Sherry shouldn’t be sitting at the back of the cupboard gathering dust. From sweet PX to bone dry fino, sherry’s incredible variety makes it a great friend when mixing drinks, says bartender Nate Brown. And don’t turn your nose up at Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
I think it fair to say that Mummy Brown had a few of-the-moment tastes: she dressed me in red corduroys and a knitted green jumper, (which when matched with my hair made me look like a 3ft broken traffic light). She married my Dad when he had a mullet. She made a mean pasta salad: tinned sweetcorn, salad cream and all. Her favourite dessert was pavlova. And, most worryingly of all, her Sunday afternoon staple was a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
She made me pour it for her every week as she cooked the customary roast dinner. Naturally, it wasn’t long before I indulged in a sneaky taste. It was somehow both syrupy and sharp, bitter and sweet. It burned my throat despite it’s modest ABV. I hated it and could not for the life of me understand why she chose to drink it. Although, as this habit was partaken shortly after enduring a Church sermon, I assumed it was some sort of penance. The road to perdition it seemed, was drenched in Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
Fast forward two decades and what was my attitude then seems to be the general consumer attitude now. Mention the word ‘sherry’ to guests in a bar and you’ll likely garner little more than a smirk and a comment about diabetes. Even the Spanish shun it.
How embarrassingly wrong we all are. Fools, the lot of us.
Is there a booze product out there with a worse, less deserved reputation? Not on your nelly. Even the worst regarded consumables have a serve that lifts them from the depths of disgrace. Tequila? Sure, mass market brands are pretty much widely regarded as nasty. But even cheap Tequila has the Margarita escape act. Absinthe? Still has the association with the Bohemians and mad artists. Sherry’s equivalent doesn’t extend further than lobbing it in a trifle. Ouch.
And yet, I’d argue there isn’t a category on the market better suited to current trends and tastes. Its low ABV backbone, crisp, unapologetic flavours, the variety of styles and expressions (Lustau alone has over 40), and the smaller, friendlier bottle sizes. Sherry is the complete package. You can keep your bitters, this is my bartender’s ketchup.
Take the rising low-ABV zeitgeist. Two years ago if you asked for a Bamboo cocktail you’d have the bartender sneaking off to google it. Today, it’s a staple on the menu of the pioneering Mint Gun Club and ordering one across town has become something of a bartender’s handshake. Simply mix one part dry vermouth with one part dry sherry. Serve stirred down, or over ice. Add orange bitters if you really must, but none in mine thanks. The base provided by the sherry gives license for the aromatics of the vermouth to sing. Prebottle the serve if you like and take it to the park. Just remember, the fresher the better.
Remember Pedrino, those fino and tonic RTDs (ready to drinks)? Ahead of their time. Fresh fino and decent tonic is as good as any G&T I’ve ever had. But a word of advice: if the dry sherry in the bar fridge (or worse bar shelf) has been sat there for longer than a month and no longer excites the sides of your tongue, throw it away (or in a trifle?). It’s not expensive, anyway.
Not in the mood for a refreshing serve? Take a trip over to the other end of the dry sherry spectrum. Guests are moving further and further away from the dreaded sugary profiles whilst still loving the darker end of drinking. We are seeing low sugar versions of everything, none of which quite fills the void the sweetness has left behind in our cocktails. In steps oloroso with its ‘hold my beer’ attitude. The oxidative ageing has allowed sweet notes to perpetuate without any of the sugar remaining. Look at the descriptors used: walnut, caramel, cocoa nibs, rich orange, this is the equivalent of fat free chocolate cake that actually tastes delicious. How is this not a game changer?
Add a splash of oloroso to your stirred down and brown recipes. 15ml will give your Rum Old Fashioneds dryness and depth. 5ml in a Manhattan will clean up the otherwise cloying finish. Heck, even bung it in a Highball for savoury accents.
As for PX, the raisiny plump and jolly cousin? It isn’t just for Christmas. Some of these can be over 40% residual sugar, making it pretty much a sugar syrup when used correctly (read sparingly). Stick it in a dash bottle and add a few drops to make a richer Whisky Mac, or Rob Roy. In fact put it in nearly everything richer, I don’t care, just don’t be embarrassed to love it.
But best of all is the Martini. Taken more as a style than a recipe, the oh-so-cool King of Cocktails can be opened up to an endless catalogue of variations. Which is appropriate given that gin is no longer a singular profile. Forget the wet or dry, olive or zest approach. Instead, try three parts dry gin to one part fino or manzanilla sherry. Keep the gin classic and green, like Plymouth. Try it before you garnish it. You’ll probably end up going without the fruit. The saline, umami sherry will cleanse your Martini adding more structure and bite than even a fresh vermouth ever could. This is how Martinis are meant to be.
And as for Harvey’s Bristol Cream? That lonely, dusty, ocean blue bottle in the back of the drinks cabinet? It is essentially a blend of all the types of sherry that a bodega produces. Think of it less of slop bucket and more of a team effort. Serve it over ice with an orange slice. Honestly, just try it. It’s bloody delicious. It’s still simultaneously bitter and sweet, syrupy and sharp. Only now it’s everything I could ask for. You’ll thank me for this.
This isn’t so much a revolution as a renaissance. Looks like, as with everything, Mummy Brown was right all along.
Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.