Perhaps you will roll your eyes when I tell you that a friend and I spent a portion of the early aughts semi-sincerely endeavoring to “bring back the Sidecar.” I don’t know that we succeeded on any grand scale. What I can tell you, with reasonable confidence, is there are several mediocre bartenders around the greater Sterling, Va., area, and one really good bartender in Savannah, Ga., that absolutely would not have the Sidecar in their repertoires without young Nate and Chris ordering the absolute hell out of them. The Sidecar—cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice served cold in a martini glass with a sugared rim—deserves a more popular renaissance. It’s a great damn cocktail.
Years later another really good bartender, this time in a speakeasy in Montreal, made a face when I ordered a Sidecar and steered me instead to the Brandy Crusta. Cocktail knowers—and who can say whether they know what the hell they’re talking about, here—say that the Sidecar is a sort of under-resourced man’s Brandy Crusta, a pared down descendant. The Crusta is a veritable cornucopia compared to the elegant Sidecar: brandy (duh), Maraschino Luxardo, orange Curaçao, Angostura, lemon juice, and simple syrup, with a sugar rim but this time in a restrained little narrow cocktail glass, giving it a real ye olde-timey aesthetic. And, lo, turns out the Brandy Crusta is indeed a lovely cocktail, every bit as lip-smackingly juicy and powerfully boozy as the yellow Sidecar, but with more complex citrus flavors, welcome bitterness, and a delightful, playful sweetness.
You can kind of imagine how this would go: A hobbyist mixologist or tender of a more basic bar sizes up the characteristics of the Brandy Crusta—brandy, orange, lemon, sugar—makes a face at Curaçao and Luxardo, and opts instead to just let triple sec, lemon juice, and that sugared rim do the work in a boozier concoction. Still, once you’ve had the Brandy Crusta—and especially if you’ve had it courtesy of a snooty Québécois aficionado in an underground temple of booze—there will come moments when the Sidecar just can’t scratch that particular itch. For simplicity’s sake we’ll call that itch “pretension,” since what you want to do is impress someone, even if that someone is yourself, alone in your kitchen.
Problem is, who the hell has Curaçao, an eye-rolly and all-too-often unpleasantly blue liqueur made from the peels of inedibly bitter oranges grown in the Lesser Antilles, in their home bar? Who’s hanging onto a bottle of Maraschino Luxardo, made with bitter cherries from Croatia, much past the point of the odd baking project? Truly, not this guy. The project, then, is to make our own pared-down descendent of the Brandy Crusta, one that captures its fuller citrus flavors, slightly more forward sweetness, and balancing bitterness, and that will look lovely in a narrow little glass with a crusty sugared rim. An exciting challenge! Try the following:
2 oz. brandy
½ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. blood orange syrup
You’re looking askance at that syrup. About that: This is not some exotic ingredient. All you’re doing here is hacking up some blood oranges—powerfully tart and as bitter as a red grapefruit, while retaining a strong orange aroma—and socking them in a jar with a cup or two of granulated sugar for a few hours, then harvesting the jaw-droppingly beautiful liquid that pools at the bottom. Blood oranges are not hard to find in supermarket produce sections, in my experience, but in a pinch you could use a few navel oranges and a big grapefruit. It’s fine! It’ll be fine and great. The point is to consolidate the performance of the simple syrup (sweet), the Curaçao (bitter and orange), and the Maraschino Luxardo (sweet) into one ingredient. Blood orange syrup will both check all these boxes and also make your cocktail outrageously photogenic. Score!
Mix those things up with some ice. Smush the rim of a pousse-café or sherry or cordial glass into a halved lemon or orange (or both) then rub it around in a pile of caster sugar until you’ve got a nice crusty rim. Then strain as much of the strikingly pink booze into the glass as will fit, set the finished cocktail on a table, take a step backward, and admire what you have done. Beautiful! A bonafide head-turner. Hey, let’s give this fellow a name: The Sidestep? The Kit Car? How about the Bloody Crusta? Yes. It’s crusty, it looks like, and is a descendent of, the Brandy Crusta, and it has “blood” in the name of one of its ingredients. Good enough.
Take a sip: boozy, almost spicy with brandy, but juicy and tart enough to electrify the edges of your tongue, and with a fun lingering sweetness that makes it dangerously drinkable. The sugared rim looks pretty but the drink is sweet enough on its own, so in the end you will not be rotating the glass to make sure you taste every granule. Complex and mature but emphatically unserious. A worthy descendant! We should all be so lucky.