarine Napoleon at your corner liquor store, but Alex is trying to get Joe Keeper of Barkeeper in Silver Lake to stock it. “He’s every bartender’s best friend. He’s the guy who will order it when you say, ‘I wanna try this!'” If Joe can’t get it, you can always find the Mandarine Napoleon online.

Sidecar Recipe
by Alex Straus, Hemingway’s Lounge

1 3/4 ounces Hennessy VS (“VSOP is so special it really should be enjoyed the way God intended: alone.”)
1 ounce Mandarine Napoleon
1 ounce fresh lemon juice

1) Take one lemon, cut a nickel-size slice of peel from the citrus for a focused work space. Wipe the exposed piece of lemon on the outside rim of the glass only, then lightly touch the rim to the sugar, coating the outer edge of the glass with an even width of sugar.
2) Put the sugared glass in the refrigerator. “You want the sugar to dry so it’s not adding so much sugar to each sip.” Best to refrigerate the glass for two hours.
3) Combine all three ingredients in a shaker and add ice.
4) Shake vigorously. “How long depends on how vigorously. I like this drink cold. Your sweetener is also alcohol based. You’re going to want more dilution because you don’t want that strong of a cocktail.” But on average shake for 10 seconds.
5) Then double strain your drink (using a standard Hawthorne strainer and a fine-mesh tea strainer) into the chilled, sugared glass. “Any good home bartender should have a double strain because you’re really thinking of your guest if you’re taking those ice chunks out of a strained cocktail.”

More Info:
Unable to get your hands on Mandarine Napoleon? Cointreau or Grand Marnier will work just fine, but Alex highly recommends giving the Mandarine Napoleon a try.
If DIY isn’t your MO, here’s where you can find some of the best Sidecars in Los Angeles.

For a truly luxurious version, check out Copa d’Oro‘s Gold Plated Sidecar ($85) made with Hennessey XO Cognac, Grand Marnier Cuvée du Cent Cinquentenaire and fresh lemon juice, or the Polo Lounge‘s celebratory 100 Year Sidecar ($100) with Hennessy XO Cognac, Cointreau and and lemon juice with a gold-flake-dusted rim.

For a more affordable Sidecar, however, Alex likes Pour Vous—Melrose Avenue’s little bit of Paris—as well as Kendall’s Brasserie at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown.

Hemingway’s Lounge, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood,