Few cocktails are as versatile as the Sidecar. It's refreshing in summer and comforting in winter; it's sophisticated to order at a bar and fun to serve at a party; it's sweet enough to be accessible to cocktail novices and strong enough to be appealing to cocktail diehards. If it's not already a part of your mixology repertoire, it should be.
Despite their classy reputation, Sidecars are very easy to make: just combine five parts brandy with two parts each of orange liqueur and fresh lemon juice over ice, then shake until frosty. The most daunting thing about them, really, is choosing the right ingredients. That's true of most cocktails, but it's especially acute with Sidecars because many Americans aren't as familiar with brandy as they are with the other major categories of spirits, like whiskey and gin. And brandy -- which is basically distilled wine -- is an especially difficult category to master.
That's because the best-known type of brandy is cognac, from the southwest part of France, which is subject to a set of regulations and traditions comparable in their complexity to those that govern great French wine. You could spend a lifetime studying cognac and still not understand everything about it.
But really, if you just want to make a good cocktail, you don't need to know the difference between VSOP, XO and Napoleon grades of cognac. You just need to know what to buy. To help out with that, we conducted a Sidecar taste test, pitting nine different brands of brandy and three different kinds of orange liqueur against each other to find the best recipe. Eight of the nine brandies we tried were cognacs; the last, E&J, was a cheap brandy made from American grapes. Scroll down to see the results.
As always, the brands included did not in any way influence the outcome of this taste test.