Bryan Dayton, owner and beverage director of Corrida in Boulder, Colorado, believes that Sherry has been growing more popular in recent years thanks largely to two things: access and knowledge. “The top mixologists have been playing with Sherry for the last 15 years or so, which has made the category more accessible and less elusive,” he explains. “More educational opportunities have happened—and are happening—for Sherry and this is key to its success in the market. People understand it more now.”
Wesley Jackson, manager at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba in Chicago, agrees with this assessment. “Of all the wines made in the world, Sherry may be the most unique, so knowledge of what it is and how to use it was lacking for a while, but with so much information available today, it’s become more common for restaurants and bars to incorporate Sherry into their beverage programs,” he says.
Bartenders are particularly drawn to Sherry because of its rich history, notes Abigail Gullo, creative director of the beverage program at Loa in the International House hotel in New Orleans. “The historical impact of Sherry is quite large—as one of the most popular wines in the world, it traveled around the globe at a time when that was very difficult to do,” she says. “Many cultures were shaped by drinking Sherry and cocktails featuring it. We bartenders are often amateur historians telling a story about the ‘taste of place’ through our cocktails, and Sherry is a wine that speaks many languages and tells many stories.”
Plus, as Gullo adds, it makes a great cocktail ingredient. “Sherry is a perfect canvas for cocktails thanks to its wide variety of depth and flavor,” she says. “There’s very little that doesn’t work well with Sherry—from the bone-dry salinity of a Fino to the sweet richness of a Pedro Ximénez, there’s a Sherry for all flavors across the spectrum.”
Briny And Bright
Corrida’s Dayton notes that Sherry’s diverse range of styles makes it particularly attractive to bartenders. “This diversity means Sherry plays well with all types of other spirits, which opens the book to make a ton of different cocktails,” he says.
On the lighter end of the flavor spectrum, there’s Fino and Manzanilla Sherries. “These biologically aged Sherries complement briny and bright flavors,” notes Laura Unterberg, head bartender at The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club in Nashville, Tennessee. “Melon, olive, tarragon, and mint are all standbys.” At Corrida, The Rebujito ($12) by general manager Joshua Link features Alvear Fino Sherry, Sprite lemon-lime soda, and muddled mint. Dayton points out that thanks to the salty and briny notes found in Fino and Manzanilla, these styles also play well with umami flavors and with gin and vodka in riffs on Martinis. At The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club, Unterberg’s Sunomo Smash ($14) and The Devil You Know ($15) both take inspiration from traditional Martini builds with different flavor results: The former is meant to taste similar to a Japanese vinegar-based cucumber salad, mixing Lustau Fino Sherry, Opihir gin, and house-made cucumber rice wine shrub, while the latter has flavors reminiscent of a Paloma, blending Aurora Manzanilla Sherry, Patrón Silver Tequila, Giffard Crème de Pamplemousse Rose pink grapefruit liqueur, and Salers aperitif.
At Loa, Gullo’s Sanctity of the Gods ($16) is a riff on the Dirty Martini comprising equal parts La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sherry and Hendrick’s Neptunia gin, plus house-made Sicilian-Vietnamese vinaigrette (a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and fish sauce). “I often replace vermouth in recipes with Sherry instead,” Gullo says. “Sherry has such a different flavor and can add a new spin to older style cocktails.”
At Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, Jackson notes that the bar team tends to pair Fino and Manzanilla Sherries with clear spirits like gin, vodka, blanco Tequila, mezcal, and light rum. “Dryer styles offer more of a blank canvas and allow you to play around with more bold flavors such as ginger, citrus, herbs, or nuts,” he notes. Assistant general manager Liz Zurek’s Cucumber Tequila Spritz ($14) features Callejuela Manzanilla Sherry, Espolòn Blanco Tequila, Apologue Celery Root liqueur, agave syrup, and muddled cucumber and basil, while her La Manzanilla ($14) blends Callejuela Manzanilla Sherry, Ginraw gin, house-made rosemary syrup, Meyer lemon juice, and Fee Brothers Lemon bitters. “There’s no other wine in the world made like Sherry,” Jackson adds. “It’s kissed by the salty sea air of Jerez, giving it characteristics that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the world—add that to the equation of a cocktail and all kinds of ideas start to flow.”
At Oloroso in Philadelphia, the Hyde & Oakes ($15) comprises El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry, Lustau brandy, lemon juice, house-made charred pineapple syrup, egg white, and Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, while the Barameda Highball ($15) mixes Yuste Aurora Manzanilla and Amontillado Sherries, Del Maguey Vida mezcal, honey syrup, lemon juice, and tonic water. “Our Sherry program is extensive and comprehensive,” notes general manager and sommelier Gordana Kostovski. “We feature 12-plus different Sherry houses, and each house, as I tell guests, has its own style so they each have a home and role to play on our list. We’ve found Sherry to be super versatile and a wonderful component to use in our signature cocktails—it can add brightness, acid, finesse, nuttiness, sweetness, salinity, complexity, and depth to a drink.”
Rich And Robust
While Fino and Manzanilla Sherries make excellent bases for light and bright cocktail styles, those on the other end of the spectrum, including Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, and Pedro Ximénez, offer more intense, nutty flavors due to heavy oxidation, which makes them better suited to pairing with aged spirits and other rich ingredients. “The flavors of a heavily oxidized Sherry allow us to add an incredible amount of depth to a cocktail, layering savory and umami flavors that many people would recognize in food but are unaccustomed to tasting in drinks,” says Harrison Snow, co-owner and beverage director of Lullaby in New York City. His Whiskey Drink ($16) features Lustau Oloroso Sherry, Abasolo whiskey, lime juice, agave syrup, mascarpone cheese, house-made parsley olive oil, and saline.
“Amontillado and Palo Cortado Sherries offer complexity and nuttiness so they can stand up to stronger ingredients; Oloroso contributes richness in body and a nose that’s super fragrant; and Pedro Ximénez brings in sweetness, richness, and body,” Kostovski notes. At Oloroso, the Blackberry Bramble ($15) blends Micaela Palo Cortado and Xixarito Amontillado Sherries, plus macerated blackberries and lemon juice, while the Doc Oc Sazerac ($15) mixes Xixarito Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Lustau brandy, Rittenhouse rye, demerara syrup, house-made mole bitters, and Peychaud’s bitters.
“Oxidative sherries—think Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez— have a natural nuttiness that I think can easily be enhanced with flavors we often associate with autumn: chocolate, dried fruit, tree nuts, whiskey, and rum,” Fox Bar’s Unterberg notes. At Corrida, assistant general manager Tim Knight’s Autumn Leaves ($17) features El Maestro Sierra 15-year-old Oloroso Sherry, Bear Creek spiced rum, Giffard Abricot de Ruisillon apricot liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup. At Helen in Birmingham, Alabama, the Good Fortune ($15)—created by the venue’s two bar managers Hannah Smarr and Kristine Brown— comprises El Candado Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva rum, Cathead Hoodoo Chicory liqueur, Bonal Gentiane-Quina aperitif, Florio Dry Marsala, coffee-infused Fernet-Branca amaro, Woodford Reserve Chocolate bitters, and Regans’ No. 6 Orange bitters.
Loa’s Gullo notes that Sherry cocktails have evolved right along with broader mixology trends. “While classic Sherry cocktails tend to be based on 19th century recipes, modern Sherry cocktails have recently developed more tropical, Caribbean, and agave flavors,” she says. “Not bad for a 3,000-year-old wine!” Her Smoke On Blonde ($16) is one such modern drink, mixing Valdespino Fino Inocente, Lustau Amontillado, and Gonzalez Byass Noe 30-year-old Pedro Ximénez Sherries, plus house-made tepache liqueur, muddled pineapple, Regans’ No. 6 Orange bitters, and a spritz of Del Maguey Tobala mezcal.
“Sherry pretty much pairs well with everything, and in stirred and shaken cocktails alike,” Snow says. “Most Sherries impart nutty, savory, umami notes, so they tend to pair very easily with spirits or ingredients that impart similarly savory notes like Scotch, rye whiskey, and demerara rum. But they’re also really fascinating when juxtaposed in a cocktail against big, bright, tropical flavors.” The Dole Whip ($17)—which Snow created with the late Brother Cleve, a partner at Lullaby—features the venue’s house Sherry blend, which is equal parts Lustau Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez Sherries, plus Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica rum, Lemon Hart Blackpool spiced rum, Fernet-Branca, house-made coconut cream, lime juice, and saline. Snow adds that he thinks Pedro Ximénez Sherry-based Espresso Martinis are the next big thing. It’s already a thing at Oloroso: The PXpresso ($15) blends Xixarito Pedro Ximénez Sherry with cold brew-infused Tito’s Handmade vodka, Averna amaro, and demerara syrup.
“If I’m doing a riff on a classic cocktail like a Martini I enjoy using a drier Sherry, but if I’m creating an original drink I want something a bit more commanding in presence like Palo Cortado or Oloroso,” notes Café Ba-Ba-Reeba’s Jackson. “These styles have a bit more personality and can play more of a starring role. Or, you can just add a little Pedro Ximénez to your coffee on a Sunday morning for a bit of fun.” Zurek’s Café Del Verano ($12) comprises Península Palo Cortado Sherry, Allen’s Cold Brew coffee flavored brandy, Magdala Orange liqueur, demerara syrup, and Fee Brothers Orange bitters. “I think we, as an industry, have gotten more educated and better at presenting Sherry to our guests,” Jackson adds. “When I started in the industry Sherry was viewed as something stuffy that highbrow people drank. Now, Sherry is on menus all over and the variety and versatility are exciting to a new generation of consumers.”