The Sidecar cocktail is a sophisticated, classy concoction, so why is it so often overlooked?
The Sidecar is one of the great Prohibition-era classics, a boozy-but-vibrant three-ingredient cocktail that fulfills our desire for both the depth of brown spirits and the bright acidity of citrus. It should be a rock star among cocktails, yet where Old Fashioneds, tiki drinks and even the horrible Gimlet have made their comebacks, the Sidecar has somehow eluded its just recognition amid the modern cocktail revival.
Our man at the bar, John Burns, savours a Southside as he mulls the value of drinking local
Barstools are for boasting. And when you’re alone, they’re for wool-gathering, your privacy on public display. Random thoughts assail you — unless you’re just there to watch the game, which is fine but for the purposes of this column let’s assume no high-def.
I’m at a bar now, in fact, just me and no TV, making notes on napkins the way you do. This is not unusual. Over the last 18 months I’ve warmed my share of seats, and I’ve written about some of the highlights in these pages, usually from notes on the backs of napkins very like this one. Those 18 months happen to have included a fair amount of travel, and so the cocktails I’ve described have often gone down in other cities, in bars very like this one.
Gin’s dark past comes to light as distillers go back to the drink’s barrel-aged roots
To the superstitious, a black cat is a bad omen. But to underground drinkers during Prohibition, spotting a sign depicting an old tomcat meant you’d hit the gin jackpot.
A precursor to the crisp and clear London dry gin, Old Tom gin was stored and shipped in wooden barrels, so it had a naturally darker hue. Sometimes it was sweeter or more resiny, thanks to the addition of sugar or, yes, turpentine. Swill or not, Old Tom was probably better than no Tom.
There’s a cocktail for every mood and moment, says John Burns, our man at the bar
To me, cocktails are mood on ice. They elevate a moment, enhance life. They’re the pocket squares of gastronomy, the clever patterned socks that tie it all together and keep the same old interesting. In that way, they distill our best selves.
When I travel, I always treat myself to an interesting bar off in some neighbourhood (thanks for the research, city magazines!) and in preparation, run through the questions. What will I wear? What time of day will I visit? And, of course, what will I order? The whole sums to this: For these precious minutes, who will I be? Cary Grant? Steve McQueen? (Hey, don’t laugh at other people’s self-delusions.)
“After the first glass, you see things as they are. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” — Oscar Wilde
Absinthe, the fabled Green Fairy that ran amok through Paris at the height of the Belle Époque, remains the most polarizing spirit on the bar shelf.
Our man at the bar, John Burns, explores the mystical properties of Magical Drinking
The rest of the world has moved on, but I’m still hung up on Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Top of the eighth, the Chicago Cubs were ahead 6–3, then gave away three runs for the Cleveland Indians to tie it up heading into the ninth. When play resumed in extra innings after a rain delay, Cubs second baseman (and series MVP) Ben Zobrist hit an RBI double for the go-ahead run that brought a 108-year drought to its end.
Relief Cubs pitcher Jon Lester let in those three runs, but that’s OK. The guy’s a hero (a story for another time), and more germane to a cocktail magazine, he secured this historic victory through magic. When the Cubs started their pre-season in April, the Commons Club in the Virgin Hotels Chicago offered the Never Quit: a fundraiser cocktail for Lester’s favourite charity, with vodka, peanut syrup and leaf alcohol, topped with Old Style lager. The twist: the vodka was macerated with Lester’s pitcher’s mitt. Yes, it was a drink of fake grass, peanuts and leather, which sounds terrible — like a Moscow Mule minus all the good bits — except, to repeat, it appeared in the same season that Lester helped shutter a century-long curse. Coincidence? I think not.
The South American grape brandy offers bartenders so much more than a simple sour
Katie Ingram is a sucker for history. The head bartender of Gastown’s L’Abbatoir is talking pisco, the South American spirit that shows up in sours the world over, and in no time at all, she’s taken us right back to the Ice Age.
Raise a glass to the resurrection of the Vancouver Cocktail
Gin, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine and orange bitters. It sounds simple, but so do many of the world’s legendary cocktails. And the Vancouver Cocktail deserves to be recognized among the classics.
What’s that, you say? Never heard of YVR’s hometown cocktail? You’re not alone. The Vancouver Cocktail joins a legion of forgotten drinks that have recently been rediscovered by dogged cocktail historians. In this case, that historian was bartender-turned-consultant Steve Da Cruz.