The diversity of flavour in the different sherry styles offers great scope for mixing with all sorts of spirits, liqueurs, fruits and spices. Here is a basic rundown.
I like big butts
The bartenders of old were fully aware of sherry’s huge potential as a cocktail ingredient. Time, says Naren Young, that you let Jerez’s finest shake its bounty once again
Everything old is new again. No adage better sums up what is happening right now in the global cocktail industry. We are in the midst of what industry legend Gary Regan calls the ‘second golden age of bartending’. And with that has come a revival of many old drink styles, techniques, tools, books and ingredients – including sherry.
During the 19th century, fortified wines including sherry and port were extremely popular cocktail ingredients, popping up in all sorts of drinks, including Shrubs, Flips, Possets, Cobblers and Sangarees.
The Cobbler, in particular, was a sensation. Harry Johnson, in the 1888 edition of his Bartenders’ Manual says that the Sherry Cobbler is ‘without doubt the most popular beverage in the country’, while according to drinks historian David Wondrich it was also being enjoyed as far away as Europe and Australia. In his 1862 tome How To Mix Drinks, Jerry Thomas had quite a thing for Cobblers, listing seven in total, starting with his sherry version. Sherry Sangaree and Egg Nog also turn up here.
The likes of Sack Posset – a modest mix of ale, sherry and egg that was originally served piping hot – have been around for centuries (although rarely served today save to a few die-hard cocktail geeks).
Both the Bamboo and Adonis cocktails are listed in The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book but like many drinks of that era are essentially the same drink (dry sherry, vermouth and orange bitters) except that the former uses dry vermouth and the latter sweet. As for modern classics, we can’t forget the Flame of Love, made famous by a certain crooner nicknamed ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’. I’ll leave that one to you and Google.
And, while it’s a slow start, sherry is catching on once more in the bar world, according to Dale DeGroff.
‘Sherry is now appearing regularly in the high-end geeky bar crowd and since these are the trendsetters on the internet I suspect that over the next couple years we will see an upswing in sherry styles and brands in the big urban markets,’ he says.
There is room for a sherry
cocktail on any list at any time of
the year – Jim Meehan
Out west in San Francisco, where some of the finest bartenders are making the most of the plethora of seasonal, organic and local produce, there are several barkeeps using sherry in some extraordinary ways. Dominic Venegas, who set up the bar programme at Gitane, has created a wonderful array of sherry cocktails that are attracting a breed of sherry novices to the category.
‘For cocktails, fortified wines seem to be a natural fit,’ he says. ‘From dry to sweet sherries and ports, to the bitter vermouths, they all serve their purpose. Any attention to sherry is great. Many people don’t realise that it’s not just a ‘dessert’ wine. It’s versatile enough to be paired with food, to be had before or after dinner, and in cocktails.’
FAR AND WIDE
To show how far sherry has come in the past few years, one only has to look at the annual Vinos de Jerez Cocktail Competition, which was established in 2006. This US-wide competition was created to showcase the incredible diversity of sherry wine, and its remarkable ability for use in cocktails and matching with food. Neyah White, from San Francisco’s superb NOPA restaurant, was the 2008 winner, with his Sherry Shrub.
‘Until very recently, I only considered manzanilla and fino for cocktails as far as sherry styles go,’ says White. ‘I think this was due to the fact that I didn’t work in bars that had much more than that to play around with.
‘There were sweetened olorosos and maybe an amontillado that no one really understood on the back bar, but they required courage to mix with. I began making Sherry Kirs as a little welcome cocktail or “amuse booze” as we called it. Low intensity, low alcohol and non-committal, these were a great – and inexpensive – way to welcome guests.’
White creates all of these sherry cocktails as accompaniments to the restaurant’s sublime cuisine, focused around local, organic produce. And given that sherry is one of the best food wines in the world, it seems only fitting that his cocktails highlight this fact.
Jim Meehan of Manhattan cocktail Mecca PDT has been working with sherry in cocktails since his time at the legendary Gramercy Tavern. To show its diversity, he recently took me through a tasting of some of his latest creations that included everything from tequila and Campari to cream, Benedictine and mustard – thankfully not in the same glass.
‘There is room for a sherry cocktail on any list at any time of the year,’ says Meehan. ‘There are so many styles and sub-styles which means there is always a sherry that will work for everyone’s palate. Sherry also has a great price point, has loads of history behind it and has wonderful acidity that can help to balance out many cocktails.’
Joaquin Simo of New York’s famed Death & Company also made me a wonderful cocktail recently called a Dolores Park Swizzle which combined añejo tequila, amontillado sherry, lime, ginger and velvet falernum.
‘We started to use sherry in cocktails four years ago to take advantage of this underrated ingredient for cocktails,’ explains Tobias Blazquez-Garcia, the co-founder of London’s Pinchito Tapas. ‘Sherry as a category is losing its old-fashioned stigma and reclaiming the place it has always deserved. Now we have another new toy to play with.’
|Sherry Cocktail Recipes|
EAST INDIA NEGRONI
‘A Negroni variation prepared with the new Banks rum: a blend of aged rums from Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and Java named after the English botanist and explorer Joseph Banks. Substituting rum for gin and Lustau’s East India sherry for sweet vermouth lends a flavourful, Eastern accent to the classic named after Count Camillo Negroni.’
Garnish: Orange twist
Method: Stir with ice and strain into glass.
1.5 oz Joseph Banks Rum
¾ oz Lustau East India Solera Sherry
¾ oz Campari
‘We wanted to represent summer and use fino in a cocktail that would introduce dry sherry to beginners while highlighting the characteristics of the wine,’ says Tobias Blazquez-Garcia. ‘It is a perfect aperitif that you can drink in sessions without getting tired of it. The bitter, dry, sour balance and its freshness combine perfectly in what it is already for many of us the drink of the moment.’
Glass: Chilled sherry copita
Garnish: Long spaghetti peel of orange or lemon, or both
Method: Pour ingredients minus bitters into shaker. Shake dry (no ice). Add ice and shake again (hard). Double-strain into a chilled copita. Add bitters and stir.
75ml Tio Pepe fino
20ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
10ml egg white
1 drop of Peychaud’s bitters
1 drop of orange bitters
‘This drink was created because we love Flips. After some experimenting, the addition of lemon, cinnamon, cloves and a dusting of nutmeg proved to be our favorite way, but starting with a Sherry Flip, the base simply didn’t seem to fit. Then I thought about PX and its beautiful wintry and raisin flavours, which proved to be the ticket. Now it is one of our winter favorites.’
Glass: Frozen glass
Method: Muddle cloves and add other ingredients. Shake very hard with ice and strain into frozen glass.
2 oz PX sherry
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz rich sugar syrup
1 egg yolk
1 pinch of ground cinnamon
‘The Solera is based on a classic cocktail formula. The base being Santa Teresa 1796 Rum which is rich and has notes of nuts, honey, vanilla and is aged using a solera system, like those in Jerez. The Palo Cortado Peninsula by Lustau and the rum are both rich spirits that can be almost like maple syrup when mixed, so to get that balance and to bring a touch of acidity and nuttiness, I use Taylor’s Velvet Falernum. This is a very elegant drink to be enjoyed with a decadent chocolate dessert or by itself.’
Garnish: Orange ribbon
Method: Stir with ice and strain into glass.
2 oz Santa Teresa 1796 Rum
1 oz Lustau Palo Cortado Peninsula
¾ oz Taylor’s Velvet Falernum
2 dashes of Regans’ orange bitters
The lightest style of sherry that is bone dry with hints of grass, green apple and citrus. Most commonly served chilled as a classic aperitif with tapas.
WORKS WITH: light flavours such as other fortified and aromatised wines; vodka, white rum, blanco tequila and especially gin; anything herbal or floral such as elderflower. Best not in shaken drinks.
Generally a sweeter style but can also be made into a dry style, they have rich complex flavours of caramel, toffee, Christmas cake, honey, dried fruits and spice. Similar in style is palo cortado, a much rarer style of sherry. Palo cortados have the body of an oloroso but the aroma of an amontillado.
WORKS WITH: darker spirits that have similar nuances to those mentioned above: whiskies, aged rums and tequilas, brandies.
Very similar in style to fino but with a slightly more salty/briney finish due to its coastal location in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Works with: all of the same flavours as fino plus vegetal flavours such as cucumber, celery or fennel.
These were once finos that have started to oxidise and therefore take on those classic nutty, caramel notes. Served chilled as aperitifs, these can be anything from bone dry to medium-sweet and they work wonderfully in cocktails.
WORKS WITH: gold rum, reposado tequila, cognac, bourbon and anything with vanilla, toffee, caramel and baking spices.
PEDRO XIMENEZ (PX)
Made from grapes left to dry in the sun for weeks, thereby concentrating the sugar levels. These are intensely sweet sherries that are served with dessert.
WORKS WITH: dark spirits, especially aged rums, bourbon, añejo tequila and brandies in the colder months. Makes a wonderful addition to Old Fashioned and Flip-style drinks. Use sparingly.
Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine - January / February 2010