If you go to Pouring Ribbons, Joaquín Simó’s New York bar, you won’t find a Sidecar on the menu—although you may find a cocktail or two that nods in its general direction.
That’s because the Sidecar is essentially a dressed-up Daisy: a sour—spirit, citrus, sweetener—that generally calls on a liqueur (or grenadine) in place of, or in addition to, sugar or simple syrup. This same blueprint is employed in other familiar drinks, such as the Margarita (tequila, lime and agave or orange liqueur) and the Cosmopolitan (vodka, lime, triple sec, plus cranberry juice).
The drink template may appear simple—Cognac, orange liqueur, lemon juice—but refining it to his signature version has been the cause of dismay for many a bartender. Simó first encountered the Sidecar at a college bar in Boston, where he was served an admittedly banal example. (“This was not a shining example of a Sidecar,” he says. “I guarantee you it had sour mix off a gun.”) Nonetheless, it served as an introduction to what he would later understand as the Daisy category of drinks. “I remember asking the bartender what it was—‘It’s like a Margarita, but with brandy and lemon,’” recalls Simó. “I understood that.”
It wasn’t until Simó arrived as part of the opening staff at New York’s Death & Co. in 2007 that he started to branch out with Sidecar variations of his own. “I started tweaking the proportions and the structure,” he explains. While some recipes call for one ounce each of brandy and orange liqueur, Simó found that “the citrus was dominating the orchard fruit” in the Cognac. He responded by upping the amount of Cognac in the mix to a full two ounces (his preferred Cognac for Sidecars is Pierre Ferrand 1840, bottled at a higher-than-usual 90 proof) and dialing back on the orange liqueur.
In doing so, he also experimented with various brands and styles of orange liqueur, such as a blood orange liqueur and Mandarine Napoleon. However, it wasn’t until 2012, when Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao launched, that “the Daisy specs started to come together,” says Simó. (A collaboration between historian David Wondrich and Maison Ferrand’s Alexandre Gabriel, that bottling is made in the 19th-century style, built on a base of Cognac, and is notably drier and spicier than other Curaçaos on the market.)Another game-changer for the Sidecar was the addition of rich demerara syrup—a nontraditional fourth ingredient in the drink—which Simó first began working with at Death & Co. Though his specs call for a mere teaspoonful of the sweetener, Simó says that it’s critical for adding lush texture (i.e. “mouthfeel”). “It doesn’t taste quite right if the mouthfeel is off,” he explains. “We think of sugar like butter; it adds body and allows the other flavors to say what they want to say.” It also provides additional flavor: “If regular simple syrup is like butter, demerara syrup is like a brown butter,” says Simó. “You get those deeper, richer notes.”
As for garnishing, Simó dispenses with the traditional sugar-encrusted glass rim. “The sugared rim has never worked as far as sweetening the drink,” he says. “It doesn’t dissolve fast enough on your palate.” Instead, he prefers to finish the cocktail with a simple orange peel, which highlights the aromas of the orange liqueur.
Despite the addition of the demerara sugar syrup—“that little, teeny, tiny fourth ingredient”—Simó still considers the Sidecar to be, at heart, a three-ingredient cocktail. “There’s no room to hide in that drink, no room for shortcuts,” says Simó. “If you use yesterday’s lemon juice, it will never be a good Sidecar. The building blocks of the drink matter.”