Spanish sherry is one of the hottest ingredients in the world’s mixology scene. Versatile and delicious, it seamlessly bridges the gap between tradition and modernity by an array of stunningly creative cocktails.
They’ve been featured in prestigious magazines like Food&Wine and Forbes, and they come bearing exotic names like The CriaDare, Salted Fino Rickey, Shahrazad’s Tea, Windows to the Flor, Andalusian Smoke, La Captanza and Lost in the Middle of a Foggy Sea, among others. They’re made using some of the most provocative ingredients in the global mixology scene — capturing the attention of champion bartenders near and far — yet they represent a tradition that goes back centuries. They are, of course, Sherry cocktails, and if you haven’t already heard of them, we recommend you listen up.
In her book, Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best Kept Secret (Ten Speed Press, 2014), author and Punchdrink.com editor Talia Baiocchi traces the historic relationship between Sherry and cocktails, pointing out that the mixed drink known as the “Sherry Cobbler,” was the most popular cocktail in the United Statues during the mid to late 1800s. The author also delves into the expanding role of sherry as a key ingredient in the modern-day craft cocktail revival, a fact that avid followers of some of the world’s most-lauded mixologists would heartily support.
This viewpoint is shared by Carey Jones and John D. McCarthy in their April 13, 2018, article, “3 Delicious Cocktails to Make with Amontillado Sherry,” for Food & Wine magazine, in which they laud the characteristics of this type of sherry, “the Goldilocks of the sherry world. Medium-bodied, they gain intriguing nutty notes from oxidation and often show remarkable complexity. And at under 20 percent ABV, they add layers and layers of flavor to cocktails without all the alcohol that spirits contribute.” Interestingly, the article’s first featured cocktail (Bamboo Revisited) is based on another historic sherry cocktail, The Bamboo — apparently a hit in the US in the 1890s — which was made with fino sherry and dry vermouth.
Although the nutty and medium-bodied traits of amontillado definitively recommend it to a seemingly endless array of cocktails, it’s just one of the many different types of sherry that are available to today’s mixologists. These range from the light and dry fino and its more saline cousin manzanilla, to the toastier oloroso and the sweet and unctuous Pedro Ximénez. And it is precisely this ample diversity of characteristics that make these Spanish fortified wines so versatile and ideal for any variety of mixed drinks.
To get an idea of this versatility, one need only visit the “Sherry Cocktails” page found on Sherry.org, which features the recipes for and photos of more than 150 different cocktails (including the ones listed above) made with sherry wines. Light and fruity, deeply spiced, toasted, bitter, sour, sweet, on the rocks or straight up — the world is their proverbial oyster and we should be so lucky as to try them all. Despite this stunning selection of sherry cocktails, there is always room for more. Just ask the professional bartender participants in the Tío Pepe Challenge International Cocktail Competition, offered by venerated sherry producers González Byass, and now in its sixth year.
Another way to get the inside scoop on the virtues of Spanish sherry as an ingredient in cocktails is to pick the brains of some of the world’s most famous mixologists. This is exactly what we did when we spoke to Diego Baud, the Head Mixologist at Barcelona’s famed 5-star Hotel Arts. His cocktail “La Barceloneta,” which was featured along with other creations in Forbes magazine, is a combination of Lustau Amontillado sherry, pumpkin purée, organic honey and lemon. This arresting cocktail is garnished with cured meats and seafood. It is served in a presentation reminiscent of balcony clotheslines in the seaside Barcelona neighborhood of the same name. This is what Diego had to say about using sherry in cocktails:
In addition to “La Barceloneta,” do you have any other signature cocktails made with sherry as a key ingredient?
Yes! One of my favorites right now is Merry Me Sherry! With Amontillado, fresh muddled cherries, lemon & lime cordial, lemon zest and sage.
What are your favorite types of sherries for cocktails?
Oh lordy, that is a bit of a tricky question! It depends on the occasion... For something like a beautiful Sunday afternoon with friends, reminiscing about the past while enjoying a great apéritif before a meal, I would recommend a cocktail we do at the Hotel Arts with a Fino en rama, cilantro, lemon oil and juice, and a kiss of sweetness. A perfect way to open up the appetite with it's bone dry notes and herbaceousness! If you find yourself with your lover on a chilly autumn day snuggled on the sofa playing a game of chess after indulging in a rich dinner and having no room for dessert — that is where the night cap comes in, and you can make a great liquefied dessert: brown butter-infused rum, Pedro Ximénez, and hint of coffee!
What kinds of ingredients go well with Sherry in cocktails?
Again, it all depends, as there are several types of sherry: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez, Moscatel, and medium, pale cream, and cream sherries.
For sherries such as Finos or Manzanillas, I am a big fan of lemon peel, cilantro, basil, cardamom, and my all time favorite, nasturtium! For Amontillados and palo cortado, use a bit of orange and chestnuts and more autumn flavors.
For Oloroso sherry, deceptive in its sweet raisin-like notes, it is surprisingly dry on the palette. Add ingredients like raw cacao, whole coffee beans or grapefruit peel. With Pedro Ximénez, a sweet sherry, I would use cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and add rum or bourbon or even some butter!
In terms of pairing sherry with food, an easy way to remember is: fino swims with the sea, amontillado flies with the sky, oloroso walks the earth!
Sherry is growing in popularity worldwide, particularly as an ingredient in cocktails. Are your international customers familiar with Spanish sherry cocktails and are they popular?
Sherry is a very mysterious, complex liquid and in my opinion it has yet to be fully embraced. At Coctalarium (Hotel Arts Barcelona – Ritz Carlton) we have several sherry-based cocktails that are starting to gain popularity with our guests. One of the favorites is the “Bloody Raw” that uses a local gin, Gin Raw, with amontillado!
Text: Adrienne Smith.
Photos: Sherry.wine, Diego Baud.