December 16th, 2009

Sherry: out from the shadows


As far as I know, sherry has remained largely under the radar in Boston as both a straight drink and a cocktail ingredient. Sure, it started trickling back onto peoples’ palates a while ago with the advent of tapas restaurants like Dali, Tapeo and Toro. And several drinks writers have made a case for it recently — check out Camper “Alcademics” English’s roundup of articles about sherry, Paul Clarke’s helpful primer in Imbibe and my tribute to the Barbara West. Still, this Spanish fortified wine, with multiple styles ranging from dry and briny to mellow and nutty to raisiny and viscous, occupies only a tiny niche in this city’s drinking culture.

That may be changing. Today, two Boston bartenders, Corey Bunnewith of Coppa and Misty Kalkofen of Drink, competed in the fourth annual Vinos de Jerez (Sherry) Cocktail Competition at Clover Club in Brooklyn. Alas, neither took home the gold, but their cocktails were singled out as finalists. Take a look:

Balao Swizzle
Corey Bunnewith

3 oz dry oloroso sherry (Don Nuño)
1/2 oz Meletti amaro
1/2 oz velvet falernum
1/2 oz lime
1/4 bar spoon caraway seeds
Angostura bitters

Lightly muddle caraway seeds in a collins glass to extract aromatics. Discard seeds. Add crushed ice and liquid. Swizzle until chilled. Float bar spoon of Angostura bitters over the top.

Misty Kalkofen

2 1/4 oz fino sherry (Lustau)
1/2 oz Cynar
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Like its botanical-infused cousin vermouth, sherry is increasingly an ingredient that bartenders are using to make layered, sophisticated drinks that don’t singe your brain cells with hard spirits. I happened to be present at the birth of the Dunaway, whose name was my suggestion. Misty served me this drink in a vintage stemmed glass, and an image of Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, set in the 1930s, popped into my head: elegant and intriguing.

Thanks to special correspondent Aaron Butler, a colleague of the two Boston contestants at both Coppa and Drink, for the breaking contest results. And congrats to Charles Joly of the Drawing Room in Chicago for placing first and winning a trip to Spain.

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15 Responses to “Sherry: out from the shadows”

  1. Frederic

    Sherry cocktails to be found around town include two at Craigie on Main, the Progresso and the Jerez Flip (and they had the Conquistador Collins on the menu over the summer):

    Also, the Ponce de Leon at Eastern Standard has a fine swig of sherry in it.

  2. ljclark

    Fred, thanks for pointing those out. Once again, our trendsetting bartenders are quietly bringing back a forgotten spirit.

  3. Dave G

    I love sherry, all kinds, usually on its own or with a couple dashes of orange bitters, depending. Damn, I’m ready for one right now.

    I appreciate that the two recipes you’ve offered specify which kinds of sherry to use. I’ve noticed in the cocktail books I have that the old recipes calling for sherry most often don’t specify. Given the huge taste range, is there a standard-issue sherry type preferred/”correct” for most old cocktails? I understand each case could be different depending on other ingredients and desired results, and in the end it comes down to one’s own taste, but I’m wondering if there’s any consensus out there.

  4. ljclark

    Good question, Dave G. My ballpark guess is that where no style is specified, it would be a drier sherry, like a fino or an amontillado. Ted Haigh’s recipe (Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails) for the Barbara West, for instance, suggests amontillado.

  5. robmarais

    My first sherry cocktail was the Barbara West, made as directed with amontillado; I found it very likeable, very much a contemplative evening sipper for me with an autumnal character. It’s worth visiting again.

    I’m curious about the Balao Swizzle with the caraway…wondering if something could be done with an akvavit/oloroso combo instead, since I have akvavit and no loose caraway seeds. Sounds like a weekend project!

  6. Frederic

    I’d recommend two sherries for a home bar. A dry, pale, nuttier one like a dry oloroso or amontillado, and a sweeter one like Lustau’s East India Solera (which is half dry oloroso and half Pedro Ximénez). If you like it really sweet, a pure Pedro Ximénez would be the one to chose.

    As for recipe interpretation, it’s often a dry sherry but not always. With darker spirits like rye that you would associate with Italian vermouth rather than French vermouth, chose the sweeter styles of sherry, especially since whiskeys and the like would drown out a lot of the subtleties of paler sherries.

  7. Jonathan

    So one of the first really good cocktails I ever made myself was a sherry cocktail — and it is one I still love. It is called an Artist’s Special – it comes from this random cocktail encyclopedia that I have and is supposed to have been the signature cocktail at the Artists’ Club in Paris during the 20s. Here goes:

    1 measure good blended Scotch
    1 measure sweet sherry (I use Lustau Pedro Jimenez)
    1/2 measure lemon juice
    1/2 measure grenadine

    Shake with ice and serve in a cocktail glass with a twist — don’t spray the oil it detracts.

    Hope people like it.

  8. ljclark

    Robmarais, I loooove the Barbara West. You must go to Coppa to have Corey make you the Balao Swizzle. Good point, Fred, although one can always argue in favor of something along the lines of a dry Manhattan. Jonathan, thanks for the wonderfully named recipe.

  9. stephen

    i used to make the “artist’s special” a lot, but with glen fiddich and harvey’s orange aromatized sherry which is only slightly sweet. because the lemon juice sits in as a minor acid… i stir. delicious.

    another great sherry drink is the SanRu:

    1 oz. dry sherry
    1 oz. dubbonet rouge
    1 oz. gin
    half bar spoonful of cheery heering
    dash orange bitters

    very dry, very sophisticated. delicious if you need an aperitif.


  10. MC Slim JB

    Cool article, once again!

    I think the most serious straight sherry purveyor in town might be Taberna de Haro, which for years has offered a sherry/tapas pairing menu that you could only order standing at their little bar.

    I keep finos and manzanillas around for aperitifs and a bottle of Pedro Ximénez for drizzling on vanilla ice cream (a trick taught to me in Seville). Can’t remember where in Boston we were first served Alvear Solea Cream Sherry, but we love that for afters and always keep that around now.

    Can’t say I’ve tried many sherry cocktails beyond the odd Manhattan variant with sherry subbing for sweet vermouth, and Green Street’s Barbara West. I’m looking forward to mixing up Misty’s Dunaway at home!

  11. Arnold

    For anyone traveling San Francisco, the restaurant NOPA has had several sherry-based cocktails on their menu since October:

    The Puro was delightfully smoky (hence the name)–quite the achievement without the addition of any Islay scotch.

    The Salem’s Lot is quite nice as well, for those amaro fans.

    For those home enthusiasts, the 606 and White Manhattan were quite nice. If your planning a visit out that way, the food ain’t bad as well…

  12. eas

    Charles made me his Bread & Wine on Friday night – it’s truly spectacular. Yes, try that at home. And go visit Charles and Tim at Drawing Room!!!!

    And is the use of Port in mixed drinks not far behind?

  13. ljclark

    Great stuff, stephen, Slim, Arnold and eas. Hope to get to the Drawing Room, and back to SFO, soon. Safe prediction on port, eas.

  14. Delavaez

    If you like sherry and are in San Francisco you have to stop in Gitane. They have over 23 bottles by the glass and will gladly make you a drink with any style you choose. I highly suggest the palo cortado wellington neat or in a mixed drink.

  15. ljclark

    Oooh, excellent advice. Thanks!

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