While Sylvan and I were at Tales of the Cocktail last year, we were lucky enough to have Chris Stanley, recently of New York’s Clover Club, make drinks for us at the Mixo House. Of all the liquors and bar fixings at our disposal–and believe me, the amount was epic–the one ingredient that seemed to pique Chris’ interest more than any of the other ones was our sherry collection. He said he used sherry all the time in his drinks and people love them. After tasting his cocktails, I see why. I like to have a little glass of it before dinner, but Chris opened my eyes to how versatile it is, drunk straight or mixed in a cocktail. I realized that I don’t know squat about sherry as a cocktail ingredient, but would like to learn more. And I found I wasn’t alone. Several of our friends had a hankering for a sherry tasting, so we got a group of people together who each brought a bottle or three. We also collected a number of cocktail recipes containing sherry to experiment with. Much like a wine tasting, we started with the driest finos and progressed to the sweeter amontillados, olorosos and the the dessert stylings of Pedro Ximénez. Here are my (uneducated and increasingly tipsy) notes from that fun evening.
Alvear’s Fino—Very light in color, almost greenish. Strong aroma. Dry at first, slightly sour, with an almost salty finish. We agreed it would make a good addition to a dirty martini.
Lustau Light Fino—Light yellowy green in color. Weak aroma. Light on the palate, with a slightly lemony finish.
Williams & Humbert Dry Sack Medium—Brownish color, smells of brown sugar. Sweet, smooth, almost maple-like taste. This one really seems to be in a genre of its own since it didn’t seem to resemble the other finos. In fact, we moved it over to the amontillado table after tasting it.
Alvear’s Amontillado—Light brown in color. Complex aroma that is woody, citrusy and I thought almost fishy. The flavor was bright, balanced and sweet but not too sweet.
Sandeman Character Amontillado—Brown in color. Citrusy bouquet. Sweet at first, then woody and bitter. Though it has a fairly light finish, it was slightly astringent.
Hartley & Gibsons Amontillado—Dark brown in color. Alcohol fumes hit you before the sweet fragrance. This one has 19% alcohol. Sweet and strong flavored. Hints of orange and musty basement. Complex.
Alvear’s Cream Montilla—Orangish brown in color. Round and sugary, lightly orange in flavor.
El Maestro Sierra Oloroso—Dark brown with lots of body. Woody aroma. Taste was sharp and spicy, almost like witch hazel. Our least favorite sherry of the evening.
El Candado Pedro Ximénez A.R. Valedespino—Dark brown. Smells of raisins and molasses. Sweet and saturated flavor. Tastes of fruitcake and very raisiny. Popular with everyone, especially near the end of the evening. A good replacement for a glass of port after dinner.
Barbadillo Pedro Ximénez—Warm dark brown color. Sweet but weaker in flavor and more drinkable than El Candado. Light raisin and caramel flavors.
Sandeman Armada High Cream Oloroso—Pretty, walnut color. Velvety smell? (Okay, I was a little drunk by this time.) Balanced sweetness with a bright finish.
The surprise winners of the evening were all the Alvear’s sherries. They are affordable, complex and tasty. After the tasting of the sherries and the cocktails, most of us came away feeling more confident using sherry in cocktails, while also knowing what style we like to drink straight. The following cocktail was quite popular that night, and it introduced us to White Port as yet another new ingredient that we love in cocktails. Just when you think you know everything about everything in the liquor world, there’s always something more to learn.
The Robert Frost Cocktail – by Derek Brown
• ¾ oz Bourbon
• ¾ oz Amontillado Sherry (dry)
• ¾ oz White Port
• ½ oz Simple Syrup
• Dash of Orange Bitters
Combine ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and add thinly sliced orange and lemon wheels.