Product Choice is Important - The Sidecar Cocktail

I recall one of the first times I went to the liquor store to “stock my liquor cabinet”. It was a tad daunting to try to make sense of all of the different bottles of booze and understand what I was needing. And the price range, wow! At the time, I didn’t really have any true knowledge of brands and quality variations, but I knew enough to realize that just because there might be a brand that I had heard of through their marketing efforts, didn’t necessarily mean it was a good product. Since there were several different products I needed to buy, and a budget to deal with, the $20+ products became less and less appealing. Knowing that with wines, price wasn’t really a useful measure of the quality, I assumed the same could be true with spirits, and so I tried to be selective on finding “bargain” priced bottles. At first, I thought it was just the recipes I was using which were making my cocktails lackluster. Thankfully I did the right thing when it came time to replace a depleted bottle, I intentionally bought a different brand, and since I only needed to buy one or two on this visit, I was able to buy something a little more expensive. My cocktails quickly improved.

This isn’t to say that all of the good spirit choices have to be expensive ones. There are lower-cost products that you can use which can make cocktails as good, if not better than, their costlier counterparts. And sometimes, even if a more expensive product will make a better cocktail, is the difference noticeable enough to warrant the expense?

Courvoisier, is a great cognac. Their VSOP costs, say $45 per bottle, but their VS is more like $25. A sidecar made with the VSOP will be a better drink, but will it be twice as good? If you were to compare them side by side, you’d probably pick the VSOP as the better drink, but you’d still really enjoy the VS as well. So in this case there is nothing wrong with going with the less expensive Courvoisier VS.

Cointreau is a triple sec, and most recipes for a Sidecar simply list “Triple Sec” as an ingredient. Cointreau costs, say $34 a bottle, while you can get a bottle of triple sec for around $10. The difference here however can be quite amazing. Not only would you clearly identify a Cointreau Sidecar in a side-by-side comparison, but you might be hard-pressed to finish the one made with triple sec after this discovery.

So selecting products you are going to use in your cocktails, realize that your choices will make a difference.


2 oz Cognac

1 oz Cointreau

1/2 oz fresh lemon juice


Shake all ingredients with ice.

Strain into a cocktail glass with a half sugared rim.


Celestino 11 Dec 2014
12:28 pm

“I recall one of the first times I went to the liquor store to “stock my liquor cabinet”. It was a tad daunting to try to make sense of all of the different bottles of booze and understand what I was needing.”

Totally nailed it. Exactly how I started building my cabinet back in the days! Again Robert, a fine video and an excellent topic to discuss.

From watching these videos from SSN I learned the rule of thumb “garbage in, garbage out”. So you made a cocktail using the cheapest ingredients available? Don’t expect a great drink.

I can remember the very first tequila bottle I bought (from an airport, was Sierra, with the red little plastic hat on it). In my defence, I didn’t know any better and spending 20€ at the time sounded like a bargain for a 1L bottle (because who would spend around 40€ [50$] for a “premium, smaller sized” tequila when you’re making sunrises?!). Without realizing what I was REALLY dealing with, I was satisfied for a very long time until I read what kind of monstrosities those non-100%-agave-tequilas are and how I could’ve made such better drinks.

Nowadays, I’ve learnt so much and broadened my knowledge of spirits in general. Before stocking ANY spirit in my cabinet, I carefully review the product and try to see “what it is really about” or “if I _really_ need it; is it versatile or is it good for just one particular cocktail and then it gathers dust in my cabinet?”. Also, like you said, “There are lower-cost products that you can use which can make cocktails as good”, this is very true when it comes to some cocktails such as the Irish Coffee. The blended whiskies are perfectly fit (I even recommend it) for such hot drinks! Of course, if one wants to experiment (like one time a person asked for an Irish Coffee made with Laphroaig 10yo), why not give it a try?

As for citrus juices, you are again 100% correct. Never…never go for the bottled one. Always use fresh. There is no substitute for a “on-the-scene” pressed fruit.

The part of a Sidecar being “approachable”, that is true. For a few friends that have come to visit me time to time, I’ve made either that or a Manhattan. The Sidecar is sweet enough to make the ladies smile and has that “oompf” men like. It’s an all-around cocktail and very versatile as well (as mentioned using different cognac or substituting the Cointreau for Gran Marnier).

One thing is sure, Cointreau is a 100% must in every self-respecting person’s bar cabinet. It’s universally a great liqueur, mixes well with pretty much everything and is of superb quality.

5/5 clip.

blair frodelius 11 Dec 2014
3:18 pm


I remember well yur seminar at Tales of the Cocktail on the three Sidecars! 

I’ve done plenty of experimenting on my end with Sidecar ingredients and have come to appreciate these basic tenets:

Cognac: At least a VSOP (but under $40 a bottle)
Triple Sec: Cointreau is well worth the cost
Lemon Juice: Look for lemons with thin skins and a round appearance

All that being said, I agree that you don’t need to sugar the rim.  But, as with a Margarita, a half rim makes everyobdy happy. 

I have experimented with the technique and discovered that if you use vodka on the rim instead of citrus, it adheres beautifully, but does not become sticky.


Blair Frodelius

Rick M. 12 Dec 2014
1:20 pm

Another excellent episode, Robert, and one that I find especially relevant as I move more towards building a better quality cocktail (vs. just getting buzzed!).

The quandary is finding that “sweet spot” between spending enough to get a spirit that’s good enough to make you take notice vs. spending so much that you feel GUILTY mixing it with anything else.

Ironically, I find it to be particularly tricky when it comes to brandy/cognac.  Whereas your other spirits offer various mid-priced selections suitable for mixing, I find that with brandy, you are often left to choose between two extremes: either cheap swill or exorbitantly priced options.

I recently made a sidecar using California’s Korbel, and while not horrible, I was less than impressed.  Guess I’ll have to give in and pony up the dough for a decent bottle.  I’ve read Pierre Ferrand is a good (if pricey) choice.  Anyone have any other suggestions?  Thanks!

mrtim 12 Dec 2014
3:08 pm

Robert, I just wanted to say - I’m pretty sure it was an early article of yours on the Sidecar (and the Old Fashioned) on the Drinkboy site that got me started down the path to making excellent cocktails.  Thank you for all you’ve done to assist us amature mixologists over the years!

blair frodelius 12 Dec 2014
3:46 pm

Rick M.,

Pierre Ferrand is excellent.  I also like using Hine.  You can find decent cogancs for $30 a bottle.



Jim Wright 20 Dec 2014
3:19 pm

I’m so glad I found your site! Not only am I learning and enjoying all the cocktail recipes you share, it’s fun to watch YOU change over the years!  Can you recommend any BEER cocktails?


Small Screen Colin 22 Dec 2014
10:15 am


We are glad you found the site too!

Check out this Shandy from Jeffrey Morgenthaler:

Micheladas are delicious too!

Don Schonewald 19 Mar 2015
3:08 pm

Robert, I’ve been following you site for a number of years now and I really appreciate all you do to help us amateurs. I just watched your segment on using good quality ingredients, using the “Sidecar” as your example. I have tried various Brandies in my drinks and can attest to your opinion. I was recently introduced to a sidecar made with B & B instead of just Brandy.
Although I don’t know if this would qualify as a sidecar with this substitution, it is an interesting variation and I found it to be quite enjoyable. I’d be interested in your opinion on this.

Robert Hess 19 Mar 2015
3:23 pm

B&B, Cointreau, and Lemon Juice, while similar to a Sidecar, would be a new drink. One way to think about it, is that if a knowledgeable customer ordered a “sidecar” at a bar, and the bartender made it with B&B, would the customer still think it tasted exactly like the sidecar he was wanting? He might like it “better”, but that’s different from noticing a difference.

I’m not sure if it is still common, but it used to be that lots of bars were offer a “Mataxa Sidecar” made with Mataxa instead of brandy (Mataxa is a flavored brandy), it’s a good drink, but important to let the customer know that it isn’t specifically a sidecar.

As for B&B, I might instead recommend using a combo of brandy and Benedictine. There are a few reasons for this, most important is that it allows you to choose the quality of brandy/cognac to use, secondly is that any bar that has B&B “should” also have Benedictine, but not vice versa. Granted, I see lots of bars that have B&B but not Benedictine. Since there are a lot more cocktails that call for Benedictine as an ingredient, you are better off stocking that first, because with Benedictine you can make B&B, as well as any cocktail that calls for Benedictine (or B&B), while with B&B you can just make… well… B&B :->

Oh… and a quick spin over at appears to indicate that this drink essentially exists (Brandy, Cointreau, Lemon Juice, Benedictine)
And is called: “T.s.i.t.e. (they Shall Inherit The Earth)”
I’m totally clueless where this might have come from, I’ve never heard of it before.

Dean Kidd 9 May 2016
2:03 pm

I’ve been following you now for about five years, but just registered. Want to thank you for your thoughtful discussions of cocktails and bar tending.

Small Screen Colin 10 May 2016
10:56 am


Glad you are enjoying our videos! Thank you so much for watching!

Post a Comment

You must be registered and logged in to post comments.

Login to Comment register new account

remember me