From the intriguing depth of palo cortado to the luxurious sweetness of PX, sherry’s wide variety of styles makes it a versatile cocktail ingredient – and the 10 competitors in the 2019 Tio Pepe Challenge UK final proved just how much it can bring to the bar.
The finalists faced off in a strenuous day of blind tasting, traditional venencia pouring and cocktail making – all using Gonzalez Byass’ range of sherries. The competition was hard-fought, but in the end, Giacomo Bucciarelli of The Connaught Bar impressed the judging panel and took home the glory.
Each of the competitors’ creations showed off a different way that Tio Pepe’s sherries can be used, from lower-abv serves to rich after-dinner drinks.
Some competitors chose to use Gonzalez Byass’ Nectar PX as the sweetener in their cocktail – for instance, Ferdia Murray of The Savoy Hotel’s American Bar chose to complement the rich prune and raisin flavours of the PX with a smoky mezcal and a homemade dry vermouth infused with pineapple.
Others favoured Tio Pepe’s fino sherry for a touch of saltiness; a few selected amontillado for its nutty complexity. But the sherry that seemed to capture the bartenders’ interest the most was the palo cortado.
Bucciarelli’s winning serve, Ox, used Gonzalez Byass’ Leonor Palo Cortado as the base, demonstrating the creativity that sherry can inspire in cocktails. ‘At the initial masterclass training in Pepito’s Bar, we learned about palo cortado and the oxidation process,’ Bucciarelli told Imbibe. ‘It got me thinking, and I decided that oxygen was going to be at the centre of my drink.’
With this theme in mind, he added oxidised orange wine, cascara bitters and a touch of balsamic vinegar to the palo cortado, resulting in a complex, aromatic drink that the judges hailed as ‘incredibly well balanced’.
‘In each aspect of the competition, Giacomo wowed us,’ explained Boris Ivan, global brand ambassador for Gonzalez Byass and one of the challenge’s judges. ‘He scored 100% on the blind tasting, and the way he engaged with us as he made his drink was great. He really made the palo cortado the star of the cocktail.’
As the UK champion, Bucciarelli travelled to Jerez, Spain, the home of Tio Pepe, on a three-day trip. Just yesterday he competed in the Tio Pepe Challenge global final against 15 other sherry-savvy bartenders from around the world.
Ultimately, Italy's Marco Masiero took home the international title. Masiero captivated the judging panel – including former American Bar head bartender Erik Lorincz – with his winning serve. However, each drink created for the comp showcased just how well sherry can play the role of the protagonist in a cocktail.
Want to explore the potential of sherry in your own serves? Get in touch with Gonzalez Byass UK’s team of sherry experts at email@example.com, and they can walk you through their full line-up of carefully crafted sherries.
By Giacomo Bucciarelli
Glass: Wooden cup, representing the barrel the sherry aged in
Garnish: Sherry shortbread biscuit
Method: Stir all ingredients over ice and strain.
50ml Tio Pepe Leonor Palo Cortado
35ml oxidised orange wine
5ml cascara bitters
3 dashes balsamic vinegar