Saturday, March 26, 2011

Liquid: Popping your sherry

Photo: JOEL VEAK

Contemporary cocktail trends can be a little hard to keep track of. Everything old is new again, of course, but everything new is also new again for the second or third time. Sherry cocktails are a case in point. They've been threatening to bubble over from insider status at the trailblazing mixology joints for a while now, and second-tier cocktail bars have started throwing the seminal Sherry Cobbler (sherry mixed with sugar and fruit over ice) onto their drink lists.

It's about time. Aside from having a distinguished literary pedigree (Dickens and Poe, among many others, sung its praises), this venerable staple of 19th-century drinking was probably the first example of an actual worldwide cocktail trend. And it played a huge role in shaping the way we drink, popularizing the drinking straw as well as the practice of shaking a cocktail over ice, something that was a little harder to come by back in the mid-1800s. 

All of which brings up one important question for the contemporary drinker: um, what's sherry?

"I think people don't understand sherry yet," says Joy Richard, bar and beverage manager for the Franklin Restaurant Group. "They think of it as something their grandmother drank at the end of meal." 

True indeed. But while we should probably ignore most everything Grandma says when it comes to politics, with drinking, she's usually a great role model. 

Sherry is actually a catchall for an extraordinarily diverse category of Spanish wines from around the Jerez area that defies its misbegotten reputation. They're wines fortified with distilled spirits and aged in a barrel-transferal process called the solera system. The Spanish names may be harder to keep track of, but like other wines, they can be classified within the categories dry, medium, and sweet. Finos and manzanillas are extra dry, with the latter being particularly well-suited for salty foods. Amontillados, aside from being ridiculously fun to pronounce, are still dry but nutty, while olorosos are heartier and richer with darker fruit. Pedro Ximénez and moscatels are the dessert options that pair well with cheeses. 

"People have a misconception that sherries are all sweet," says Deborah Hansen, the chef, owner, and sommelier at Taberna de Haro (999 Beacon Street, Boston, 617.277.8272). "But they run from bone dry, as in zero residual sugar, all the way up to Pedro Ximénez, which is like a syrup." That diversity is what makes them well-suited for a variety of cocktail recipes. "If you want something dark, use the darker, dry olorosos," Hansen explains. On the other end, she says, since "everyone is into making these lovely homemade syrups, the texture of Pedro Ximénez, the intensity and the sweetness, can stand in for a syrup."

What type you decide to mix with then depends on the flavor profile that best suits your taste. "The diversity within the category of sherry is amazing and offers so many opportunities for different flavor experiences in cocktails," says Misty Kalkofen of Drink (348 Congress Street, Boston, 617.695.1806). "With manzanillas and finos, you have almost a brininess that appeals to those who like savory cocktails, the dirty-martini drinkers of the world. With the more oxidative sherries like palo cortado and Pedro Ximénez, you have richness and sweetness."

Finos may be the easiest to work with though. One features in Kalkofen's recipe for The Dunaway ($10.75), made with 2.25 ounces of Lustau Fino Jarana Sherry, .5 ounces of Cynar, .25 ounces Luxardo Maraschino, two dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters, and lemon oil. At Dante (40 Edwin H. Land Boulevard, Cambridge, 617.497.4200), they're using a fino as well in the What the Flip ($9), made with one ounce of fino sherry, one ounce of berry brandy, .5 ounces of sweet vermouth, one egg white, a dash of orange bitters, a dash of simple syrup, and a burnt orange zest. 

"Any sherry is suited for mixing; it all depends on your goal," says Kalkofen. 

Our goals here? Same as they always are: to broaden our drinking horizons while respecting the traditions of the past. Grandma would be proud. 


For more recipes, click here.

 

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