Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels
January’s Mixology Monday is focused upon a trend that is steadily gaining steam in bars across the country: the use of port, sherry, and Madeira wines in cocktails. Sure, you can reach for the old standbys like vermouth and quinquina if you want to add some sweetness and complexity, but bitter aftertastes and quinine aren’t for everyone. That’s why this month’s host, Jordan Devereaux at Chemistry of the Cocktail, has asked us bloggers to mix with those wines that were tailor-made for shipboard and wintertime storage. [UPDATE: check out the round-up post!]
While I love a good glass of port, sherry and Madeira are taking some getting used to. Port is wonderfully fruity, full-bodied and sweet, but I still have a hard time thinking about something other than a mouthful of raisins when sipping sherry. Plus, sherry seems like something that grandmothers, Napoleonic-era naval officers, and Sherlock Holmes’s wealthier clients would sip in drawing rooms.
Nonetheless, over the past few months I’ve managed to dig up some sherry-inclusive cocktails that I find very enjoyable. While they have proven instrumental to acclimating myself to the wine, these drinks also employ some interesting flavor combos that I never would have thought to try. Lesson 1: Tequila + Sherry = Deliciousness!
La Perla #2
- 1-1/2 ounces Siete Leguas Reposado Tequila
- 1-1/2 ounces Lustau Amontillado Sherry
- 3/4 ounce Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with an orange twist.
Adapted from the La Perla, created by Jacques Bezuidenhout, San Francisco, 2005. Found in The PDT Cocktail Book.
I’ve yet to try the La Perla in its original form (Partida Reposado, Lustau Manzanilla, Mathilde Pear, lemon twist), but my gerry-rigged modification worked out rather well. What I love about apricot liqueur is that it acts as a kind of binder, weaving the vegetal agave and sweet, raisin-like sherry together. This drink made me realize the potential of agave spirits in cocktails, kinda like the Frostbite’s tequila-cacao combo, which is an eye-opener (as is Clyde Common’s Eggnog, a better-known combination of sherry and tequila). Adding a lemon twist to the Perla brings out an odd, metallic flavor and overwhelms the finer points of the ingredients, so I opted for the sweeter, gentler oils of the orange peel. If you’d like the sherry to stand out a bit more, go with a slightly milder reposado along the lines of Cazadores.
- 1 ounce Dry Sack Sherry
- 1 ounce Green Chartreuse
- 1 ounce Orange Juice
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. No garnish.
Created by Chris Hannah for Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans. Found in Robert Hess’s Essential Bartender’s Guide.
Very good! The Spanish Bay is full of fruit, herbs, and sweetness, tempered by mild acidity. Though it looks a bit murky, the drink is a winner. Floating around the edges is a taste that brings a Five Spice blend to mind (of all things).
If you’re wondering what “Dry sack” sherry is, it’s simply a dry sherry, “sack” being an antiquated English term for fortified Spanish wines. While there is, in fact, and company named Dry Sack that produces a medium sherry, try out different sherries for different effects, and don’t be afraid of blending them. For instance, I blended an amontillado and a cream sherry(which is a blend itself) just to gain a bit more sweetness and the drink turned out perfectly. Using only amontillado, the Chartreuse dominates.
Confused by all these names and types yet? So was I. Sorting through sherry’s incarnations and categories is one of the wine’s more intimidating aspects, but such classifications exist for nearly all distilled spirits — Scotch, tequila, brandy, you name it, it’s been categorized, and oftentimes the differences are slight. For a basic guide, check out Wikipedia (surprising, yes, but helpful). Amontillado, oloroso, cream, and Pedro Ximénez seem to used the most in cocktails. The drier sherries — fino and manzanilla — are better as apéritifs, while the sweeter varieties — Pedro Ximénez and cream — are best left for dessert, should you end up sipping the stuff neat.
Finally, we have a relatively straightforward drink from the Left Coast…
Montresor and Fortunato
- 1-1/2 ounce Emilio Lustau amontillado sherry
- 3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
- 1/2 ounce Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
- Lemon and orange peels, for garnish
- Three olives — Spanish, queen-size, pitted but not stuffed — on a pick, for garnish
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. Express the oils of the lemon and orange peels over the drink, then discard the peels. Garnish with the speared olives.
Created by Damian Windsor. Found in Left Coast Libations.
Named for the vengeful murderer and his victim in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the drink is smooth, slightly sweet, and subtle, changing significantly as it warms. The flavors seem to emerge sequentially — first comes the grape and oak of the sherry, followed by the vanilla-laced fruit and bitterness of the Carpano, topped off with the mellow orange of the Grand Marnier. The citrus remains surprisingly subdued. While I’m not really an olive fan, they do make for a nice little accompaniment to the drink — the Monstresor and Fortunato seems lonely without them and their saltiness, in fact.
So, find a bottle or two of sherry, do some research, and mix up some cocktails. You may not want to drink the stuff straight — yet — but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If worse comes to worse, you can always make a lovely sauce with what remains. Cheers!
“For the love of God, Montresor!”
“No, for the love of Sherry.”
Photos by IJL.