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On Beverage: Sherry cocktail creators revitalize and modernize your grandmother’s favorite drink

Back in the day, as they say, sherry was identified almost exclusively with maiden aunts and other ladies “of a certain age” who, upon receiving guests, would inevitably put the kettle on for tea and trot out an ancient and decidedly oxidized bottle of cream sherry.

Truth be told, little has changed in the intervening years. Despite the best efforts of the owners and marketers behind Spain’s finest bodegas, sherry still suffers from a crisis of identity among many consumers, who persist in viewing it as a stodgy drink best suited to older folk not quite up to drinking vodka or gin.

Without a doubt, this is one beverage in need of a serious image overhaul.

So what better way to modernize the venerable fortified wine than to tap into the überhip mixology circuit and sponsor a sherry-based cocktail competition? That’s precisely what two organizations, Wines from Spain and the Bodegas of Jerez, did at the end of 2007.

It all began with a mass call for entries last spring by Steve Olson of aka wine geek, a company created to educate and empower cocktail creators, and culminated with a “cocktail off” held live at the Flatiron Lounge in New York City near the end of November. Nine cocktailians representing bars, restaurants and lounges in four states were charged with not only preparing and presenting their cocktails, but also with penning an explanation of the decisions that went into creating each drink.

At stake were a trip to Jerez with Olson and two full scholarships to the Beverage Alcohol Resource, or BAR, training course as well as cash prizes and, of course, glory. The victor, working on his home turf, was none other than the Flatiron’s own Giuseppe Gonzalez, who created the Madroño Cobbler.

Madroño Cobbler

Adapted from a recipe by Giuseppe Gonzalez, Flatiron Lounge, New York City

3 ounces medium Amontillado sherry 2strawberries—one hulled and the other sliced and fanned for garnish 2cinnamon sticks, one broken in two 1/2 ounce herbal bitter orange aperitif 2bar spoons of rich demerara syrup

In a cocktail shaker, lightly muddle the hulled strawberry with the demerara syrup and herbal bitter orange aperitif. Add broken cinnamon stick, sherry and ice. Shake lightly. Strain into a wine goblet or highball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with fanned strawberry, whole cinnamon stick and straw.

Andy Seymour, an aka wine geek partner and sherry ambassador, says it is “an amazingly balanced and beautiful drink that probably would have won the competition on its own merits, but it was also a true sherry cocktail that really highlighted the character of the wine.”

Sherry cobblers are, of course, nothing new—Seymour identifies the basic Sherry Cobbler as probably the best known of the older, traditional sherry-based cocktails—but the Madroño puts a modern and vivacious twist on the old standard. The sherry Gonzalez used to make his drink is an Amontillado, one of the drier classes of sherry, which Seymour says takes particularly well to mixology.

Sherry Cobbler

Adapted from a recipe in “Killer Cocktails” by David Wondrich, HarperResource, 2005

1 slice orange, cut in half 3ounces Amontillado Sherry 11/2 teaspoons rich simple syrup seasonal berries for garnish, preferably mixed blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.

In an iced cocktail shaker, shake one half of the orange slice with the sherry and simple syrup. Fill an Old Fashioned glass or wine goblet with cracked ice. Strain cobbler into the glass, garnishing with the other orange half, a handful of berries and a straw.

“A lot of people think that the dry styles like Fino and Manzanilla, being such fresh tasting wines, will work well in cocktails, and they do,” Seymour says, “but the nine cocktails in the competition featured eight different kinds of sherry, so there’s a lot that can be done with even the sweeter styles such as Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez.”

Indeed, the first and second runners-up in the competition, respectively by Jim Meehan of PDT, short for Please Don’t Tell, and the Pegu Club in New York and Don Lee, also of PDT, both employed sweet sherries.

Still, each of these cocktails also relies on weightier, more intense spirits like American rye whiskey and small batch bourbon to balance the nutty, raisiny, crème brûlée flavors of the bigger bodied wines.

All this is inspiration, perhaps, to dust off those old bottles of sherry and get mixing. Or better still, throw them out, buy a few new bottles and start having some fortified fun.

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