With World Whisky Day coming up, we’re shaking a cocktail that’s very much like a Sidecar, but made with Scotch instead of Cognac. It’s called the Silent Third.
I’m just back from Paris, the first trip my wife and I have had out of the country since the dreaded ‘rona appeared. It was also our first weekend away without the children since the birth of our second child in 2020.
As you can imagine we went a bit overboard with the eating and drinking. When in Rome and all that. Between feasts, we stopped to meet a friend of my wife’s and his girlfriend at a place called Au Petit Fer a Cheval in Rue Vieille du Temple. On a warm summer’s day, Le Marais was swarming with tourists and looked like the last place you’d find an old-fashioned Parisian bar. But rather as there are still some great old pubs in Covent Garden in London, there’s still cafes in Paris that look like they haven’t changed since François Mitterand was in his prime.
Au Petit Fer a Cheval
The name means the little horseshoe, perhaps after the shape of the bar where we sat. For fans of traditional cafes, this place has it all, tiled floors, old posters, and middle-aged waiters in black waistcoats and aprons some of whom look like they’ve been with the place since it opened in 1903. It’s very much not the kind of place you ask for le wifi password, plug-in, and zone-out. In fact, in its ambiance, it has a lot in common with a good English pub. The only remotely modern thing about Au Petit Fer a Cheval is the all stainless steel lavatory which is like being trapped in Das Boot.
Hot from a schlepp across town and, I admit, a rather lavish lunch, I ordered a draught beer and was surprised to be asked whether I wanted an IPA rather than the usual ordinary lager. Next, the surprise was the quality of the coffee. Not something guaranteed in France.
Monsieur, these will be my pleasure
We lingered a while and then out of the blue Hassan, the bartender, knocked us up a refreshing little cocktail and placed the glasses before us: on the house. My wife’s friend Christian was clearly a regular. It tasted a bit like a cross between a Whisky Sour and a Margarita. And it turned out to be a mixture of whisky, lemon juice, and triple sec. Essentially a Sidecar made with Scotch whisky instead of brandy.
It came in little tumblers, and it was refreshing and not too strong. A beautifully-made cocktail made all the more delicious because it’s not the sort of thing I’d expect to get in a French cafe. And so feeling pleasantly boozy and decidedly Parisian, we idled the afternoon away until it was time to visit another restaurant.
Bring out the Black Bottle
Now back in England, I’ve decided to bring a little Parisian glamour to deepest Kent by attempting to recreate Hassan’s cocktail. I didn’t catch the brand of whisky used or indeed the ratios but consulted the ever-reliable Difford’s Guide. Apparently, such a cocktail is known as the Silent Third, and it comes from the 1937 Cafe Royal Cocktail Book.
You could make this with bourbon or Irish whiskey but I’m going Scotch with Black Bottle Double Cask. It’s a great cocktail whisky as it has a strong American oak sweetness allied with a handy 46% ABV. I’m also using Grand Marnier instead of triple sec as that’s what I have in the house because I am fancy.
So, let’s raise a glass to Au Petit Fer a Cheval. Vive la France!
How to make a Silent Third
25ml triple sec or Grand Marnier
25ml lemon juice
Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker. Give it a good shape and strain into a chilled coupe or tumbler and garnish with a lemon twist.