Sherry – a fortified wine born and raised in the province of Andalusia, Spain. All sherries emerge from three coastal towns within this province, can only be made from three types of grapes, and contain added alcohol (hence, fortified). Sherry production is laborious, storied and can assume a variety of styles. It can be dry, sweet, salty, yeasty, nutty, raisinated, austere, viscous, and range in color from pale to amber to near-black. While there are numerous classifications, for cocktail recipes I stick to four styles: Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Jiménez or ‘PX’.
Sherry tastes great on it’s own, but can be jarring at first sip to those unfamiliar with it’s flavors. Finos are light, salty, nutty and develop other unique aromas as a result of an interaction with a special yeast called flor. Oloroso sherries are also nutty (think roasted walnut), but are made in a completely different process and are usually higher in alcohol. Amontillados share traits with both Fino’s and Oloroso’s and will behave like a hybrid of the two in both flavor and color. PX brings us to dessert territory— it’s dark, sweet, complex, luscious and raisinated.
Over the years I’ve found a few loose rules help when I’m designing a sherry cocktail. Primarily, some spirits play better with specific sherrys than others. Oftentimes I’ll use grape-based brandy, vermouth (also grape-based), and spirits that are made from agave, sugar, or molasses (tequila, mezcal, and rum). There’s a gentleness to these saccharine liquors that can temper the intensely dry nature of a Fino, Amontillado or Oloroso. The second element that I take into consideration is salt. A briny Fino sherry can be balanced with the addition of something sweet, savory, or can hold up to the salinity of an egg-white build. There’s usually an element of salt in Amontillado and Oloroso sherries as well, but to a less intense degree. When bringing to life a cocktail concept, it’s all about balance.
Here are a few simple cocktails to get your sherry journey started:
1 oz Jamaican Rum
1 oz Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado
1 oz Cappelletti
Combine all ingredients and stir with ice, then strain. Enjoy over a large block of ice in a rocks glass. Why it works: Behold! The Negroni build. Funky and sweet Jamaican rum (I used XXX/Five) and a nutty and baked Amontillado are balanced by Capelletti— a red bitter. This cocktail is bold, boozy, and brassy. You could substitute an Oloroso sherry for the Amontillado, but I recommend reducing the pour slightly to maintain balance.
Flora Y Fauna
1.5 oz Fino Sherry
.75 oz Pedro Ximenez ‘PX’ Sherry
3 Dashes Orange Bitters
Combine all ingredients and stir until well-chilled and diluted. Strain into a Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with a twist of fresh orange peel. Why it works: Fino style sherries are salty in flavor and bursting with bakery aromas. PX adds alcohol, viscosity, and sweetness. A few hearty dashes of orange bitters balances out the structure of this cocktail, while playing a supporting role to the raisinated and baked fruit notes of PX. This cocktail is great as an afternoon drink or at the end to a meal— it’s lighter in alcohol, but complex enough to stand up on it’s own.
1 oz Plata Silver Tequila
1.5 oz Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado
3 Dashes Grapefruit Bitters
1 Demerara Cube
Combine your sugar cube, bitters, and a splash of soda in the base of a rocks glass. Muddle together until the sugar cube is dissolved. Add ice, then your tequila and sherry. Stir to combine. Why it works: Silver tequila plays the supporting role in this cocktail, playing off of the semi-brininess of Amontillado. Conceptually, we’re playing with the ideas that make a Paloma tick. This cocktail is great if you’re newly fostering an appreciation for the flavors in sherry, as it combines the comfort of a classic tequila drink while allowing the nuances of Amontillado to truly shine.
For a few other tried and true recipes, check out the following: