by Regan Hofmann
With summer in full swing, there are a few things we know you’re doing right now: spending all day outside, eating cold, light foods, and trying not to get heatstroke. Pinning down just the right thing to drink through all of this can be difficult – many “refreshing” drinks are loaded up with sweet juices and sodas that can get cloying fast, and classic cocktails can be too spirit-heavy for long drinking sessions in the sun. Enter sherry, your summertime savior.
At the Manhattan Cocktail Classic earlier this year, bartender Ivy Mix and sommelier Paul Grieco led a tasting tour across the sherry spectrum, from pale, salty fino (served chilled, it’s the ideal match for oysters and other raw shellfish) to dark, syrupy Pedro Ximenez, or PX for those in the know (try it with vanilla ice cream and thank us later). Grieco, co-owner of the Terroir wine bars, led a group of industry professionals through increasingly rousing choruses of “Salud!” before talking through the basics, from the essentials of the solera system, the method by which sherry distillers ensure a quality product across vintages, combining product from the oldest barrels into each new one, essentially rendering all of the wine timeless, to his own personal journey to becoming a sherry champion. As with many wine buffs, Grieco was first drawn to sherry because it was “difficult,” a new product to learn with its own very specialized terms and methods. He then followed the well-worn road from convert to evangelist, instituting sherry hour at Terroir (all happy hour patrons got a free glass of sherry, whether they liked it or not – “This is my sandbox and I can do whatever I want here,” as he explained).
Mix, head bartender at the Clover Club, created a trio of cocktails for the occasion to highlight sherry’s versatility, from the bright, green Jefe, which incorporates fino sherry with gin and celery syrup, perfect for a sunny afternoon in the park, to the dark, chocolate-tinged Soera Old-Fashioned (OK, better save this one for fall). Also one of the co-founders of Speed Rack, a charity contest for female bartenders, Mix estimated she’s responsible for “10% of the sherry consumption in this city.” She sneaks it onto her menus at every chance, primarily because its lower alcohol content makes it ideal for long drinking sessions.Jefe 1.5 oz Fino Sherry 1.5 oz gin .75 oz fresh lemon juice .75 oz celery syrup* Shake and serve up *celery syrup is made by combining 1 part fresh celery juice to 2 parts sugar. No heat required!
The Beagle’s sherry cobbler, the cocktail that started it all.
That same weekend at the East Village’s Beagle, co-owner Dan Greenbaum and writer Peter Liem walked a group of regular folks and pros in disguise through the history and evolution of sherry cocktails across the ages, starting with the sherry cobbler, which was invented to show off the newfangled 19th-century inventions of ice and straws (if that’s not the perfect summer cocktail, we don’t know what is). Light with fresh fruit, the Beagle’s version varies depending on what’s in season, but generally includes some berries and is a supremely simple concoction of sherry, sugar, and the muddled fruit, poured over as much crushed ice as is available and best sipped, languorously, on a veranda.
Time-traveling ahead about a century, the group then tasted the Bamboo, a response to a vermouth fad around the turn of the 20th century. The perfect appetite-spiking aperitif, the Bamboo is a simple mixture of equal parts sherry and vermouth, the only variable the respective sweetness of the two (Greenbaum prefers fino sherry and sweet vermouth, a variation sometimes known as the Adonis). Finally came the Round the Horn, a creation from The Beagle’s head bartender Tom Richter, which manages to bring together mezcal, pisco, vermouth, palo cortado and muscatel sherries in one harmonious, full-spirited yet sippable cocktail.Round the Horn In mixing glass add: 1 slice cucumber, bruised .75 oz Blanc Vermouth .75 oz Pisco .75 oz Mezcal 1 oz Palo Cortado Sherry .25 oz Moscatel Sherry Add ice and stir. Strain into a coupe glass; garnish with a floating cucumber disc.
While sherry is still on the ascendance to claiming its crown as the perfect summer spirit, there are a number of New York City bars that have caught the bug. At Evelyn Drinkery, A Little Boom Boom was created out of necessity, when an ordering error left the bar swimming in white burgundy. Combining cognac, Bonal aperitif, the wine and a particularly savory PX, it is an entirely grape-based cocktail. At Mayahuel, the Smoked Palomino has been a winner for years, adding amontillado sherry to the bar’s bread-and-butter spirit, mezcal, and rounding it out with grapefruit and lime juice, topped with soda. Or bring it back to basics with one of the best bamboos in town at Raines Law Room, a turn-of-the-century room for a turn-of-the-century drink. Take it out to their garden to make your summer of sherry complete!
And, for more background on sherry, including a handy diagram courtesy of The Beagle, check out my post on the subject from earlier this year. You can also check out some fun cartoons of the cocktails we tried at The Beagle over on Bar Scrawl.
Photo courtesy of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic