Sidecar Cocktail

The sidecar is a classic cocktail which most bartenders know, but seems to be rarely ordered. Part of this is because it is poorly made, and more often than not made with sour mix instead of fresh ingredients. Properly made this drink should be made with cognac (or brandy), Cointreau, and fresh lemon juice. There are however a variety of ways these ingredients can be combined, the secret is how to do so in a way that presents a perfect balance.


2 oz cognac

1 oz Cointreau

1/2 oz lemon juice


Shake with ice.

Strain into a cocktail glass.

Garnish with a lemon twist.


Robert Hess 17 Aug 2007
8:30 am

Some folks often give me a little grief for using a high-end product like Cointreau (~$35 a bottle), and then using a “cheap” (~$20 a bottle) brandy. Frankly, I find that it works quite well. The brandy I use here can’t hold a candle to a higher end brandy when sipped straight, but I find that it works really well in the Sidecar. It has also become popular these days to use “Metaxa” in a sidecar (it would then be called a “Metaxa Sidecar”). Metaxa technically isn’t a brandy, but a “flavored” brandy, since there are additional flavorings that go into it.

Erin Stillmayer-Wagner 1 Dec 2007
11:15 am

I really enjoyed your presentation thank you. I’ve been bartending and running a bar business for eleven years now. When I make a sidecar I like to cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice directly into the shaker and then also drop the lemon into the shaker as well. Then I proceed to shake the cocktail. I really enjoy having the flavor and consistency of the lemon pulp in the cocktail.             
    I hade some customers last night insist on having sour mix in their sidecars, I think it completely ruined the cocktail.

Robert Hess 1 Dec 2007
3:27 pm


I’ve had people tell me that my Margarita recipe can’t be right since it doesn’t use sour mix… sigh…

For me, using sour mix in a cocktail is like using instant rice to make your paella. But I guess some folks don’t realize what a difference real ingredients can make to a drink.


Al Nelson 26 Dec 2007
8:41 pm

Would it be too foward of me to ask whose recipe was used in the pocket guide?

Rani 1 Jan 2008
2:20 am

I tried this tonight with some Cognac I had not been using (as I usually drink Whisky). I must say this drink is simply amazing. I’ll definitely be ordering this when I go to the bar next time. Hopefully they’re version is as balanced as yours.

Robert Hess 1 Jan 2008
4:54 pm

Often, this drink is served more on the sour side then my recipe presents. And “lesser” bars will often use sour mix instead of fresh lemon juice. But give it a try and see what you end up discovering!


Rani 11 Jan 2008
6:36 pm

I ordered this at a bar last night to see how it differed from your recipe. I wasn’t able to catch what their measurements where exactly although thankfully they used fresh lemons. To be honest I was a little distracted from the measurements as they rimmed half the glass with lime and sugar and placed ice cubes in the glass itself (which strikes me as unorthodox). Still the drink itself tasted along the same lines as the Sidecar you made here.

I also ended up having a Mojito and Manhattan both of which where made very well. They had an interesting method for my Mojito whereby they clapped their hands together with the mint in the palm of one of their hands before putting it in the glass.

In regards to the Manhattan I was offered the choice between two bitters (Angostura and Peychaud’s) which was welcome.

It was a very welcome experiment and was definitely an enjoyable change from drinking Whisky all night. I’m very thankful that I came across this site.

blair frodelius 8 Mar 2008
11:01 am


Are there any French Cognac VSOP Brandies that you would absolutely not recommend using in a cocktail?  The reason I ask is that I have seen prices between $20-$50.  Since, I won’t be sipping these, it don’t want to overspend for a blending brandy.

Robert Hess 8 Mar 2008
10:22 pm

I am sure that there are some brandies/cognacs which are below the bar when used in cocktails, but the real choice is up to you. I’d start out with a “cheap” brand, and then when that starts to run out, buy something better, and do a taste comparison between the two when used in cocktails, and figure out for yourself if the cost is worth the difference.

Reggie P 10 Jul 2008
9:34 pm

I ordered this drink at five national chains and each were incapable of making it, they just no, they dont know. All of them had the ingredients at the bar. I finally had it at an independent restaurant and I liked it so much it started my cocktail hobby. I’m extravagant, I use Hennesey VS. An excellent drink to introduce people to the art of bartending.

Al Nelson 12 Jul 2008
8:41 pm

Reggie P sounds like an ass.

Al Nelson 12 Jul 2008
8:49 pm

Reggie P, that comment was not ment for you, but for the guy who wrote:

“This drink is my favorite. It’s a bit sweeter. The ingredients you have posted are good, It will make the drink more stronger and tastier. It’s a must for Hot drink fans.”

Appears like that post was removed.



Walt Bauer 22 Jul 2008
11:42 am

At the Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans I had a Sidecar prepared with Martell cognac at the spirits awards. Very good. What would it have tasted like if you used an acholado style pisco like Inca Gold Pisco and would you use the same ratio of ingredients, i.e. 4 brandy, 2 cointreau and
1 lemon juice?

Robert Hess 24 Jul 2008
12:56 pm

A Sidecar made with Pisco is sort of a variation of a Pisco Sour (no egg white, and Cointreau instead of simple syrup). I’ve never tried specifically to just replace the brandy with Pisco, but it might work in the same 4-2-1 ratio I use here. The key thing you are looking for is a careful balance of flavors, with the spirit still standing out nicely. Why don’t you give it a try and let me know? I know you have plenty of Inca Gold laying around :->

A Margarita is also a variation of a Sidecar using Tequila instead of Brandy.. but the 4-2-1 doesn’t work for that (for me anyway). A Margarita I make in a 3-2-1 ratio.

Mark Kreger 6 Aug 2008
10:42 am

On a recent business trip to New York I tasted an excellent sidecar variation that used Calvados in lieu of brandy or cognac, and was told the ratio was 5 parts Calvados, 3 parts Cointreau and 2 parts lemon juice.  Has anyone else experienced this variation?

Rob McMahon 5 Jan 2009
6:42 pm

Great drink. I had made one tonight. i used a little more lemon juice than you used in the video, but it turned out ok. The first time i made i didn’t like it all that well.  It may have been because i haven’t been drinking very long and my palette is not as developed as it probably should be. I had some bad experiences with liquor when i was younger. But, now that I am older i can say that i appreciate a well made cocktail instead of mass consumption of alcohol.  Keep up the good work.

Indiapale 10 Mar 2009
4:38 pm


Do you recommend any other cocktails besides the side car for beginner cocktail aficionado’s?

Robert Hess 10 Mar 2009
6:08 pm

Lewis, While the Sidecar is perhaps my “standard” cocktail to recommend for beginners, it is not the only one.

The issue is to pay attention to the “approachability” of a drink. A Manhattan, Martini, Sazerac, Opera, Vieux Carre, or (properly made) Old Fashioned, are not what I would call an approachable cocktail. However drinks that aren’t quite as “spirit forward” as those drinks can provide beginners with an excellent introduction.

Most, if not all, of the champagne based cocktails work good here, as do the “sour” style cocktails (Sidecar, Margarita, Dairquiri, Cosmopolitan, etc). If you are a cocktail afficionado, then you should be looking at various cocktail and measuring them against the flavor profiles you think would be appropriate to people who are not quite as comfortable with the more intense flavors as you are.


Paul Amy 3 Apr 2009
12:24 pm


This is a great cocktail! However, I’m curious how it would affect the balance to use a different brand of triple sec, say Grand Marnier or CuraƧao.

As a side note, I ordered a Sidecar while out to dinner, and the bartender had obviously used a sour mix instead. I’m fairly new to the business of cocktails and whatnot, being only 22, so I have to ask, what’s the etiquette of requesting a specific mix of ingredients? Is it ever considered rude to ask for the cocktail to be made a specific way—not just which brand of a spirit to use, but the proportions as well?

Robert Hess 3 Apr 2009
1:20 pm

Paul, you raise some good issues.

Many reicpes for the sidecar will simply call for “Triple Sec”. Cointreau is essentially a “top shelf” triple sec, and I feel it really makes a difference. When I first started teaching myself how to make cocktails, the Sidecar was the first cocktail I really wrapped my head around. I tried all of the different recipes and variations I could find, and soon discovered that using “Cointreau” instead of just triple sec, makes this drink sing.

You specifically asked about Grand Marnier or Curacao… in truth, those are not triple secs, but they are “orange flavored liqueurs”. Just as Cointreau is a top shelf triple sec, Grand Marnier is a top shelf Curacao. The main difference between triple sec and curacao, is that curacao uses a brandy base, and triple sec uses a “neutral spirit” base. The result of this is that curacao has a little more “depth” and roundness to it’s flavor, while triple sec is a little brighter and the orange flavor comes out a little more.

When ordering drinks in a bar, and trying to make sure you get it made the way you want it, your first order of business is to pick a bar that can at least come close to the type/quality of cocktail you are interested in. Bars come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of quality, just like restaurants. Some bars for instance may not have fresh juices, or Cointreau. And sometimes the bars are of the attitude and workload that they really aren’t prepared to take the time to get too customized in how they make their drinks.

...but that said, as long as you are in a bar that takes pride in their cocktails, there is nothing wrong with providing the bartender some guidance in how you want your drink. For me, the sidecar I show here represents a perfect balance of sweet to sour and strong to weak, and using quality ingredients. It makes a difference.

Patrick 17 Jun 2009
9:42 pm

I have loved all of the “Cocktail Spirt” recipes I have tried thus far (esp. the Old Fashioned), but for some reason the ratio for this Sidecar tasted a bit off, almost vague. I don’t think it is a question of palate, given that I agree with most of the other ratios Mr. Hess calls for. I tried a number of variations and, using a mid-range Cognac, Cointreau, and fresh lemon juice, I think I prefer the 1:1:1 ratio called for by a few others; it’s just a bit tighter and more defined - both sweeter and more tart (if that’s possible). In my opinion there is an almost lackluster quality to the 4:2:1.

Everyone’s a critic, as they say, and I love this website (and by extension, and I am not trying to be presumptuous. I would love to hear others’ thoughts.

Robert Hess 18 Jun 2009
4:05 am

One thing that I have discovered over and over again, is that there is no “one way” to make a cocktail (or practically anything for that matter). My 4:2:1 ratio for a sidecar is what I arrived at through a lot of trial and error in order to find a drink which tasted right to me. But that is not to say that it is the right ratio for everybody. By all means adjust any of the recipes you see me make to see if there is a different ratio that you prefer.

David Embury prefers an 8:2:1 ratio, with Cointreau in the trailing position.

blair frodelius 19 Jun 2009
1:58 pm

Just have to share this story.

I went out last night with some friends to a bar that was recommended by a representative from Pernod-Ricard as having top notch cocktails.  So, I looked over their spirit selection, and they certainly had a decent variety (rhum, cachaca, and several high end tequilas being some of the more interesting selections).  I asked for a cocktail menu, and was told they didn’t have one, but they could make anything I asked for.

So, I decided to try a Sidecar and see how they would make it ratio-wise.  The bartender said, “Help me out.  I haven’t made one of those in a while.”  I said, it called for cognac, Cointreau and fresh lemon juice.  She said, “We don’t have any whole lemons.  How about if I juice some of these wedges”?  That was my first clue that this would be a different Sidecar altogether.  I said, “Sure, give it a try.”

What I received was the lamest cocktail ever.  It was drinkable, but definitely NOT a Sidecar by any stretch of the imagination.  It consisted of a rocks glass (sans sugared rim) filled to the brim with soft ice in which she had left the muddled lemon wedges (plus seeds) and an undetermined amount of Martell VSOP and Cointreau. 

I never fail to be surprised by what uninformed bartenders will call a cocktail.


Robert Hess 19 Jun 2009
2:10 pm

Thanks for the story Blair! It sounds like the sort of thing that unfortunately happens fairly regularly.

One thing that I’ve learned fairly quickly, is that unfortunately there are many liquor reps who are somewhat “out of context” when it comes with understanding good cocktails, or more importantly the bars which serve them. They can also be unaware of what constitutes a good cocktail using the very products they market. Usually they err on the side of the drinks which seem to be the “best selling”, which unfortunately isn’t the same thing as “best quality”. Sort of like a rep for “US Beef”, when asked about a good restaurant, to be pointed at McDonalds, instead of a local steak-house.

That’s not to say that there aren’t well informed reps out there, because there are. Charlotte Voisey from Hendricks, and Simon Ford from Plymouth, are shining examples of what I like to see.

graysonh 22 Jul 2009
4:47 pm

Hey Robert,

Loved your presentation, I live in New Orleans and have had many, many a Sidecar in a city filled with great cocktails.  Have a few questions about making a Sidecar.  While I disagree on the proportions, I see it as totally an issue of personal taste.  But I am curious about the quailty/type of brandy you prefer.  I recently did a little experiment with some Sidecars and friends by varying the quality of triple sec and brandy.  We used LeRoux Triple Sec and Cointreau.  And for the brandies we used E&J VS, E&J VSOP, and my favorite, Tiffon VSOP.  Always used fresh lemon juice of course.  Basically what we decided was that the Cointreau was always superior, so that settles that.  When it came to the brandies, both VSOPs were decidedly better, but amongst the E&J VSOP and Tiffon VSOP, the taste was more different than better.  Yes, the Tiffon had a slightly less boozy taste and with more depth, but only slightly , and it wasn’t a .  Basically my question is whether you think there is a specific brandy that suits a Sidecar best.  What about non cognacs like a good jerez, pisco, or armagnac?  Thanks for a great presentation and any help.  Laissez les bon temps rouler.

Robert Hess 23 Jul 2009
3:55 am

Like you, I find that Cointreau and _fresh_ lemon juice are the key ingredients to a perfect Sidecar, the brandy/cognac then becomes simply the foundation which allows those two ingredients to shine. Different brandies “will” make a difference, but such differences usually just reflect themselves in a certain character of the drink, instead if its overall quality. So no, I don’t personally think there is a specific brandy which suits a Sidecar best.

sissy 24 Jul 2009
7:33 pm

Hi Robert, thanks for the great presentation.  I am a sake lover and recently was at a wonderful bar that made a Raspberry Eastern Sidecar with sake in it.  It was delicious, though very elaborate and almost over-the-top with a spice infused sugar rim.  I’m looking forward to trying a REAL sidecar as you’ve demonstrated next time I have the chance.

Federico Cuco 18 Aug 2009
6:49 am

Contrieau and French brandy or Congnac are the way to the real Side Car.  When I started to work as a bartender, my first teacher said “Federico, you have to use Cointreau or Grand Marnier to prepare the classic cocktails, because using cheap Triple Sec ruins/destroys cocktails”.  The other thing this old man taught me was the difference between a good cocktail and a bad cocktail is only a lazy bartender.  Fresh lemon, orange and lime juices aren’t that hard to make, but they’re difficult to find in a regular bar.

harrydosanj 29 Jan 2013
8:54 am

hi robert

i was planning having a sidecar on my menu but would it be ok to use st remy brandy or a local calvados instead of cognac? i dont want to upset sidecar fans! harry

Robert Hess 31 Jan 2013
7:31 pm

You can’t use Calvados in a sidecar and still call it a sidecar. Calvados is apple brandy, and therefore a different beast. For any drink you list on your menu, you should try to provide one that is the best example of the drink (within reason). You should gather together a few different cognac/brandies and blind taste test them against each other in a sidecar and see which one you think provides the best quality drink for your customers.

harrydosanj 31 Jan 2013
8:31 pm

thank you robert. taste taste taste as they say i guess

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