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Why I’m judging the Merlet Sidecar Competition at Tales of the Cocktail, plus how to make a classic Sidecar at home

At my first book signing event last fall at Washington D.C.’s Jaleo, I led a tasting of four exquisite expressions by Camus Cognac and at the end, taught everyone how to make the Sidecar, which is one of my go-tos. Guests got to use their favorite expression (either VS, VSOP, XO or Ile de Ré) to make this classic, elegant and balanced drink made with orange liqueur (Mandarine Napoleon, actually) and lemon juice, seeing how the characteristics of each made the drink taste different.

It seems fitting then that I was asked to judge Merlet’s Sidecar Cocktail Competition on July 18 at Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s largest and best spirits festival held annually in New Orleans.

The stakes are high and the pressure is on: the bartender with the best drinks will receive a trip for two to France to visit the Merlet distillery and the Borderies/Fins Bois countryside in Cognac. They will learn how to distill cognac with the Merlet family before taking off for Paris, where they will be introduced to the French press.

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Each bartender must enter two recipes—one a traditional Sidecar that pays homage to the style and spirit in which the drink was created (though the actual origin of it is debatable. Find the most likely story on page 218 of Booze for Babes). However, Merlet Brothers Blend Cognac and Merlet Trois Citrus must be used and they must tell the judges and competition spectators what the Sidecar means to them. The second drink can be anything the bartender wants as long as it uses one Merlet liqueur and either Leblon Cachaça, 86th Co. gin or tequila.

The emcee for the event is Steve Schneider of the famous speakeasy Employees Only in New York City and I’ll be judging alongside Luc Merlet, owner of Merlet Spirits, Chad Solomon of Cuff and Buttons, Kenta Goto, formerly of NYC’s Pegu Club, and Michael Jones, the competition’s Atlanta-based 2013 winner.

I haven’t met any of the following competitors but I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Nicole Anhalt, Top of the Monk, Asheville, NC

James Menite, Crown Restaurant, New York, NY

Sofia Present, Middle Branch, New York, NY

Tyler Stevens, Teardrop Lounge, Portland, OR

Kelly Verardo, Restaurant North, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Aaron Butler, Jakewalk – Brooklyn, NY

Want to see who wins and what kind of drinks will be in the running? If you happen to be in New Orleans, stop by! Or follow me on Twitter and Instagram for some delectable photos and recipes in real time, and to see who will be jet-setting to France later this year.

In the meantime, practice the Sidecar on your own. It’s a crowd pleaser and simple enough to make after work:

 Make a Sidecar

2 ounces cognac

1 ounce orange liqueur

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.


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