SidecarRitz Bar, Paris, France (1920s)

The Sidecar is an elegant, refined sip that recalls Paris in the 1920s, when Prohibition had forced America’s best bartenders overseas. Swap the brandy for tequila, lemon for lime, and you pretty much have a Margarita.

It’s traditional to moisten the glass rim with lemon and dip the rim in sugar – but certainly not necessary. I find the drink perfectly balanced on its own.

The Sidecar and the Margarita are where you’ll understand why a quality triple sec like Cointreau is worth every penny versus a cheaper variety that would overpower the drink with syrupy sweetness.

It’s said to be named for an American Army Captain stationed in Paris around the end of World War I who visited the Ritz Bar in a motorcycle sidecar – who knows, really? All you need to know about the Sidecar will be conveyed in your first sip: it’s a delicious classic worthy of its status.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Brandy or Cognac (recommended: Germain-Robin, Pierre Ferrand, Hennessy, Courvoisier)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lemon wheel, White sugar (optional)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

If you choose to sugar the rim, sprinkle some sugar on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lemon wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the sugar. Try to avoid getting sugar on the interior glass surface.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

2 oz brandy or Cognac
1 oz triple sec
3/4
oz lemon juice

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

MargaritaMexico or London (1930s – 1940s)

No singular cocktail has more people claiming its invention than the Margarita. Seems they all want to grab some family blood from America’s most popular cocktail. And, if you ask me, America’s most abused cocktail.

But there’s some strong evidence the cocktail originated in London, of all places – as the “Picador” cocktail, a spin on the classic 2:1:1 Sour template, in a variation known as a Daisy (just a Sour with a liqueur instead of simple syrup). Funny coincidence, “margarita” is Spanish for “daisy”.

You might have to hit five or six bars and restaurants to find one that isn’t made with that god-awful sour mix, even in recipes calling themselves “Cadillac.” How hard can it be to squeeze some fresh citrus, people? Sheesh.

Many people are surprised when I tell them a Margarita (done properly) is one of my favorite cocktails. Many people are also surprised when they taste a proper one for the first time – far different from the frozen, blended version that came out of Dallas in 1971 and came to be the standard for the next forty years. With the rise of fine tequilas since 2000 or so, many bartenders have come to embrace the perfect balance of a well-crafted Margarita, and an appreciation for this fragile and misunderstood spirit. An unusual minor tweak to the standard sour template is the addition of just a teaspoon of rich simple syrup – the drink simply is not the same without it. The syrup adds body and cuts through a strange bitterness that can sometimes linger between the tequila and Cointreau, bringing perfect balance.

Done like a Sidecar, this beauty needs no Slurpee, no salt. Some prefer this one on the rocks instead of served up; Either way works. Sabor es lo primero.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Tequila (blanco or reposado – recommended: El Jimador, Espolón)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel, Kosher salt (optional)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

If you choose to salt the rim, sprinkle some kosher salt on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lime wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the salt. Try to avoid getting salt on the interior glass surface.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

oz tequila
oz triple sec
3/4 oz lime juice
tsp rich simple syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. (As an option, serve over ice cubes in an Old Fashioned glass.) Garnish with a lime wheel.

milk-punchEngland, 1500s
New Orleans, 1800s

Milk Punch may be the ultimate “oh, why the hell not?” drink.

Just about as soon as folks in England figured out how to distill beverage alcohol, they figured out booze went great with milk and a little sugar, mixing up all kinds of Egg Nogs and punches. They drank their Milk Punch hot, out of a big sweaty communal bowl, and cut with lemon juice. That’s all well and fine for the time, I suppose. 16th century, what are you gonna do? But people in New Orleans already knew all about hot and sweaty – so they got this drink back on the right track by cooling it over crushed ice, softening it with vanilla, and making it purty and fragrant with a dusting of nutmeg.

Our friends down in New Orleans have perfected the art of day-drinking (and night-drinking, too, now that I think of it). That’s not to give any credit to the boorish bros and misguided tourists on Bourbon Street – they’re not included among our friends. You and I, we prefer the finer things in life. And there are few things finer than this soothing combination of spirit, milk, sugar, and vanilla. In New Orleans, it’s not uncommon to enjoy a Brandy Milk Punch with breakfast, a Pimm’s Cup while waiting out the muggy afternoon storm, a Sazerac before dinner… all best enjoyed with a savory, gut-busting meal and the company of a good friend.

Try this with a good brandy or cognac (or 50/50 with an aged Jamaican rum). Bourbon is also common, but makes for a slightly sweeter drink. This is also a chance to use that delicious batch of homemade vanilla syrup – but in a pinch, you can use regular simple syrup and three drops of real vanilla extract.

Look, this drink won’t do your waistline any favors. But somedays… just getting out of bed is enough of an accomplishment. Cut yourself some slack.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Muddler or mallet, Lewis bag, Nutmeg Grater or Microplane
Ice: Ice cubes, crushed ice
Glassware: Old Fashioned glass
Spirit: Brandy or cognac (recommended: Germain-Robin Craft Method) or Bourbon (recommended: Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey 81)
Mixers: Whole milk, Vanilla syrup
Garnish: Freshly-grated nutmeg

HOW TO

Using a Lewis bag, crush enough ice to fill an Old Fashioned glass about two-thirds full to a fine, even consistency by pounding with a muddler or mallet.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

oz brandy (or cognac) or bourbon
oz whole milk
3/4 oz vanilla syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then double-strain into the ice-filled glass. Top with a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.

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