Wisconsin is the nation’s best drinking state, and not just because it’s the birthplace of both the Schlitz and Ale Asylum breweries. Cheese Curdistan is also the brandy-swillingest place in America; it’s hard to pin down accurate statistics, but each of the half-dozen sources I consulted are certain that Wisconsin accounts for at least 40 and up to 120 percent of our national brandy consumption.
So they’re definitely great at drinking brandy out there, but great doesn’t always mean perfect. It turns out that those otherwise redoubtable Wiscies dump most of their cocktailing brandy into something called a Brandy Old-Fashioned, a not-bad drink that is a couple degrees too sweet and also, crucially, not a Sidecar.
The simple, classic Sidecar is the best brandy cocktail, and this is how you make one.
¾ ounce lemon juice
¾ ounce triple sec
2 ounces brandy
1. Fill half a cocktail shaker with ice.
2. Pour the lemon juice into the cocktail shaker.
3. Add the triple sec.
4. Add the brandy (now we’re getting somewhere!).
5. Cover and shake for 15 seconds; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
1. You need to juice real lemons for this—none of that plastic-squeeze-bottle garbage. You can get a decent hand-held hinged juicer for $10 or $20; standing citrus presses are great, too, but worth-a-damn ones can get pricey, and cheap ones tend to be wobbly.
The average lemon will yield between one and two ounces of juice. It’s easier to extract juice from room-temperature citrus, so let your lemons sit on the counter for a bit beforehand, if you think of it. Otherwise, you could microwave them for 15 or 20 seconds pre-squeeze, which sounds odd but works fine. Pressing down firmly on a lemon with the palm of your hand and rolling it back and forth across the counter also helps get the juices flowing more freely.
2. No matter how juicy your lemons or rare your brandy, your Sidecar will be sunk if you resort to shitty triple sec. The best Sidecars are made with Cointreau, and since the same goes for margaritas and most other drinks employing orange liqueur, any semi-serious home bartender should grin and bear the $30 for a 750-ml bottle of the good stuff. But if you need to cut costs, look for Bols brand triple sec for about $8; it’s no Cointreau, but it’s far superior to Hiram Walker and Leroux.
3. Brandy, strictly speaking, is a spirit distilled from fruit: Calvados is made from apples, kirsch is made from cherries, pear brandy is made from pears, and so on. But the generic term “brandy” most often refers to the grape version, which is what we’ll use in our Sidecar. The most famous kinds of brandy are Cognac and Armaganc, and if you want to go that route, you’ll have good results using Hennessy (about $35 per bottle) or Courvoisier ($30). Make sure you stick to the base models, though, the ones labeled “VS.” No need to be spending a couple hundred bucks for a bottle of XO if you’re making mixed drinks.
And, frankly, no need to be spending $30 for even the entry-level French stuff. In Wisconsin they swear by Korbel, an adequate California brandy that goes for about $10 a bottle. Christian Brothers and E&J fit the same description. If you’re going to cut corners on your Sidecar, you’re better off skimping on the brandy and using Cointreau than you are murdering Cognac with cruddy triple sec.
4. In good hands, a Sidecar will go down before it really has a chance to warm up, but you’ll still have a better time if you remember to chill your glass in advance. Stick it in the freezer or fill it with ice water for five or 10 minutes before use.
5. Some perfectly responsible drinkers like to rim a Sidecar glass with sugar. I find that this makes a mess and distorts the balance between sweet liquor and sour citrus, but if you insist, just moisten the rim of the glass with a little bit of lemon juice and then roll it in sugar.
6. After you’ve mastered the basics, you should, of course, fuss around with the ratios to suit your personal needs. This recipe is a bit brandy-heavy, as they go; adjust as you see fit, but do remember that we came here to honor Wisconsin.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Image by Sam Woolley.
Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.