It’s winter and perhaps you’ve bought or received a bottle of cognac or brandy as the temperatures drop. Very understandable, as even here in sunny Santa Barbara, CA temperatures can dip down into the 40’s at night and rarely get above 75 during the day.  Our heaters have to kick on from time to time, I think. All of which is to say that this time of year it is good to have a warming drink in hand.

The Sidecar is a classic cocktail, dating roughly to the end of  World War I and named after the passenger compartment attached to some motorcycles. The simplicity of the drink in terms of ingredients and preparation only make it that much more enjoyable in your glass!

  • 1 part Cognac or brandy
  • ½ part Cointreau, Triple Sec, Gran Marnier (or other orange liquor)
  • ½ part lemon juice (adjust this to taste)

Add the ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake for 30 seconds or until condensation forms on the outside of the shaker. This drink is traditionally served straight up, meaning without ice. As such, the traditional glass is a cocktail glass, which looks very much like a martini glass. The idea is a taller, stemmed glass which will ensure the warmth of your hands and fingers don’t raise the temperature of the drink after it’s poured. As a garnish you can use either a bit of orange peel or lemon peel. Or both if you’re feeling particularly fancy. Adjust the quantity of lemon juice based on taste preferences.

Cognac is the traditional liquor for this drink, but it is essentially a blending of different brandies, with a certain percentage having to come from the appropriate French region of Cognac. So substituting with brandy is common. Cognac must be aged for at least two years in French oak barrels, but is often aged much longer. Blending different brandies achieves a greater complexity of taste than what could be accomplished in a single distillery or barrel. As such, cognacs are graded based on the cask aging of the youngest brandy used in the mix.  

  • Very Special (V.S., or three-star) – the youngest brandy was aged in an oak cask for at least two years
  • Very Superior Old Pale (V.S.O.P. or Reserve) – youngest brandy aged in casks at least four years
  • Napoléon – youngest brandy aged at least six years
  • Extra Old (X.O) – minimum  of 10 years aging for the youngest brandy, a rule updated in 2018
  • Extra Extra Old (X.X.O.)  – mimimum of 14 years of aging for the youngest brandy in the mix
  • Hors d’âge (Beyond Age) – technically at least as aged as an X.O. but often used to designate far  longer aging times

As might be expected, the more aging involved it is generally higher in price. I’ve enjoyed some nice Armenian brandies over the past several years found at a local international market.  A good liquor store should provide at least several options and price points, while the local supermarket will probably only carry lower-end, big-name brands that will be serviceable, but probably less remarkable. Spending a few extra dollars judiciously is likely money well spent when you’re fighting away the bitter winter cold.

Merry Christmas!