Photo by Sarah Littlejohn / Styling by Dylan Garret
A pre-Prohibition riff on the classic Sidecar, the Between the Sheets cocktail is thought to date to the 1920s. It’s often credited to bartender and author Harry MacElhone of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, though there’s some dispute about whether he originated the recipe or was simply the first to publish it. Regardless, the Between the Sheets and Sidecar remain early examples in the sour family of cocktails, or those mixed with sugar and lemon or lime juice.
Both drinks include brandy, lemon juice and orange liqueur. However, the Between the Sheets skips the Sidecar’s sugar rim, and combines Cognac with light rum for its base. In addition to sparing you the mess of rimming (and later cleaning) sticky sugar, this also creates a more layered flavor profile and allows the sweetness of the spirits to take center stage.
With ingredients from multiple parts of the spirits world, the Between the Sheets is a cocktail where the caliber of ingredients has an outsized impact. You’ll get a perfectly drinkable cocktail out of budget brandy, rum and triple sec, but with each of spirit balanced in equal parts, the individual flavors support each other and don’t leave much else to hide behind.
When choosing a Cognac, it’s important to factor what final flavor profile you desire. Younger bottlings, like a V.S. will often accentuate the cocktail’s fruit characteristics and taste drier. Longer-aged offerings like an X.O. will bring deeper notes of oak, though countered with a more mellowed alcohol profile. You can also split the difference with a V.S.O.P., as a good way to make sure you’re getting a quality bottling that’s seen at least four years in oak, without going into full-blown extra-old territory.
Deau V.S. and Martell V.S., as well as the cocktail-oriented Pierre Ferrand 1840, are options in the $20–40 range that work well for cocktails. Hine Rare V.S.O.P. and Paul Beau V.S.O.P. tend to be around $50–75 but are perfect for cocktails (or sipping neat), still fresh but with a bit more oak.
What do age statements mean on Cognac?
V.S.: “Very special,” youngest brandy in blend aged at least two years
V.S.O.P.: “Very superior old pale,” aged at least four years
Napoleon: Aged at least six years
X.O.: “Extra old,” aged a minimum of 10 years
Lighter rums tend to be best to avoid here, as they can butt heads with aged Cognac. Flor de Caña 4 Year Extra Seco and Diplomático Planas are budget-friendly options that work well, while Rhum J.M. Agricole Blanc is an agricole offering from Martinique that’s distilled from pure sugarcane juice rather than molasses and blends beautifully. You could also try a clairin rum from Haiti. Made typically from local wild sugarcane, clairin tends to offer grassy, herbal and earthy notes to your drink. Clairin Vaval and Saint Benevolence are great bottles to start with and help yield a deeper profile rather than a strictly fruit-forward, daiquiri-like drink.