Thursday, January 24, 2008

In Praise of the Sidecar, Part 1

Photo courtesy of

I ate at Jinja in Santa Fe this week--a lovely, warm, and welcoming spot with cozy booths, upholstered bar stools, terrific food, and friendly service. According to their website, they "feature a fresh, inventive Asian menu and a bar that will transport you to the tropics with vintage drinks of the 1930s and 40s." I was delighted to see that on their drink menu they were featuring:

Sidecar   7.95
Created at the Ritz in Paris during WWI when a regular customer arrived on his motorcycle, replete with sidecar, and asked the bartender for a cocktail that would take off the chill, this celebrated cocktail blends brandy, triple sec and fresh lemon & lime juice.

When the drink arrived it was just about perfect, and got me thinking about sidecars and my history with, and appreciation of, this truly excellent cocktail.....

When I was in college I probably drank what you drank in college--beer, wine, and frat party mystery punch. When I turned 21, and was presented with the rare opportunity to order a drink in a bar or restaurant setting, I would request a scotch on the rocks with a twist. I didn't really like it (was alcohol supposed to taste good?) but it seemed like a sophisticated and grown-up drink.

The summer after I graduated from college I got a job working in a Cape Cod seafood restaurant, and learned about cocktails from a knowledgeable bartender there. I was particularly intrigued by gin alexanders, bloody mary's, and, in particular, the sidecar, which has become my favorite cocktail.

There was a long wine-dominated period in the 80s when I had to explain to bartenders how to make them, so I developed a business card that had the recipe on the front and a rating scheme on the back. If I had to tell the bartender how to make it, I gave them the recipe:


If I didn't have to explain, then I scored the drink on the rating side, and presented my rating to the bartender.

TASTE (0-2) ____ QUANTITY (0-2) ____ SUGAR RIM (0-2) ____
ICE (0-1) ____ COLOR (0-1) ____ GLASS (0-1) ____ LIME (0-1) ____
EVALUATED BY _________________________ ___/___/___

Let me explain my criteria.

Taste goes without saying--and here the dominant factor is the quality of the sour mix. There are some commercial mixes that are very tinny-tasting or have an unpleasant chemical after-taste, or are too sweet or too sour. There are some other good commercial mixes, but the best is when a bar makes its own with fresh lemon and lime juice, sugar, and water.

Quantity needs to be adequate--a drink you can finish in a few sips just isn't satisfying.

Sugared rim: I often have to remind the bartender about this. The best drink has a slightly sour tang offset by the sugared rim. And I love working my way around the glass, drinking a bit from each part of the rim--when the drink and the sugar run out at once, that's perfect!

Ice: I like my sidecars on the rocks and I like the ice cubes to be big. When the ice cubes are too small, they dilute the drink too fast. Don't shake the drink and then just dump it ice and all into the cocktail glass! Shake it with ice, then strain it onto fresh cubes.

Color: Usually a gauge of whether there's enough (or too much--though this doesn't happen often!) brandy in the drink. Should be a warm golden color.

Glass: Double rocks glass is the right size. Have been served this drink in a variety of different glasses, and I prefer an interesting glass with a flat bottom. Please don't serve it in a highball glass or a brandy snifter!

Lime: I like a fresh large wedge of lime--not those 1/64th size pieces they serve on airlines (did you know you could cut a lime that small?) and not something that's been dried out sitting on the bar for the last week.

Jinja's sidecar got a score of 9 in my book--pretty good! Their only failing was a maraschino cherry on a plastic stick in lieu of the lime wedge.

In a later post I'll talk more about history (you knew I'd get to history eventually!)--both the sidecar's and mine.....


Marilyn said...

Okay! I'm coming to Santa Fe and heading for Jinja's for a Gibson. I don't care if I am allergic to onions. Mayhap the gin will nullify the onion's ill effects.

A salut!


SantaFeKate said...

Look for part 2 to this post, discussing the history of the sidecar, on February 1, 2010.