New Life for an Old Beverage: The Reemergence of Sherry

With a nod to my friend Neal Dewing, who writes great stuff about cocktails over at this place, I wanted to share with you a bit about my love for a particular type of tipple: the Spanish fortified wine known as “jerez”, or “sherry”, named for the town in Andalucia from whence most sherry originates.  For those of you who are aware of sherry at all, you probably think of it as something incredibly salty and foul which you buy in the supermarket to cook with, or as a sickeningly sweet drink which your great-aunt liked to have after Christmas dinner.  Yet the former has nothing to do with the real thing, and the latter is only one type of sherry among many.

An article in today’s Torygraph pointed out that sherry is becoming increasingly popular among the hipsteratti, particularly because of the significant influence of Spain in the food and restaurant world at present.  This is something which, as a (half) Catalan, seems a bit odd, since when I was growing up it was just part of the expected cultural equipment around the house, like gin in an English home or sake in a Japanese home.  My parents cooked with sherry for special occasions, but never used the kind you would get in an American grocery store. Instead, they would use one of the varieties from Spain which they liked to drink, so that some would go into what they were cooking, and some would go into themselves.  And when we would visit family in Barcelona or Madrid, sherry was often offered as a matter of course: it was simply what one did.

The fact that now more restaurants and bars are increasing their listings of sherry, after many years of declining sales and availability, is both surprising and gratifying.  Just last week I had dinner at a new tapas restaurant here in D.C., which is so popular at the moment that they do not take reservations, despite it being quite a large space.  As my dining companion and I were ordering drinks before mulling over the menu, I was very pleased to notice that they had my favorite sherry – Tio Pepe Extra Dry  – on their drinks menu, along with several other good sherries I was already familiar with, as well as a few I had never heard of.  Sherry is exactly the right accompaniment to tapas, because neither the food portion nor the alcohol portion is very large; moreover a dry sherry helps with the appetite, particularly with savory, strongly flavored foods like one finds in Spain.

Even more widely, sherry used to be used as a base for a wide variety of cocktails back in our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ day, and a number of these are starting to make a return to bar menus.  Because there are so many types one can find, from dessert-like sweetness to mouth-puckering dryness, many different flavor combinations are possible.  This summer for example, for a party I threw at the manse, I made up a large pitcher of “rebujitos”, a Spanish warm weather cocktail made of sherry, soda, lemons, limes, and mint, poured over lots of ice. I had made it as a sort of back-up to two pitchers of sangria, in case someone did not want red wine, but I assumed that I would probably be the only one drinking the sherry concoction.  In the end I should have made more of it, because the sherry cocktail began disappearing almost immediately.

While I realize that the “hipster” element may scare away some of my readers from trying it, I assure you that it is worth your time to explore this area of human horticultural endeavor.  Whether it is the characters on a television show looking to the past like Downtown Abbey, or mixologists reviving old cocktail recipes involving sherry and non-traditional ingredients, the spirit is in the air, as it were.  There is a reason one can look at old films, or read works of literature from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, and observe stylish people enjoying different types of sherry, not because it is being promoted by some celebrity or musician. Rather,  it is simply something both very civilized and very enjoyable to drink.

"The Grape Harvesters of Jerez" by Joaquin Sorolla (1914)  Casa Museo de Sorolla, Madrid

“The Grape Harvesters of Jerez” by Joaquin Sorolla (1914)
Casa Museo de Sorolla, Madrid

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One thought on “New Life for an Old Beverage: The Reemergence of Sherry

  1. The rise of the tapas bar has certainly given the sherry industry a boost in the UK. There are certain dishes that really need a good dose of the fortified drink to wash them down sweetly. I belong to an era when the ‘drinks trolley’ had at least 3 sherries on it, tio pepe extra dry was my mother-in-law’s lunch time appetiser. Myself, I preferred Chambery, which while not a sherry because not Spanish was a very pleasant pre-prandial.

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