In this episode of “Cocktail College,” Tim McKirdy sits down with Joaquín Simó of New York City’s Pouring Ribbons. They explore the extensive history of the Sidecar, a classic cocktail made with Cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice.
As with all classic drinks, the Sidecar’s origin story is slightly murky. Simó shares the various iterations of the tale, and explains how to select ingredients that make for a perfect Sidecar. Tune in as McKirdy and Simó taste a selection of Cognacs well suited for the cocktail.
Joaquín Simó’s Classic Sidecar Recipe
- 2 ounces Cognac, preferably Pierre Ferrand 1840
- ¾ ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
- ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon rich Demerara sugar syrup (2:1)
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Add all ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.
- Shake until chilled.
- Strain using a Hawthorne strainer into a chilled coupe glass.
- Garnish with a lemon twist and serve.
CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Tim McKirdy: We are in the VinePair studio today. I’m your host Tim McKirdy, and we are joined by Joaquín Simó. Joaquín, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to the show.
Joaquín Simó’s: Well, thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be one of the first people being able to record this live and in person. And I have to say, I am greatly enjoying the view that you guys have from this office. It’s a pretty spectacular view of Midtown from here.
T: It’s a decent view.
J: Does not suck.
T: I think it helps for inspiration during recording. So we have the curtain open and we’re looking at the majestic Empire State.
J: It just looks beautiful up there; it’s smiling at us.
T: We’re going to talk about a drink that’s similarly iconic today, within the cocktail field. Today’s drink is the Sidecar. This is a drink that has a historical, iconic formula. It’s maybe one of those that’s also gone the way of, perhaps, not being as ordered that much these days compared to before. What would you say, just off the bat, about the Sidecar?
J: It is the most quintessential cocktail associated with brandy and, specifically, Cognac. The Margarita is that for tequila, and that makes sense because they’re both cousins; they’re both Daisies. Right off the bat, when someone thinks “brandy cocktail,” they don’t usually pull out Vieux Carre. They don’t usually either Champs-Élysée or Jimmy Roosevelt. They always say Sidecar. It’s the first brandy cocktail I ever learned working at a neighborhood college bar in Boston. I made one of them once and I turned to the senior bartender and was like, “It’s a Margarita, but with brandy instead of tequila, and lemon instead of lime.” That made immediate sense of like, “Gotcha.” And, of course, we had sour mix off the gun. Not a lot for us to choose there. But, you know, we were still making them.
T: That’s a great point about this being a very similar formula to the Margarita, in essence here. So we’re talking about Daisy cocktails. Can you tell us about that specific category? And that’s a template for cocktails, right? It’s kind of recreated with different base spirits and ingredients. But is this the first Daisy that we come across in history? And can you tell us about the background of the drink?
J: If we really want to go back to what the origins of the drink are, we’re actually going back a little bit further, or roughly contemporary to the Daisy. And that would be the Brandy Crusta. The Crusta was first published in the Jerry Thomas 1862 book, but it was not created by him. He actually gave credit to Joseph Santini, who ran Jewel of the South in New Orleans. We have some good friends, Chris Hannah and such, who opened up Jewel of the South again down there. And they do a mean Crusta down there — so I’ve heard. I haven’t been there since they’ve been able to reopen. I think Jerry Thomas misspelled his name, he called him “Santina” rather than Santini, in the book. But we know it dates back to somewhere around the 1840s, 1850s. That would have been two to three dashes of gum arabic, two dashes of bitters, two ounces of brandy, one or two dashes of Curaçao, a teaspoon of lemon, and then a lemon peel for garnish. That would have been the classic Brandy Crusta. The Brandy Crusta is best known not for what’s in the glass, but rather for what’s on the glass. And that was that thick crust of sugar wrapped around the top of it and that beautiful peel over the top. This was served, usually, in a very small wine glass. The idea was, you would find a lemon that basically fit in the wine glass. Then, you would take the peel of that and get it to just expand and fit. So you would form a watertight seal around the thing. This was something you almost had to prep ahead of time, because trying to do that á la minute is really difficult. The point is, then you could sip it and you’d be sipping it from the peel, not from the lip of the glass.
J: So if you’re trying to do it last minute, that’s nearly impossible to do. You almost have to let that kind of sugar and the peel form a waterproof seal, and then you’re able to sip it through that. Obviously, that’s quite a bit of work. So you can see where the Crusta soon gave way to a slightly less labor-intensive version of it. The Crusta also typically had Maraschino in it as well. When you start seeing the Daisy, it starts to just become a Curaçao cocktail. We’re seeing it sometime in the mid-1800s, that’s around the first appearances of a Daisy. You see it with gin, you see with brandy. And the word Daisy originates from 19th-century slang for something extraordinary. So, it’s the same word from which “doozie” is derived. That’s where that comes from. As Dave Wondrich tells us time and time again, most of the origin stories that we’ve learned are probably false. That’s the issue with boozy history. Most of the people who were there were probably drunk, and no one remembers it clearly.
T: Let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story.
J: Absolutely not. By the later parts of the 19th century, this was a super-established template. And it’s being made with pretty much everything you can see under the sun: some combination of a base spirit, a liqueur — usually an orange liqueur — and lemon juice. Sometimes, you would see a splash of soda from a siphon. It’s so inconsistent, because they never say how much. But you’d have to imagine it’s probably about a quarter-ounce or half-ounce. I would imagine they’re shaking with very different ice than what we’re shaking with now. So maybe a little extra dilution or adding a little cold water in there to keep softening it. Add a little effervescence. As we know, you want shaken cocktails to dance on the tongue as you get it. So hitting it up with a little carbonated water is going to help with that. But I think the best thing that we need to take back from this, because we always think of a Sidecar as a three-ingredient drink, is that all of those early Daisies did call for a few dashes of gum arabic syrup. A sugar syrup in which you’ve had this kind of thickening agent, that’s gum arabic, where you’ve got to heat it up and you’re whisking it over heat, and it’s just kind of a pain in the ass to make. But at the end of that, what you get is this crazy, silky viscosity that you don’t just get with a regular sugar syrup. The mouthfeel of it is just so cool, and that’s why people really love doing it. It was less of a sweetener and more of a texturing agent. That’s the biggest misconception that people have about sugar and cocktails, and they’re absolutely terrified of it. Everyone just wants to prove they have the driest palate, as though they’re going to get a medal for it, as opposed to just losing all of the enamel off their teeth. You don’t need to have zero sugar in these drinks. You need sugar to balance them out. I always compare white sugar to just plain butter and then something like cane or Demerara to being like a brown butter. If you’re cooking and you’re making a pan sauce at the end, when you’re throwing in that little pad of butter, it just adds body to it. It doesn’t make it a butter sauce, but it just gives it a lot of heft and weight, and it allows all those other flavors to spring forward. That’s how it works in drinks, too. The problem with most Sidecars is that they taste a little thin, they taste acidic, they sometimes taste bitter, like you almost get a pithiness on the finish that’s really unpleasant. A little bit of sugar, a teaspoon of sugar, cures all of that and allows all those other flavors to go. When you go back to those early Daisy specs and you see that they’re adding two to three dashes of gum arabic, you’re like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” They knew back then that this is kind of drinkable, but not really that pleasant. So you have to add the sugar. And they weren’t scared to do it then, and we shouldn’t be scared to do it now.
T: We’re going to get into that later on, in terms of your own spec and your own approach to this cocktail. But I was wondering if you can tell us there for just about the most recognized, modern day spec of this drink. And where that dates back to and how we evolved from that kind of classic Crusta into the birth of the Sidecar and its modern-day recognition.
J: Well, as with any great cocktail, it is home to considerable debate. And everyone’s trying to take credit for it. There are roughly three people who are making a fairly legitimate claim. Probably most famously is Harry McElhone. It appeared in his 1922 “ABC of Cocktails.” But you also see it in Robert Vermeire’s 1922 “Cocktails: How to Mix Them.” I don’t think he was claiming that he’d invented it. You also have Frank Meyer, who claims to have invented it as well. Frank Meyer was bartending at the Ritz in Paris, I want to say. But the one who actually gets credited by Harry McElhone was a guy named Pat McGarry, and he was bartending at the Buck’s Club in London. And he’s the guy who created the Buck’s Fizz. Anyone who’s ever been to a brunch now knows it as a Mimosa. So this guy’s got a couple of classics under his belt. Pat McGarry does not get enough credit in the general public. Everyone’s lionizing a lot of other guys, but that dude makes two of the more popular drinks that you’ve ever seen.
T: These things therefore go back to that. We’re looking at Paris and we’re looking at London, to a certain lesser extent, which makes sense. Cognac, being the kind of main spirit that we’ll get into here, comes from France and also just has long ties to London as well and England, in general.
J: So you have two general schools. If we’re looking at England and France, the French school is an equal parts recipe. The English school is more of a 2-1-1 style. You do have a little bit of a disconnect there. The French, of course, love to take the credit, because they believe that it was made originally in Harry’s New York Bar. While Harry himself said that that is not the case, it’s probably hard to argue that that’s where it was popularized. The origin story, the fanciful one, is that it was Armistice Day or something. You have the American army captain who had come up to the bar in the sidecar of his friend’s motorcycle. That’s what he wanted, to have a drink that would warm him up before dinner. But it’s immoderate to drink Cognac before dinner; it should be lighter, right? The French had all their rules about what you consume before and during and after meals. So he mixes Cointreau and lemon juice with it. Thus, the Sidecar was born. A beautiful story, and one probably as true as the bartender who picked up the bottle of Prosecco instead of gin and created the Negroni Sbagliato. You have to be a pretty dumb bartender to make that mistake.
T: They’re not very similar bottles.
J: Doesn’t really seem all that likely, but it’s a great story, and it does give a great credence to like where the name of it came from. There probably was an army captain who loved to drink and was probably during the local hooch. So it’s not that there isn’t a kernel of truth to these things, but we probably do need to take them with a giant boulder of salt.
T: When you’re first getting into cocktails, this is a drink that you learn about early on. But I do love that as a name, the Sidecar. It’s a great name for a classic cocktail.
J: The funny thing is, it’s also become a word that gets used in a very different context. In craft cocktail circles, if you’re ordering a Martini or a Manhattan, or a lot of stirred drinks at a lot of bars — especially ones where they’re favoring really small glasses like a 4- or 5-ounce glass — a lot of the time they will pour two-thirds of the drink in there and then put the rest into a little sidecar that they set under crushed ice and it’s sitting next to your drink. So basically, the last half of your drink is just as cold as the other part, and you get to pour it in when you’re going through it. And I think that’s a beautiful thing, too. No matter how you want to view Sidecar, it’s still playing this awesome role in cocktail culture. I love it, both as an actual drink and as that cheeky accompaniment.
T: Would you ever sidecar your Sidecar?
T: No? It’s not in that mold of stirred, spirit-forward Martini. I’m always thinking about Martinis, but they’re sociable.
J: It’s like, who’s gonna let it sit long enough, to actually get warm over?
T: You mentioned the equal parts spec there. That French spec of 2-1-1 or two and then equal parts of the other ingredients, those are the more modern-recognized ratios these days.
J: Yeah. The French version with the equal parts is the one that David Embury included in the “Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” in ’48.” So that became very popular because of David.
T: It was the French one that was equal parts, and the British were 2-1-1?
T: Oh, OK. Well, that’s another victory for Britain. Thank you very much.
T: Sorry, carry on.
J: But David Embury was a lot of things; opinionated would certainly be one of them. Not a bartender would also be another. He was a lawyer. A very opinionated lawyer. Imagine that, how few of those exist. So David Embury backed up the French version of it. He also called it a version of a Daiquiri but with brandy instead of rum and Cointreau instead of sugar syrup. And I’m like, “But it also has different citrus.” This seems like a big stretch. I don’t love Embury. I enjoy reading him for fun, but I don’t care for his specs at all. A lot of his assertions that he says are indisputable are, in fact, very disputable. But regardless, he has published a book that has stood the test of time and is something that people do refer back to. But I think the 1-1-1, if you try it, is basically undrinkable.
T: That’s another thing, too. You can talk about historical accuracy or you can talk about the undisputed. But ultimately, the test is the taste test, right? If it doesn’t hold up, then who cares? That makes sense, because we’re talking as well about two alcoholic beverages of very different proof, and then something that’s not alcoholic and it’s citrus and it’s very acidic. So it doesn’t sound like how I want to mix this drink.
J: It’s just terrible. I don’t love the 2-1-1, either, but I would definitely take that over the French version of it. The sugar rim, which is commonly associated with the Sidecar, actually doesn’t show up until the 1930s.
T: Oh, really?
J: It’s not in any of the original recipes for the Sidecar. It seems like something that they borrowed from the Crusta. Oh, look, it’s basically that. So instead, we’ll just do it here.
T: It’s interesting that that is the evolution, therefore it wasn’t something that got brought along and dragged along with it. It also makes sense, right? You can imagine some bartender at that point, looking back historically and saying, “Well, actually, what we’re doing here is essentially this drink, so let’s bring that back.” It makes sense.
J: Yeah. If you really think about it, that would have been the Prohibition era. If you look at the actual drinks that came about in Prohibition and the ones that were popular, what do they all have in common? They all have fairly aggressive sweeteners. You’re looking at honey, you’re looking at Grenadine, they have texturing agents like egg white and cream. What were they mixing with, especially in the U.S.? It was a lot of stuff that was being stretched, a lot of stuff that was being adulterated, compounded, rectified. However you want to think about it, they were obviously using a lot of these things to mask the flavor. So having something like sugar on the rim makes a ton of sense, because you have this granulated sugar that’s giving you a lot of flavor right off the bat, even though it’s not really doing anything to affect the sweetness of the drink. And we’ll get into that a little later with the garnish. But it’s certainly one of those things where that was not originally in the Daisy, but you see it become an integral part of the Sidecar. And then the savory approach in its kissing cousin, the Margarita, with salt instead of sugar. So you do see Daisies start to come around that always have some sort of rim.
T: Interesting. I never made that connection there, despite always making the connection between the two drinks. The salt, for some reason, felt like it was just a modern take.
J: We went to celebrate a successful new business venture many years ago, and we were in Columbus Center. So we were already in the building. We’re like, “Oh, why don’t we swing by.” It’s just when they’re opening up, maybe we can just grab a seat at the bar and we’ll get a drink. I got a Martini. My business partner got a Sidecar. It was rimmed with salt. That did not work out.
T: That’s not something you want to mix up.
J: It’s not great with sugar, but it is legitimately terrible with salt.
T: One of my first jobs in London when I was working as a chef, I was working at a five-star hotel, and hotel kitchens are a weird vibe — very different from restaurants. We had one pastry chef who was very unfortunate, because on one occasion he made donuts for a morning meeting and he deep fried them in oil that had been used for fish and chips consistently. He clearly didn’t taste his creation after that because he served them out, and that was terrible. The second one he, it was donuts again, and he rolled them in salt instead of sugar, and those got sent as well. So yeah, that guy.
J: Are we sure this wasn’t some passive aggressive behavior on his part? Are we sure he didn’t have it in for someone who is at the meeting? That person who spoke to him poorly and it’s like, “You know what? Screw you.”
T: I’ll tell you what, pastry chefs tend to be very quiet and keep to themselves, but they do let anger build up. That’s my experience. So maybe that was the case.
J: I know a few pastry chefs, and I can definitely attest to that. Quiet but deadly.
Breaking Down The Sidecar
T: Yeah, absolutely. Watch out for them. Do not piss them off. Going back to that formula, you said that the 2-1-1 is not your preference these days. We can get into that after, but in general, big picture, what are you looking for exactly from a perfectly balanced Sidecar? What do you want to taste in the glass?
J: It’s all about harmony, right? What you want is to make sure that the Cognac is front and center. When you say that, that means you’re talking about floral notes, fruity notes, oak, and spice. So all of those things can form that backbone of that drink in such a beautiful way. The vegetal notes and citrus and salinity form the backbone of a Margarita. So that has to be there. And then you have this marvelous marriage of two different forms of citrus. You have sweet orange and sour lemon. Those things, when executed properly, have this dictionary definition of fruity but not sweet. That’s like that holy grail for a guest. Everyone who comes into the bar is like, “Oh, like anything fruity, but I don’t like sweet.” And I’m like, “OK, that’s cool. What do you usually drink.” They say Malibu and pineapple. Like, you have a very interesting definition of not sweet. But really, that’s what you want. You want to make sure that you’re getting all of those orchard fruit notes, whether they’re cooked, baked, poached, dried, that you’re getting from the brandy. You want all of those confectionery notes from the barrel aging. All of that should be kind of melding seamlessly with, while simultaneously being uplifted by, this complex harmony of citrus notes. So you’re getting candied peels, you’re getting fragrant oils, you’re getting that sharp sourness, and all of that should end fairly dry. What wine people call “moorish,” where you put it down and immediately want to pick it back up again. That’s a well-made Sidecar, where it’s almost compulsive. That’s why you don’t need a sidecar for a Sidecar, because you keep wanting to go back to it almost immediately. It’s this giant fruit bomb in a really, really cool way, where you’re getting two very different sides of the fruit spectrum that end up harmonizing beautifully.
T: That’s some real interesting points in there that I’d love to just add to or reply to, because that’s something I hadn’t considered about this drink in quite how fruity it is. And you’re so right, because we’re talking about the orange liqueur, right, and lemon straight up, but then Cognac. Certain bottles that we’ll get into have this incredible range where it comes to fresh orchard fruits, but also dried fruit in there. On top of all that, you mentioned the influence of barrel aging. All of these things are perceptions of sweetness without actually being sweet. So maybe that’s why you have to be so careful with the sweetness that you’re adding. Because vanilla from barrels or whatever, these things trick the mind into thinking that we’re drinking something sweet.
J: You add a touch of vanilla to something and it’s not gotten any sweeter. Because vanilla itself isn’t sweet, but there’s a roundness to those flavors that you translate as something that is sweet, and you associate vanilla with baked goods. Now, all of a sudden, you have this like, “Oh yeah, of course that’s sweet.” But a lot of the time, if you balance it right, it’s remarkably dry. Not in an unpleasant way, but in that way that isn’t confection and that isn’t cloying. It’s like how a Grasshopper sits on your palate. It coats your palate. A well-made Daisy does not. It goes down and it finishes dry and clean, and it is almost compulsively drinkable.
T: As a template, is it more forgiving than a Daiquiri?
J: Less so.
T: You think it’s less forgiving?
J: I think it’s less so, and that goes down to the sugar. Because what orange liqueur you pick up is going to radically change what it’s doing in that drink. If you pick up a Cointreau or Pierre Ferrand or Grand Marnier, depending on which one you’re picking, they are all slightly different proofs. So it’s not as easy as Mr. Potato Head to do that. With a Daiquiri, you’re generally looking at either just sugar that you’re dissolving or granulated sugar you’re dissolving in the lemon and the lime juice. If you’re super traditional or if you’re using a syrup, most of the time it’s a one-to-one. You don’t see it that often with a two-to-one. Usually it’s white sugar, sometimes with cane, very rarely with something heavier. But that sugar syrup gives you more, since it has higher Brix, or more sugar. It’s a little easier to balance out, especially in equal parts, with the sharpness of fresh citrus, where the liqueur doesn’t have the same level of sweetness, and it’s usually done in equal parts with the citrus. Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a lack of body that’s going on. So I think it’s easier to nail the Daiquiri in terms of the balance, where I think you really have to know your ingredients to nail a Sidecar. Which is why, annoyingly, Sidecars are one of those perpetually disappointing drinks in a lot of places. You get it and you’re like, “That’s a shame.”
Tasting Cognacs for the Sidecar
T: Next time. Well, that’s a wonderful and very natural segue into our ingredients section. I’m very excited today because this is the first time, whether remote or in-person, that one of our guests has brought in ingredients for us to taste side by side as we talk through them. Obviously, we’re going to go with Cognac first, and this is an incredible world. Tell us what you’ve brought for us today. Tell us what you’re thinking about when it comes to Cognac and the different things that we’re going to be chatting through now.
J: Absolutely. I brought three different Cognacs, two of which are bottled at a slightly higher proof than is traditional for Cognac, which is usually kept at 80. Both of these are bottled at 90. Then, I have one that is very old, a 40-year-old example, that is absolutely wonderful and lovely. We’re going to get a taste of that, then we’re going to talk about why, maybe, the younger ones are actually going to translate better into this drink.
T: Well, I am excited for that 40-year-old. But first up here, so we have Pierre Ferrand 1840. Tell us about this Cognac and tell us about it within the lens of the Sidecar.
J: So this is a Cognac that was developed by two of the nerdiest people who I know, who are also absolutely lovely and wonderful hosts, Dave Wondrich and Alexander Gabriel. Wondrich is the historical oracle of booze, and then Alex is the guy behind Maison Ferrand, the Pierre Ferrand line of Cognac, Citadelle Gin.
T: Wonderful gin, by the way. An incredible looking bottle.
J: Yeah, it’s very sexy. He is happiest in some light room, surrounded by old, dusty books, nerding out and trying to find stuff. So he and Dave obviously have a lot in common, and they collaborated on bringing back a style called Three Star Cognac. This was a style of Cognac that was very popular in the 1800s and 1900s, and it was basically designed to be mixed. This was generally younger, more fruit-forward, floral, bombastic, often slightly higher proof as well. This is not the Cognac that you are going to sit by the fireplace in a snifter with an old dear friend while contemplating the mysteries of life. It’s definitely not that Cognac.
T: This is one that those Parisian bars wouldn’t have minded us having in some form before dinner then?
J: Exactly. Yeah, this was definitely not something that was aged too long. This is young and punchy, and that’s kind of what you want, because once you start throwing lemon juice into things, you’re going to start to lose a lot of nuance. That’s really the beautiful thing.
T: And is this a V.S., then? With Cognac, we have V.S., V.S.O.P., X.O. Or is this just categorized, but it’s specifically designed for this purpose?
J: It’s categorized as Three Star, which I think is a little younger.
T: So that is an official categorization?
J: Yeah, I think the minimum age for V.S. is a little younger. But knowing Alex, they always throw some old stuff into their stuff just to add a little balance, even if it’s a fractional amount. But this generally just drinks as a fairly young brandy. You’ve got tons of floral notes like rosehips and rosebuds.
T: This isn’t very useful just in terms of an audio format, but you can tell by looking at this compared to other Cognac. It’s lighter in color. I would describe this as a dark honey or amber. Amber and orange wine, maybe. Well, that’s a spectrum these days. As someone who runs a bar and someone with intimate knowledge of mixing drinks, do you care too much when it comes to age statements? Or is it purely just the profile of what’s in the glass?
J: Age statements matter to a certain extent, especially in Cognac. There’s a price point to consider as well when you’re trying to mix things. By the time you’re getting into your X.O.s, they’re not pricing a lot of this stuff on the liquid. They’re pricing it on the glass that it’s being stored in. If you have some hand-blown Baccarat bottle that it’s going in, that’s going to be a $2,000 bottle. The juice inside of it is great, but really, you’re paying for the glass. I remember sitting at the bar at ABC back when that was still open, and watching someone order this gorgeous $120 X.O. Cognac, but they wanted it in a Sidecar but with lime juice. I saw four rounds of that go over, and there was that one single tear going down my face as it was coming out. That stuff spent decades in a barrel, and you’re burying it in citrus. So that hurts from a price point that should be enjoyed differently, but mostly because it’s not going to make a better drink. So you’re spending so much more to make a drink less interesting. If you’re going to spend that much, it should exponentially make it better. It doesn’t really translate that way with that. So I tend to go Three Star V.S. to maximum V.S.O.P.
T: When it comes to Sidecars?
J: Sidecars, and just mixing in general. You can use something a little older in something like an Old Fashioned. If you’re doing a Cognac Old Fashioned or a Japanese cocktail, which is basically that but sweetened with, or shot, then you can get away with something a little mellower. Because you’re seasoning it a little less, you don’t have that aggressive citrus component going on in there. So at that point, if you have a light hand with your bitters and your sweetener, you’re still letting the spirit itself shine. But for the most part, I wouldn’t be mixing with X.O.s or really high end V.S.O.P.s.
T: You’ve given a great description in terms of the profile of this 1840. Any other thoughts on this specific bottling before we move on to our next example that you brought with you?
J: Well, I just like the balance of this. All in all, this has a really good balance between the floral, the fruity, and the spice, right? The oak is there, but it’s not overbearing. It’s obviously not new oak. It doesn’t have those big walloping notes. All in all, it’s really balanced. And all the flavors seem to be turned up a little high. It’s slightly high strung to drink it neat, so you can see where it’s going to be mixing really well, because it tends to want to shout in the glass.
T: From a personal perspective, just approaching this glass, it’s intensely aromatic. But the fruit that I get in there, it’s young, it’s vibrant. It’s not these decadent raisins or dried fruit notes, which are wonderful but have a time and a place for me when it comes to Cognac. So I can immediately see how this is going to be a fantastic cocktail ingredient. We have our second glass in front of us here. Tell us about this Cognac and tell us how it differs from the previous one that we’ve been discussing.
J: Even just color, if you side-by-side them, this one’s several shades lighter. It’s the Dudognon selection. This is another one that is designed to be mixed. Again, it’s bottled at 90 proof and is pretty young, made in a very traditional style. By law, all Cognac stills have to be operated with a live flame. But this family, I think it’s a father and his daughter, don’t use gas for their flame, which is really easy to control. They’re using a wood fire during that process, which adds a whole other level of complexity and — let’s face it — badassery to that approach. You’ve really got to know what you’re doing if you’re attending to a live fire while distilling. That’s ridiculous; that’s pretty fierce.
T: Again, not perfect for audio, but this is lighter. I would say, we’re much in that honey than golden-honey territory. To go to those aromas, it’s fresh, bright, floral, wonderful, and just lively.
J: It’s just so floral, right? It’s so delicate. This has an elegance to it. It’s doing a different dance, I think, than the 1840. The 1840 was very aggressive and not a mosh pit, but definitely robust. This is slinking around. It’s subtle. And so you can already tell when you’re mixing with those two, you may have to adjust your proportions a little bit. Or maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, if I’m picking a modifier for this, that orange liqueur maybe has to be more subtle.” Yeah, because otherwise it might drown it out. This is a more delicate, more floral-driven Cognac. The best part about being a bartender is knowing your modifiers. If this is the base, then what do you reach for to modify it? Whether that’s a Manhattan, a Martini, or Sidecar, knowing which vermouth or which liqueur is going to be that perfect pairing for that. And that’s why doing side-by-side comes in really handy. And it’s super fun.
T: One thing about this particular Cognac, by the way, it’s a producer that we love here at VinePair. It wasn’t this particular bottling, but one of theirs made our Top 50 Spirits list of 2021. This is a producer that we love for that very kind of characteristic that runs throughout their range, which is bright and floral and delicate. But as you say, it’s more nuanced and you just got to be a little less heavy handed with it.
J: It caresses your cheek. It doesn’t smack you. That’s a big difference. Both are a hand to the face; it just feels a little different.
T: It’s so different in, like we said, from appearance to aromas and flavors. The final one here for us on the Cognac section. I gotta say, I’m excited. I believe this is the oldest Cognac I’ve ever tasted. So talk us through.
J: This is a 40-year-old bottling from Dudognon. Just the color alone of this is many, many, many shades darker, even than that 1840. Which was many, many shades darker than the Dudognon selections. So this has obviously gotten a ton of time and wood. The beauty of it here is at this point, it is all cooked and dried fruit and all of those notes. There’s so much barrel influence on here. French oak is all about that nutmeg, cinnamon, baking spices that come out really heavy, where American oak is more vanilla, coconut, lime, and stuff like that. The French oak is just a spice cabinet in there.
T: And obviously, we’re going to the extreme here, because it’s 40 years old. But this portion could essentially be the X.O. portion of what we’re talking about here. We’re just taking it to the extreme.
J: I just happen to have a bottle of this kicking around. I thought, “Well, if he’s going to be nice enough to invite me, I’m not going to show up empty handed.”
T: And I just happened to be nice enough to allow you to pour this. Well, can I just say as well that this is something that’s so important to me when it comes to tasting spirits in general. Whether it’s for cocktails or whether it’s just something that you’re going to drink neat, age doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. I’ve tasted some very old Cognacs in my time, and they’ve been a little tired and you’re like, “I wish you’d released this or taken it out of the barrel maybe five years before.” This is not one of those, and I have no idea what it retails for or how easy it is to get. But this is still so alive, because you mentioned that those fruit flavors have gone to another end of the spectrum. But it’s still so vibrant and brimming with energy. I get candied ginger on it. It takes me to this new place, and yeah, that’s wonderful.
J: Thing has one of those things that is very prized in Cognac, and indeed in any barrel-aged spirit. That’s been long-aged. And that’s that note of rancio. Rancio is almost when you start getting a savory, earthy, mushroom-y or forest floor kind of note that’s coming out in there. That is these volatile fatty acids over time that degrade and oxidize and they turn into this whole thing. That is such a special thing to find and to distillate. It takes so long to develop that over time, and it’s so slow. The notion of throwing lemon juice into this is not good. You can’t do it.
T: Talk to us through the lens of the Sidecar. Because you’re right, it’s incredible that it’s still standing up after all this time. But like you said, it’s developed all this complexity so why would you bombard it with other ingredients? It just doesn’t make sense.
J: That the flavors that this is representing best are the ones that take the longest to unfold. The beauty of this is the nuance, the subtleties that are being found in this. And they keep revealing themselves, even as they keep sitting out and as it keeps aerating a bit. You go back to it like, “Oh, I’m getting different stuff now.” It’s so subtle and it’s so beautiful. The progression of flavors and the structure — everything is just so perfect that you would never want to throw citrus into this, where the other two are perfectly lovely. You won’t be mad about having a sip of it.
T: No, no, not at all. But they are more designed for cocktails. Is it horses for courses for you when it comes to the other two? Do you have a favorite, in terms of which you would be your go-to for Sidecars? Or is it more of a case of seasonal, or the profile of drink that you’re looking to achieve at that moment?
J: I think sadly, right now, the supply chain issues that are affecting just about everyone are also affecting the spirits industry. So sometimes, you just have to go with the one that you have available to you, which is a very realistic thing. But my default would be the 1840. I do like how punchy it is, I do like how big and assertive it is, and I feel like that is a really fun, kind of loud and bombastic way to introduce people to this great drink. The Dudognon is something that I would probably save for people whose palate I already know, or people who I think are ready to handle a change of pace, or people who I know value things that are a little more toned down. Maybe they’re your Bamboo drinkers or stuff like that.
T: It’s the B-side.
J: Exactly. We all know, sometimes the B-sides are better than the A-side.
Tasting Orange Liqueurs for the Sidecar
T: Oh my God. Don’t get me started. There are some fantastic albums of all B-sides. There’s an Oasis one that I love, but that’s going too far. Next, we’re going to move on to our orange Curaçao triple sec. I guess it really does depend upon the bottle that you’re picking up.
J: Yeah, exactly, and the brand. There’s so many, between triple sec and Curaçao and all of those things you see ones that are relatively low proof and full of the cheapest sugars imaginable. And then you have stuff that is made with some long-aged Cognacs as a base and stuff like that. So the range of them is absolutely enormous.
T: Cointreau being the best known, though.
J: Yeah, without a doubt.
T: Those are almost exclusively used when folks are mixing Margaritas. Probably very popular for this drink, because most bars will have it there.
T: You haven’t brought Cointreau today, though?
J: I somehow was out of it at both the house and the bar. So I was not able to pour some into a little bottle to bring it over.
T: But that’s not one that you would typically reach for in terms of your build for this cocktail, either?
J: It depends on the Cognac. Cointreau would actually play beautifully with that Dudognon because it’s a little lighter and a little leaner. You have tons of bright orange, you get a little bit of vanilla, but it’s not excessively confectionary. It’s really focused on that orange note. So when you’re pairing that with something that’s a little lighter and brighter like that Dudognon, that’s a really great harmony. With something that has a little bit more of that spice complexity to it, I prefer Pierre Ferrand 1840. That is very confectionary. You do have almost like a marzipan note. You’re getting all this beautiful nutmeg in addition to the orange. All of these are made with the oils from the peels of Curaçao oranges. Curaçao is, of course, this tiny, little rocky outpost just north of Venezuela. You’re really close to the Equator when you’re that far south. So the sun is very, very intense. If you cut a Curaçao orange in half and you look at it, it doesn’t look anything like the orange that you and I would pick up at the supermarket. That is usually very thin peel, it has a medium thin pith, and then a whole lot of fruit. This is the exact opposite. This is a largely inedible fruit; you wouldn’t be able to eat a Curaçao orange. It’s completely inedible. Instead, it has a massively thick skin and the pith, because it’s basically protecting itself from the sun. With all of that thick skin, that means that it’s packed with essential oils, which is why either liquor distillers or perfumers have prized Curaçao oranges for centuries, because of how great it is with that max orange flavor per peel. A great Curaçao is always defined by the intensity of that citrus. The nice thing about the Pierre Ferrand that I like is that it’s both done with unaged brandy and then it does have some aged Cognac.
T: Sorry, just to rewind one second. The Cointreau for the base alcohol, is that a neutral spirit that is being used for that? I’ve never been too sure about that.
J: I want to say it’s a neutral spirit. I want to say it’s a grape distillate.
T: But it’s unaged, importantly, compared to the other two examples that you’ve brought today. Let’s get into those. Tell us about the No. 1 that you’ve brought.
J: Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, so it’s the same guys who do the 1840, and similarly to the 1840, this was a collaboration between Wondrich and Alex. They wanted to do a very classic triple sec that was three times distilled with the bitter peels, and then they’re marrying it with a little bit of aged brandy, some actual Cognac, and aged Cognac. The base of it is an unaged brandy. They sweeten it with a sugar that they barrel-aged for, I think, a year in Cognac barrels. I’ve had a taste of this sugar, and it is without a doubt the best sugar I’ve ever had in my life. I want everything with this sugar. I am sure it’s exorbitantly expensive if you’re storing it in Cognac barrels for a while, but oh my God. It’s just crazy. What I love about this, is just how confectionary it gets on the nose. Confectionery, not just in terms of baking spice, but also things like that marzipan note. You get a lot of candied peel. You get a faint bitterness to it, but really, it’s almost luxurious. It’s still relatively dry for a liqueur.
T: In terms of aromas, this is every spectrum of the orange on here. We’re getting the essential oils, the juice, maybe not all used within the distillate and the liqueur itself, but you get that range, and it’s very representative of it.
J: The beauty of it, to me, is that in the mid-palate, this thing spikes so high. All of that big, bright citrus, like, creates this massive inverted “V” in terms of how you taste it. The entry is really easy. Then just the mid-palate spikes. As it goes down, is when all that confectionery starts to happen. You start to taste the barrel aging from the distillates that went in there, the sugars, etc. So you have this beautiful journey along there. But that middle part is just beautiful, sweet orange.
T: It’s definitely sweet on the finish. But again, it’s lively and doesn’t weigh down the palate. We’re drinking this, tasting it on its own, but at no point am I worried about putting this in a cocktail turning out what we might describe in wine as “flabby.” Do you know what I mean? This is very alive. Let’s move on from there to our second example today. Tell us what we have here, and tell us how it differs from the Pierre Ferrand that we’ve just tried.
J: So this is Grand Marnier. This is like that O.G. Cognac-based one. Grand Marnier makes a number of bottlings. The more expensive they get, the less of the orange they have, and they concentrate more on the brandy. So this is their classic Cordon Rouge. This one definitely has the biggest note of orange among all of them. But even just smelling it, orange is front and center, without a doubt. Right when you get past that, you get all that beautiful brandy.
T: Yeah, this is definitely more orange-forward than the previous example.
J: This is huge. This is no shrinking violet. This is definitely the heavyweight of it. So this is one that you can pair with that Louis Royer, that you can pair with the 1840 really beautifully. Because it is so big and bombastic. It’s so unashamedly present in the drink. Do you remember getting a Cadillac Margarita at old bars? It was a standard Margarita, but they’d put a little float of Grand Marnier over the top. Even if it was a quarter-ounce or a half-ounce, that made a huge difference in that drink. And that was like, “Oh wow, you’re fancy, you’re getting the Cadillac Margarita.” But that little bit of Grand Marnier can totally transform and elevate — even if you were getting with Cuervo, Rose’s lime juice, sour mix, and whatever triple sec they were using. If you got that little float of Grand Marnier, that covered up a lot of sin. It’s a very big ingredient.
T: I think Eric Castro was saying something very similar in our Margarita episode. So I think he’s a big fan and big proponent of the Cadillac. Tasting those different examples side by side, giving us a glimpse at all of the different options that bartenders such as yourself have when approaching these classic profiles. We can get into your spec afterwards, but let’s just talk about the, typically final ingredient in the drink. But for you, we’re going with two extra ingredients here. So talk us through that.
Sidecar Sweetener and Garnish Options
J: I think we wanted to chat about sugar, first of all. We talked earlier about how the sugar rim was not entirely traditional in the Daisy and in the Sidecar. Rather, it was something that got added from the Crusta. It got adopted in the 1930s. The rim is kind of the worst. It looks pretty if you do it right. But it’s basically a poorly thought out corrective for not enough actual sugar inside of the glass. That goes back to knowing your modifiers and knowing how sweet they are and balancing out how much acid-to-sweet you’re putting in there. So I actually prefer a rich Demerara sugar syrup. I’ll just use a teaspoon of a 2:1 Demerara sugar syrup — two-parts sugar, one-part water. You generally have to do this over heat, because the sugar crystals are so big. If you can find Demerara, turbinado, muscovado, all that also works really well. It’s a relatively unrefined sugar with pretty large crystals. You have to break it down a little bit with a little heat. Or if you have a Vitamix that warms things up anyways, you can just blast it in there and it is very easy. I just add a teaspoon of Demerara to these things, and I actually brought some. It’s basically that brown butter that I was talking about, but steroidally is. It’s super rich. It has all this lovely dark caramel, this toffee. You get all of those foods and those are notes that you get in barrel flavors. You could do it with a one-to-one simple, but it won’t add any flavor, it’ll just add the fat. It’ll give it the body that it needs, but it won’t add that kind of complementary flavor. So I like the Demerara because it’s going to echo a lot of those barrel notes that are going in there. If you absolutely have to do the sugared rim, at least do it properly. There’s definitely a way of doing it. If you do it properly, there’s a term for it. They call it “lacy curtains.” That’s kind of what it looks like. It looks like you’re peering through lacy curtains. You can still see through it, it’s not this thick crust that is impenetrable, but rather it’s got a little pattern to it and it’s really pretty. You can do it for textural reasons, for aesthetic reasons, or simply because you like the flavor and the crunch of that. To rim the glass carefully, you want to hold it upside down and you’re going to take a cut piece of, usually, lemon. And you’re going to just rub that in a centimeter band or so around the glass. You’re always holding it upside down, so if there’s any drip, it doesn’t go down the glass because lemon juice gets really sticky. Continue to hold it facing down, but at a slight angle, and just roll it or tap it into a little plate that has the sugar in there, until it’s covered. You can do a half rim, you can do a full rim, whatever you want. Then just gently wrap the base with the palm of your hand over the sink or over that plate, just to knock off the excess sugar. That should give you a beautiful sugared rim. You don’t want to just do it where you’re dipping the glass straight down into the sugar after moistening the rim, because then you’re going to end up with sugar on both the inside and the outside. Then that means that all of the work you’re going to do with your jiggering could be rendered moot, because now you have some undetermined amount of sugar that’s coming from the rim. It’s never a good idea.
T: Got it. That’s not what we want at all.
T: Fantastic. Give us the final ingredient, and then talk us through your specs and how you would make this drink.
J: The last ingredient is the garnish. If it’s not going to be the sugared rim, it’s usually a citrus peel. A lemon or orange can be used. The lemon is going to dry out the drink a bit, and the orange is probably going to emphasize the sweetness of the drink. That’s totally a personal preference. I’m much more likely to have a lemon peel garnish on a Sidecar in the warmer weather and an orange in the wintertime. Whenever you’re doing a garnish, do it before you make the drink. That’s something that everyone forgets. They’re like, “Oh, a garnish; you do it at the end.” It’s a shaken-up drink; those things have a really short window in which they are absolutely magnificent. So you always want to prep that garnish ahead of time. Peel the orange, trim it down. I like to notch it, where I cut a little line in the center, and then I can perch it on the lip of the glass. So then it’s stuck on there and you can always smell it, but it’s not floating around.
T: Because that’s altering flavor on this drink that you just tried so hard to get perfectly balanced,
J: Depending on how good you are cutting your peel, you may or may not have too much pith, which is going to make it bitter. If that’s floating around in your drink, it’s just going to start getting more and more bitter, and you don’t want that. Moreover, I have kind of a big nose and that whole thing of that little floating garnish sitting there, it’s like a dead body in a kiddy pool and you can’t get away from it. It’s just always in the way. I just want it there. I want it to serve as an aromatic. If I don’t want to do the thing of the trimmed notch peel, I go classic and do that little lemon pigtail twist. If you’ve got a channel knife, do the pigtail twist. Wrap it around a bar spoon or a chopstick. Hold that coil tight so that it actually has a really nice, tight coil, doesn’t just turn into one long, lazy loop. Cut a little quarter-size, half-dollar-sized coin of peel. When you’re done with the drink and you shake it, you put it in the glass, put the peel over the pigtail, affix it to the glass, and then express the coin over it. So you get the aesthetic and you get the aromatic. Because garnish is not aesthetic; garnish is aromatic. That’s what people really fail to understand, the true point of a garnish is to add to the aromatics. If I taste the drink and the nose is flat, the first thing I think is “What garnish could we add to this because it needs help.”.
T: That’s super interesting.
J: If I ever think, “Oh, we need to make this prettier.” If this thing smells amazing, the last thing I want to do is add a lemon peel on it. Let’s stick with that nose. But if the nose is a little flat, that’s when adding some oil or something is going to add to that brightness. That’s going to add some depth, and it’s going to give you an idea as to what’s to come. You’re more likely to taste the orange liqueur if you have orange oil on the nose as you bring it up there. It’s going to prime you for that. If you smell it, you taste it.
Joaquín Simó’s Take On the Sidecar
T: I love that idea of the aromatics of the garnish but also the different seasons when it comes to which you’re opting for, too. Can you tell us, therefore, your preferred recipe now and briefly run through how you would make this cocktail?
J: My preferred spec is 2 ounces of the Cognac. I would default to 1840. Three-quarter ounce of the Pierre Ferrande Curaçau, three-quarter ounce fresh lemon juice, and one teaspoon of a rich Demerara sugar syrup. All of that gets combined in a mixing tin, which I then fill up with ice. Don’t be scared to add ice at home. Trust me: You probably have better ice out of the ice cube trays that are in your freezer than most bars have, which is contact lens ice. That’s designed to stack, and it immediately starts to melt, and there’s no integrity to it. You can probably make better ice at home, so don’t be afraid to use a bunch of it and then shake it. Shake it hard. You really want to give this a good long shake. It should be slightly painful to hold it if you’re doing a two-handed shake. If you’re right-handed, then your left hand would be at the base, and it should almost hurt to hold it. Part of that is because it’s a boozier drink than a lot of people expect. If something is a higher proof or there’s more alcohol in it, it will get much colder. That’s where you want to have an over-proof bourbon for a Julep. You want an over-proof rum for a Swizzle. It’s going to create that frosty layer on the outside of it much more readily because alcohol, like that bottle of vodka you have in your freezer, that’s not actually frozen. Instead, it’s kind of syrupy. If you put water in there, it freezes solid. So obviously, alcohol can really withstand much, much lower temperatures. So the higher proof that things are, the more booze it is, the colder it’ll get. So the left hand is almost going to be stuck, you’re going to peel a couple of fingers off of it and you know that it’s in a good way. So you shake it long, and then you just strain it. I generally don’t fine strain most drinks. I know I’m in the minority of a lot of craft bartenders in that. I found that if you drop your gate, if you really know how to use a Hawthorne shaker and you bring that thing down, that should get rid of nearly all of the ice chips and should get rid of most of the things that would be floating in there normally. That just does the trick for me. I don’t really love fine straining. I feel you lose some of that iteration; you lose some of the texture. So I don’t fine strain most of my drinks. Egg white drinks, yes. Cream drinks, yes.
T: Got it. But for this, the Hawthorne strainer is perfect.
J: A Hawthorne strainer deployed well is usually all that you need to do.
T: Are you going for a coupe glass?
J: Yeah, and I like something that is a little bigger than you might think. I don’t love something where it just barely fits. I like a little wash line to that. It’s going to be a little more forgiving. Like that giant Margarita glass, where you know you’ve got room for everything. You can pick it up without feeling like you’re going to spill it. There’s something comforting about that, and this is a big drink, you know?
T: They’re both Daisies. Why does the Margarita get its own glass, by the way, and the Sidecar doesn’t? We’ve spoken about the sidecar, but that’s a very different topic. But where’s the Sidecar glass? Maybe you just use the Margarita glass.
J: I just love those big, oversized coupes. I really love those; you can find beautiful examples of them all over the place. But even something like a 7- or 8-ounce glass, something that’s a little bigger. Not one of those giant, like, 11- or 12-ounce glasses.
J: Yeah, I mean, you could baptize a kid in one of those. They don’t need something that size, but like an 8 ½-ounce glass, I would probably top out for this. And you got a beautiful wash line and it’s comfortable to hold. You’ve got plenty of room. The aromatics have a little bit of room to develop. So I really, really love that. That’s probably my go-to glass for that, and would just chill it, throw it in the freezer for a little while. Or if you have ice and water, you can do it that way. But even 10 minutes in the freezer is going to cool off that glass quite a bit.
T: Amazing. Well, on the subject of chilled glasses, I actually do have one in the freezer right now. So, Joaquin, this has been amazing going through the Sidecar, going through all of the different components, getting to actually taste them in this episode. Before we delve into our final stock questions for the show, how about we mix up a couple of Sidecars and then we jump into it? How does that sound?
J: Oh, that’s great. One last thing before we go: Just a couple of rules of thumb for the people at home who are going to be making these.
T: Sorry, I’m jumping the gun here thinking about my coupe glass in the freezer there. You have different rules of thumb, which I love.
J: I just want to make sure that people don’t screw things up. Build your drink upside down. If you’re reading the recipe base spirit first, build it from the bottom up. So if there’s a bitter in there, if there’s a teaspoon of something in there, a quarter-ounce, often those are your smallest ingredients. Those are also your cheapest and stickiest ingredients. Throw those in first, then add the citrus, and eventually get your way to the base. If you screw up at any point and you have to throw it down the sink, you’re not throwing out 2 ounces of expensive booze. You’re throwing out 17 cents worth of mixers. So definitely always build your drinks upside down. It’s just so much easier. When you’re actually measuring them, don’t measure it right over the mixing tin.
T: You can always add more, you can’t take away.
J: It’s just going to go right in the one place you don’t want it to go. I always just tell people, “Hold your jigger at about 5 o’clock.” If the mixing tin is a watch-racing, you hold it at 5 o’clock right next to it. You can pour it in, you get that beautiful, positive meniscus pour and you just tilt your fingers and it goes right in. It’s none of this, “I’m going to hold it close to me and I have to get it 18 inches over to the mixing glass and I’m hoping I don’t spill.” Don’t do that. Hold it right next to it. Not over it, but next to it. You can get it in there super, super easily. Last but not least, a general warning about Daisies. Whether they’re Margaritas, Sidecars, Kamikazes, Cosmopolitans, whatever they are, do not underestimate them. Because they are so much boozier than the standard sour. If I’m drinking Daiquiris and you’re drinking Sidecars and we have three rounds, you are up a Daiquiri on me in terms of ABV, in terms of total alcohol consumed. Because all of those orange liqueurs that we just talked about, they’re all the same proof, roughly, as the base spirits. So those are all 40 percent alcohol.
T: We’re “sweetening” with booze, whereas in the sour, we’re talking about simple syrup, sugar, whatever.
J: Two 7.5 ounces of 80-plus proof booze in a Daisy, as opposed to two in something like a Daiquiri or a Gimlet, catches up with people. Trust me, I run a bar that’s on the second floor. I’m hyper conscious of making sure that people are able to get down that stairwell safely as they’re going there. But also, if you just have people over at home and they have to get onto a subway platform, you want to make sure that you are being a good host. And so much of being a responsible bartender or a responsible host is looking out for your guests and making sure that the people who are drinking the Daisies aren’t trying to keep pace with the people who are just drinking highballs or sours. Because those are not made the same, they’re boozier than a Martini. They’re boozier than a Manhattan. It’s so much more booze. Vermouth is really low-proof. So even though it has a bunch of all of that vermouth, it’s still lower proof than that Margarita, which you can guzzle down.
T: That’s a great point, and that’s not something I ever considered. We are adding those other components, you just don’t think about it, but there’s a lot of booze in there.
J: It’s amazing how much citrus mellows out the bite of booze. Yeah, it’s amazing how much it does.
T: Wonderful. Well, we’re going to take a short break and we’re going to jump back in straight away afterwards.
J: All right.
Getting To Know Joaquín Simó
T: Oh, wow, and we are back. I hope that folks listening always make our guest’s drinks after we’ve gone through them. But this is one you would definitely want to go out there and find the ingredients Joaquín has spoken about here. Definitely go for the Demerara simple syrup. This is a wonderful Sidecar, so thank you very much.
J: You’re very welcome. Glad you’re enjoying it.
T: And I have a refreshment here as we go through our stock questions. How are you feeling about those? Are you ready?
J: Oh, definitely ready.
T: Fantastic. Well, let’s kick it off. Question No. 1: What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
J: As a good Latino, I do have to say there is an awful lot of agave distillates and an awful lot of rum on my back bar. Those are probably the biggest categories that we have. There’s so much within each of those. Even from white rums alone, the range that you can find in that one category. And then you start going country to country, and the stylistic difference, it’s just amazing. And then mezcal and tequila and all the different agave distillates. We keep finding different ones and new ones, and we keep getting more and more. It’s the most delicious rabbit hole you can get lost in. That’s probably what occupies the biggest amount of real estate, both in my home bar and as well as on the back bar.
T: Amazing, I love it. Question No. 2: Which ingredient or tool do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
J: That would be an unending reservoir of patience and goodwill towards humanity. You are going to need it. I think that is, without a doubt, the most important thing that you’re going to have as a bartender. You actually genuinely have to like people. And you have to be patient. You have to know that there are people who are going to come and sit at your bar who are having the worst day. If they’re a little rude to you at the beginning, this is not a time to write them off or something. Rather, take that as a challenge and see if you can get them to leave in a vastly better mood than what they walked in with. You’re going to see that face coming in again and again.
T: I love it. Wonderful piece of advice there, and a nice segue into our third question here. What’s the most important piece of advice that you’ve received while working in this industry?
J: It was at my first bar job at a rock and roll bar in Austin. Part of my daily duties was to go and buy every newspaper, everyday, and have them lined up and ready to go. The bar opened at noon and no one would show up before 2 p.m. So from noon to 2 p.m., I just sat there and read every newspaper. That was the best thing possible for me, because someone would walk in and they wanted to talk about sports. They wanted to talk about what movies were playing. They wanted to talk about what shows were in town, who’s playing who, what’s happening in the world. You were prepared for it. And I think that is the best thing. I think it was Jim Meehan who said that mixologists serve drinks and bartenders serve guests. That’s a really important thing to remember. Not everyone wants to listen to a dissertation about bitters. You’re way more useful to your guests if you have a good restaurant recommendation or if you can tell them who the Yankees are playing this week. If they’re coming in from out of town, what they shouldn’t miss. That’s way more instructive than being able to detail the finer points of this amaro versus that one. That is one of those things that just instantly allows you to relate to so many more people. Just being informed enough to ask a good question. You don’t necessarily have to pontificate on these things, but even if that person knows something, you can then ask the right question that allows them to be the star.
T: That’s wonderful. I love it. So much of what we get into in this show, we go real deep on the drinks. But it’s an important reminder that that’s really only probably 50 percent of the job.
J: Oh yeah, less than that. If you’re doing it right, it’s much less than that.
T: Wow, wonderful. Question No. 4: If you could only visit one last bar in your life, past or present, what would it be?
J: Well, that would be the bar at the Connaught Hotel. Specifically if Ago Perrone is working there. Every time I step in that room and you walk in and you see that bar and there’s this giant silver basin sitting there with bottles of Champagne on ice right there. If you’re not celebrating already, your mind immediately starts racing to think of an excuse to celebrate. The whole show of the bar, Ago comes by with the cart, and he’s just so impossibly elegant and Italian and stylish and wonderful. He does that really annoying thing where he’ll start pouring very low and then he’ll go up and up and the stream never changes. Even though he’s pouring into a V-shaped glass, there’s never a bubble that forms on the surface. This man is defying the laws of physics as he’s bartending. And you just are sitting there like, “Wow, I’m really bad at my job.” It’s just impressive how much better he is at that. So if I have to have one last bar experience, let’s make it at the Connaught.
T: Yeah, it’s an amazing bar.
J: Really wonderful.
T: Final question for you: If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
J: I would do a Sazerac with the Pappy 13-year Family Reserve Rye. And I would do that for a couple of reasons. That’s probably my favorite American distillate of all time. It’s unbelievably beautiful, and we used to get bottles of it for not that much money, 30 or 40 bucks. Now it’s distilling unicorn tears. It’s useless to try to find that now. Not unless you want to pay a price with a comma in it. So it’s pretty rare now. But I love it for the flavor. It’s one of my favorite distillates. But I would pick it in that drink as opposed to neat or in a Manhattan, because a Sazerac takes a really long time to drink. I don’t love the Sazerac on the first sip. So if it’s going to be my last drink, I also don’t want it to be a Daiquiri that’s going to be gone in like 45 seconds. I really want it to be something that I’m going to be able to linger over. So if I order Sazerac at a bar, I usually order a Sazerac and a beer. And I’ll take one sip of the Sazerac at the beginning, and then I’ll set it down and drink the beer. After 10 minutes when I’m done with the beer, I will then go back to that Sazerac and I will drink it. And I love when the nose is no longer dominated by the absinthe and the lemon oil. When you start to get that Peychaud’s and you start to get the beautiful base distillate it in there. When all those flavors start coming out and you just hang out with it for like 20 or 30 minutes and it’s not going to get over-diluted because there’s no ice and you can just take your time with it. That’s my happy place.
T: I love it. I’m a Martini drinker at heart. But when I’m moving into aged spirits, I go straight to the Sazerac. I look past the Old Fashioned or the Manhattan. It’s the Sazerac for me.
J: It just sits better than any drink that I know. I was an English major, so I say terribly pretentious things like, “This cocktail should have a narrative arc.” When you really see that that’s happening in a Sazerac, it’s weird because sometimes you’ll be like, “Oh, it’s going to mellow over time.” For this one, it’s just a temperature thing. As it goes from very cold to lukewarm to room temp, the range of flavors that you’re getting out of it is just so astonishing. With that first sip, there’s almost no relation to the last. I love that journey.
T: Amazing. Really wonderfully put. Thank you so much for joining us today, Joaquín. It’s been a real pleasure.
J: Absolutely. Thank you.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.