Explorations in Mixology Cocktails Drinking

Banana Sidecar

You don’t see that many cocktails that feature bananas, and the more we pay attention to people’s reactions when we mention it, we get the impression that not many people seem interested. It’s too bad, because, as a modifier, banana works nicely with so many other flavors. The taste and perhaps the aroma is a common descriptor in barrel aged spirits, Belgian ale, and even wine.

Yet, we are aware that people sometimes have an issue with bananas, starting with the texture. The fruit itself can range from starchy-dry to over-ripened mush—with an acceptable zone that is short-lived and somewhere in the middle. However, the addition of caramelized sugar on the garnish really grabbed our attention when we first spotted this drink. We imagined how the brûlée crunch could rescue any slice, and the toasty caramel aroma would fill the room and make a spectacle for any guest.

Another problem with banana might be the all too familiar artificial extract version—like the flavor of soft yellow taffy, or even the hard, shiny candies that are chalky white inside. While this overpowering “banana” flavor does exist in the fruit, it’s subtle and usually nestled alongside a more organic character reminiscent of darkening peels that can be rich and pungent. Either of these can be off-putting taken alone, but combined, and then mixed again with sugars and spices is where banana finds its strength. Consider banana bread—who doesn’t love banana bread?

Banana Sidecar by Jordan Hughes
1.5 oz cognac
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz banana liqueur
.25 oz rich Demerara syrup
3 dashes Tiki bitters
1 banana slice (garnish)

Combine in shaking glass and shake with ice to chill. Double-strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with caramelized banana slice.

To make the garnish: Sprinkle sugar onto a cut face of a banana slice. Caramelize the sugar with a torch aimed at the banana. Skewer horizontally with a bamboo cocktail pick.

Maybe it isn’t the liquid version of banana bread, but it’s damned good anyway. Built upon the classic Sidecar formula, we have banana liqueur taking the place of orange Cointreau, bolstered by some additional rich syrup. When you make a Demerara syrup you use a darker raw sugar (turbinado works fine, brown baking sugar in a pinch) and it is usually a 2:1 sugar to water ratio. The molasses in raw sugar adds flavor, and just a quarter ounce should be enough to balance the lemon. However, lemons vary, and a lot will depend on your liqueur.

We used Tempus Fugit Crème de Banane which has a very authentic, natural banana flavor that we find can get easily lost among bolder ingredients. The lemon helps, as does the sugar and spices from the bitters. So, what exactly is Tiki bitters? While you could just use Angostura, we have some Bittermens ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters which emphasizes cinnamon and allspice (and has us thinking about banana bread again).

So, you shake, you double strain into a chilled coupe to remove any ice shards, and you execute a potentially tricky but entertaining garnish. Plan your garnish before you start, carefully considering how you will keep the banana from falling into the glass. The bamboo pick we used has a flat profile that sits nicely on the rim of the glass if the banana slice is skewered and balanced properly. You could opt for a bigger chunk and jam it over the rim, or double skewer it with long sticks in an “x” or parallel rails placed over the center of the drink. Actually, we like that idea a lot, but the key is to get a flat area of banana ready with a heavy pinch of sugar. Then, you hit the sugar with fire. Yep, you need a little culinary brûlée torch to do this properly. Don’t go running to the garage for your propane blowtorch. You need a little one made for caramelizing desserts, or one of those fancy jet blast lighters to melt the sugar without melting your cutting board! It is probably best to setup the garnish on the side so you don’t accidentally blast the rim of the cold glass, then transfer it to your drink to serve. The sugar will caramelize and darken and smoke. It’s wonderful, but please, stay safe and don’t burn the house down.

Could you skip the garnish? We think not. It’s not just a gimmick for show (though it is definitely a show). Remember, we are trying to overcome challenges with banana, and the caramelized garnish gets us there. It’s a wonderful drink when all is said and done (and burned and sipped). Had Jordan not posted this on his YouTube channel, our banana liqueur would be gathering more dust.

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