Friday, April 3, 2009

Cadillac DeVille

The American Distilling Institute Conference kicks off tonight with a party at Anchor Distilling. There’s judging all day at St. George today, and conferencing all day tomorrow, and Meet the Maker on Sunday. The theme this year is brandy, and I’ve been thinking and drinking on brandy all week in anticipation.

Brandy -- and here I mean any spirit made from a mash of fermented fruit -- is the foundation spirit. When the persian alchemist Jabir ibn Haiyan al-Azdl put together the first alembic (and declared the vapor “of little use!”) he was boiling wine.

This is simply because grapes and apples and peaches and whatnot basically ferment themselves. It takes a lot of work to turn corn into gold. From the foundation spirit, in turn, comes one of the foundation cocktails: the sidecar.

There are a lot of cocktails worth learning, but I’m going to go out on a (admittedly sturdy) limb and say that the sidecar is among the most versatile.

Lemon Juice, Cointreau, and Spirit. If you put a bottle of Cointreau on your bar or something like it, you can always make a cocktail. Use gin, it’s a Chelsea Sidecar. Use Tequila, it’s a margarita. Irish whiskey makes an excellent drink. I like them up and I like them on the rocks. Recently, a friend wrote in to announce that he’d had an excellent sidecar made with Cardinal Mendoza and lime juice. It’s so versatile I think it qualifies as a parlor trick. But before you go off into the hinterlands of sidecar experimentation: make it with brandy. (Even cheap brandy.)

Find the proportions that appeal to you. Classic drink writer David Embury likes 8:2:1 (obsessively) and his cocktail (2 oz brandy, 1/2 oz Lemon Juice, 1/4 oz Cointreau) is far too dry for me. Perfection is somewhere between that and equal parts of all. I can’t tell you what you like. Make them, if you don’t like them, make them again.

What I don’t like is the sugared rim. It makes the drink far too sweet, and headache inducing, and really the last thing you need is sugar water dripping down the side of the glass and coating your hands like you’ve been spilling juleps in the infield at the Kentucky Derby.

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