The Sidecar Cocktail probably doesn’t have anything to do with motorcycles

This is our final installment of the irregular series, Drink This and Don’t Drive. It’s been a fun run, covering everything from the noble Bentley Cocktail to the syrupy Pink Cadillac Margarita, but we were inspired to finish up with a famous drink that’s down a wheel: The Sidecar. Read on, and remember: Enjoy cocktails (and reading about them) while you’re not behind the wheel.

Some friends of ours recently did something extremely stupid. This is not atypical. Moronic behavior is a hallmark amongst our auto journo peers, perhaps requisite. But even measuring by that low bar, this particular adventure — in which former Autoblog editor Zach Bowman, and Road & Track old car driver Sam Smith drove an unwieldy Ural sidecar motorcycle, nonstop, from Seattle to Los Angeles through blinding snowstorms while wearing catheters and huffing gas — achieves a lofty position in the imbecile pantheon.

We happened to be in L.A. when Sam and Zach arrived, and met them for breakfast. Though it was only 10 a.m., we proposed ordering a Sidecar to celebrate their survival. Sadly, the Sidecar — traditionally made up of equal parts Cognac, Cointreau, and Lemon — is not exactly a morning drink.

The Sidecar is, however, named for the motorized three-wheeled conveyance in which our friends achieved their insipid quest — a rudderless carriage, drive-shafted precariously onto the side of a glorified mountain bike. Like most novel mechanical inventions, upon its release in the early 20th century, the sidecar was almost immediately militarized, perhaps most famously by the British in WWI, who plugged their weighty Vickers machine guns into the front of the ancillary apparatus, and used it to slay Jerry and anyone else upon whom it rolled over. William Lyons, founder of Jaguar, got his vehicular start manufacturing sidecars after the Great War. BMW got into the game in WWII, building them for the German Army. Around this time, they licensed one of their designs to be produced in Soviet Russia. This archaic anachronism is the Ural. Still.

Germany Saxony Grimma - Ural - M63 Soviet motorcycle with side carriage from the II. World War

How the cocktail came to exist is something that is, like just about every tale of libation derivation, in contention. Some folks credit Robert Vermeire, who published a recipe in his 1922 book Cocktails and How to Mix Them. Some credit Harry MacElhone, proprietor of Harry’s American Bar in Paris, and author in 1923 of Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails. Some (including MacElhone, before he threw credit back to himself) credit Pat MacGarry, the bartender at the famed private Buck’s Club in London. When we reached out to the Buck’s, the current club secretary, Major Rupert Lendrum, told us, “It’s conjecture if the Sidecar was invented here or not.”

We got a similar response from the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, who gave us the French brushoff, saying, “The only person that could tell you about the Sidecar very busy working on different projects and he will leave for vacation shortly.” However, our friends at famed cognac distiller Rémy Martin maintain the concoction’s Ritzy Gallic heritage. “At Rémy Martin, we believe the Sidecar cocktail would have been invented by Frank Meier around 1923. Frank was one of the first bartenders at the famous Ritz in Paris.”

What any of this has to do with a motorcycle is quite beyond us. The drink does look a little like dirty gasoline. And there are some apocryphal tales about some swaggering soldier riding up to one or another of the bars where the drink was alleged to have been invented, and requesting that these ingredients be mixed together, thus meriting the drink being named after his wheeled contraption. Believing this makes about as much sense as believing the Margarita was invented by a Texas socialite and popularized by Tommy Hilton in his namesake hotel chain. Also, when everyone is obviously drunk, are you really going to believe anything they claim to remember?

In this circumstance, we prefer after the fact correlative explanation to any dubious origin story. “The beauty of a sidecar cocktail is the simplicity of the ingredients,” says Matt Trigaux, a spokesperson for Ural. “Same with motorcycles, it distills the experience of driving down to the essentials.”

As with most drink recipes, we’ll never know. And who cares, as long as it’s delicious and strong — cognac makers take the Sidecar seriously. Seriously enough that for the past few years, on National Cognac Day (June 4, if you want to add it to you iCal) the producers at Rémy Martin have teamed up with Ural in cities around the U.S. to make gallons of the drink, and provide party guests with rides in custom branded sidecar motorcycles. I’m sure not a drop was spilled.

To help keep the party, ahem, rolling, Rémy Martin has had their mixologist, Cédric Bouteiller, invent a number of sidecar variants, all of which require a surprisingly larger dosage of Remy Martin Cognac than the traditional 1:1:1 recipe. One of them, the Dusk to Dawn, is made with pineapple juice. Another, the #ThatsWhatILIke includes peach liqueur. But we were most drawn to The Outfit, which has absinthe, blood orangecello, and unfiltered vinegar. So that’s the one we decided to make.

The taste is unlike anything we’ve ever tried, except for that one experience with chugging orange Robitussin after an afternoon eating salty Dutch black licorice and fried pickle chips. Monsanto gets a lot of deserved grief for killing all the bees, but we left a few drops of an Outfit in a cup during a weekend barbecue, and it proved more effective in murdering the workers feasting on our bolted oregano flowers than any application of Roundup. With a little olive oil, it would make an excellent salad dressing.

We retreated back to the traditional Sidecar, and were far more pleased. A cursory analysis suggests that this drink is just a Daiquiri or Margarita but made with Cognac instead of Rum or Tequila. This is technically true. But that is akin to saying that a Rolls-Royce Ghost is just a 7-Series made with better leather. It kind of misses the point.

The Sidecar is inherently classy. You don’t drink it by the pool, unless it’s your private pool at your villa on the Cap d’Antibes, and you’re wearing a mink-trimmed tuxedo. It never comes with a novelty tchochke bobbing in its syrupy, corn-syrup infused slush. And you can’t really chug it. Cognac, by its scratchy, sweet-and-bitter, tongue searing nature, is not meant for rapid consumption. Kind of like a motorcycle sidecar. Someone please tell that to Sam and Zach.

The Outfit
2 oz. Rémy Martin 1738
.75 oz. Blood Orangecello
Bar spoon unfiltered apple cider vinegar
Absinthe mist

The Sidecar
1¼ oz Remy Martin 1738 Accord Royal® with
½ oz lemon juice and
1 oz Cointreau
Shake with ice, then strain into your best coupe glass.

Related Video: