Taste Test: The Best (And Worst) Brandy To Use In A Sidecar

The results of our taste test are in.
Drink On The Bar Counter
Drink On The Bar Counter

Few cocktails are as versatile as the Sidecar. It's refreshing in summer and comforting in winter; it's sophisticated to order at a bar and fun to serve at a party; it's sweet enough to be accessible to cocktail novices and strong enough to be appealing to cocktail diehards. If it's not already a part of your mixology repertoire, it should be.

Despite their classy reputation, Sidecars are very easy to make: just combine five parts brandy with two parts each of orange liqueur and fresh lemon juice over ice, then shake until frosty. The most daunting thing about them, really, is choosing the right ingredients. That's true of most cocktails, but it's especially acute with Sidecars because many Americans aren't as familiar with brandy as they are with the other major categories of spirits, like whiskey and gin. And brandy -- which is basically distilled wine -- is an especially difficult category to master.

That's because the best-known type of brandy is cognac, from the southwest part of France, which is subject to a set of regulations and traditions comparable in their complexity to those that govern great French wine. You could spend a lifetime studying cognac and still not understand everything about it.

But really, if you just want to make a good cocktail, you don't need to know the difference between VSOP, XO and Napoleon grades of cognac. You just need to know what to buy. To help out with that, we conducted a Sidecar taste test, pitting nine different brands of brandy and three different kinds of orange liqueur against each other to find the best recipe. Eight of the nine brandies we tried were cognacs; the last, E&J, was a cheap brandy made from American grapes. Scroll down to see the results.

As always, the brands included did not in any way influence the outcome of this taste test.

The Contenders
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
From right to left: Chateau de Montifaud Selection ($44), Remy Martin 1738 ($49), Hiram Walker Triple Sec ($8), E&J VSOP ($9), H by Hine ($48), Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao ($30), Louis Royer Force 53 ($45), Martell VS ($30), Courvoisier VS ($30), Cointreau ($43), Hennessy Privilege VSOP ($60), Pierre Ferrand 1840 ($38)
1. Chateau de Montifaud Selection: Best In Show
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Score: 7.5

Price: $44

Tasters Said: "Smooth and refreshing." "Very smooth brandy." "The right amount of sweetness, with a nice sour aftertaste. Reminds me of summer." "A rich, big flavor with nice balance. This is a superb Sidecar."
2. Hennessy Privilege VSOP: Highly Recommended
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Score: 6.7

Price: $60

Tasters Said: "Pleasant, but light-tasting." "Easy to drink! Smooth." "Crisp and light. Easy finish." "Slight honey taste."
3. Martell VS: Highly Recommended, Good Value
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Score: 6.6

Price: $30

Tasters Said: "Lots of caramelized notes." "Complex. Seems to capture the essence of the Sidecar." "A good summer sipper."
4. Courvoisier VS: Recommended, Good Value
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Score: 6.2

Price: $30

Tasters Said: "The citrus taste is strong here." "Tangy and tart." "Strong booze finish." "Nicely balanced."
5. Pierre Ferrand 1840: Recommended
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Score: 6.1

Price: $38

Tasters Said: "A drink for a massive man with a handlebar mustache." "Sweet. Not bad." "Boozy zing." "I would order this at a bar."
6. Remy Martin 1738: Recommended
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Score: 5.4

Price: $49

Tasters Said: "Not my favorite but not offensive." "Spicy, complex. Some nutmeg notes." "Heavy on the alcohol." "Kinda boring." "Unpleasant."
7. H By Hine: Recommended
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Score: 5.1

Price: $48

Tasters Said: "Middle of the road. It's serviceable but not the best." "Sharp, aggressive." "Smells like vanilla." "Strong on the lemon." "Not too sweet."
8. E & J VSOP: Not Recommended
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Score: 4.8

Price: $9

Tasters Said: "Tastes like an orange Creamsicle." "That is cotton candy! Yuck. Lots of artificial banana flavor." "Children's aspirin. Bubble gum aftertaste. Not a big fan." "Sweet like a Tootsie Pop." "Tastes like candy -- which I like."
9. Louis Royer Force 53: Not Recommended
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
Score: 4.7

Price: $45

Tasters Said: "Way too intense." "Alcohol overpowers the citrus." "Bold -- too bold for me." "Has a nice kick." "Very bright and clean." "Kind of an earthy flavor."
The Orange Liqueurs
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
The focus of our taste test was brandy, so we used Cointreau for most of the trial, in an effort to limit the moving variables. But we also did a few side-by-side comparisons of Sidecars made with one kind of brandy and three different kinds of orange liqueur. The differences between them were pronounced: Hiram Walker Triple Sec was sweet and orange-forward, while Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao was very bitter. If your palate leans in either direction, it's worth giving them a try. But in general, our tasters preferred the balance of Sidecars made with Cointreau.

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