Before I started writing this column, I was not much of a brandy drinker. But over the years, I’ve enjoyed my brandy education so much that I’ve become an evangelist. For the past couple years, I’ve been conducting a not-so-stealth campaign to introduce readers to brandy, which I believe to be the most-exciting-yet-totally-underappreciated-and-misunderstood category in the liquor store.
This week, our world brandy tour took us to Andalusia, Spain, where I was (once again) pleasantly surprised by Brandy de Jerez, the spirit created in the same region as sherry. In the past, we’ve visited Cognac and Armagnac and Normandy for Calvados. We’ve stopped in Peru for pisco, the Alps for apricot brandy and back to the good old U.S.A. for peach brandy.
When it comes to cocktails, brandy doesn’t have that one marquee drink that some spirits have — no margarita (as with tequila) or Manhattan and old fashioned (whiskey) or martini (gin). Sure, you could make the case that pisco has the pisco sour, and apple brandy has the Jack Rose. But if brandy in general has any iconic cocktail, it’s probably the sidecar — brandy, orange liqueur (such as Cointreau, Combier or Grand Marnier) and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Like all classics, cocktail geeks can argue all day about measurements, ratios and brands to use.
For all my love of brandy, though, I’m not a huge fan of the traditional sidecar. However, I’ve published a number of sidecar variations, most of which I like better than the original. To celebrate brandy, and spring, I serve up my top five sidecar variations:
* Champs-Elysees. Yellow chartreuse replaces the Cointreau or Grand Marnier for a delicious more herbal variation.
* Hoopla. Spring is always Lillet Blanc season for me, and this variation adds a little of the white wine and citrus aperitif to the mix. Brighter than the orginal sidecar.
* Calvados Sidecar. Sometimes called an “applecar,” this variation calls for apple brandy. In warmer months, I’d skip the sugar/cinnamon rim.
* Odd McIntosh. A variation on another sidecar variation called the Odd McIntyre. This is essentially a hoopla that calls for apple brandy instead of Cognac.