Spirits Close Up: Sherry

Sherry at Young Joni's back bar in NE Minneapolis // Photo by Kevin Kramer

Alameda Sherry in a Sherry Cobbler at Young Joni’s back bar in NE Minneapolis // Photo by Kevin Kramer

There’s no doubt that sherry can be an acquired taste. Sipped neat, one might find it tangy and robust, or acetic and brash. But paired with the right spirit or sugar, it can be transformed to show more like toffee, hazelnuts, and salted caramel. Here’s how to mix it.

Bit player: Sherry is an oxidized, acidic, and fortified wine, so mix it into cocktails just like vermouth, aperitifs, and bitter liqueurs—in judicious quantities and supporting roles—for depth and nuance.

Think of it like wine: Don’t mix any single-estate limited-edition sherry with sugar and ice. Find a brand near the bottom shelf, but not one that’s collecting dust. Wisdom & Warter is a great place to start.

The dark rises: Oxidized sherries like amontillado, and even darker, oloroso, bring a clarion, nutty, and tannic overtone to a cocktail. They act as a fine foil to any strong spirit—like apple brandy in the Walter Mondale or with equal parts rye whiskey (and a splash of Grand Marnier and bitters) in an Up to Date.

And the light to meet it: Fino and manzanilla are pale sherries that have been protected from oxygen during fermentation. They’re delicate, though biting, and maybe even a little salty. Their dryness blends well with vodka and gin—sub them for dry vermouth in a martini to make a Tuxedo—or balance them with citrus and sugar, in a Collins or cobbler.

Sherry cobbler: In the mid-1800s, it was the most popular cocktail in America. Lightly muddle some orange slices and sugar (or simple syrup) in a mixing glass, top it with a good two-to-four-ounce slug of pale sherry, shake and strain into a Collins glass with lots of fresh ice. Serve with a long straw, berries, and citrus.

Sweets: If you’re mixing with cream sherry, dial way back any extra sugar. If you come across Pedro Ximénez (PX) sherry, drink it with dessert, not in a cocktail. And that cooking sherry in the back of your pantry? Leave it there.

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.