Trend Report: Shaking Sherry

October 2013

Those of us who read food rags more religiously than the Bible know that sherry, the fortified wine long relegated to your British grandmother’s cooking cupboard, has recently become the it-ingredient of bartenders from coast to coast.

There’s nothing new about the wine itself, which has been produced in the Jerez region of Southern Spain using the famed solera blending system (pictured here) for centuries. Even its use in cocktails is generations old: Sherry is a key ingredient in the original Flip, an egg-based tipple that dates back to Shakespearian times. Despite this storied history, however, sherry production has declined in recent decades. But its current favor among inventive mixologists is giving the wine new life. “Sherry is like that mousy girl in science class that seems all prim and proper, but she has so much more to give behind the scenes,” Denver barman Sean Kenyon says. “Sherry is seductive.”

Kenyon’s Williams & Graham is home to three sherry cocktails. The LoHi speakeasy serves the Sherry Cobbler, a 170-year-old recipe that includes nutty yet tart Amontillado sherry with orange and lemon wheels over crushed ice. Kenyon substitutes PX (a concentrated, syrupy sherry made with the Pedro Ximénez grape for which it’s named) as the sweetener instead of sugar. He also serves the Adonis, a classic that combines Punt e Mes vermouth, Dolin blanc vermouth, orange bitters, and Fino sherry—which is pale, bone dry, and definitively tangy thanks to contact with a yeast called flor. Williams & Graham’s current list also includes barman Chad Michael George’s Jamaican Me Crazy, a house concoction of Appleton 12-year rum, Dolin rouge vermouth, PX and Amontillado sherries, and orange bitters.

At Acorn in RiNo, co-owner Bryan Dayton serves the Spanish Armada, a mixture of the dark, nutty, raisin-like but still dry, oxidized sherry known as Oloroso; Amer Picon; Eagle Rare bourbon; and cherry bitters. In Larimer Square at Green Russell, barman Adam Hodak shakes his Oh Sherry by request. The drink combines PX sherry, Sombra mezcal (made by Boulder-based Master Sommelier Richard Betts), lemon and orange juice, curaçao, bitters, and a splash of soda.

At LoDo’s Vesta Dipping Grill, general manager Eric Dutton has been a fan of the fortified wine for years. Naturally, Vesta’s bartenders tinker with one of their supervisor's “favorite beverages of all time.” Kari Cummings created A Bitter Old Man, a combination of Fino sherry, Ransom Old Tom Gin, Cardamaro, and Bénédictine. Scott Ericson pours the Improved Alaskan, a barrel-aged cocktail of Palisade-distilled Jackelope gin, Noilly Prat dry and sweet vermouth, orange bitters, yellow chartreuse, and Amontillado sherry.

Wine Tasting: Sherry itself is more confusing than memorizing Bordeaux’s Classification of 1855. Countless styles—Fino, Manzanilla, Fino-Amontillado, Manzanilla Pasada, Palo Cortado, Amontillado, Oloroso, PX, and others—differ by microclimate, years of contact with flor, and whether or not the wine is aged by oxidation. For an introductory 101 we recommend you put the wine encyclopedias down (there are far more entertaining primers out there anyway) and get to know sherry by tasting it neat. The wine lists at the 9th Door and Ondo’s Spanish Tapas Bar offer several styles. At Old Major you can even taste a hard-to-find Palo Cortado, a Fino and Oloroso hybrid. Moreover, walking-encyclopedia-and-sommelier Bruce Conklin is on hand to talk to you about, say, the ways in which the acetaldehydes produced during sherry’s oxidation process work in cocktails.

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 Image courtesy of Shutterstock