Sherry is hardly just for grannies. The Spanish-made fortified wine comes in a remarkable array of styles, ranging from light and dry to rich and caramel-sweet. It's no wonder why bartenders at New York's innovative drinking dens are obsessed with the stuff. "To use the dry sherries as mixing agents is really interesting, because it gives you all those dimensions of spirits that you like," says Caitlin Doonan of tapas emporium Toro. "It has the nuttiness, it has some brine to it, it has oxidative character to some of them." Meanwhile, thanks to their "inherent raisin and currant notes," sweeter sherry varieties like Pedro Ximenez figure into the award-winning cocktail program at the Financial District tavern Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, says DRGG's Jack McGarry. Here are seven of New York's most exciting sherry-laced cocktails, sure to knock grandma's orthopedic socks off.
The Au Pear at James
Journeyman bartender Justin Briggs has been writing the drinks menu at James since the Prospect Heights restaurant opened its doors. The Au Pear is one of his latest, seasonally inspired creations. The blend of vodka, pear liqueur, lemon, and prosecco is topped with a float of Lustau East India Solera sherry. Briggs says its nutty, oxidative character lends the Au Pear a flavor reminiscent of a freshly bitten pear left to air-ripen. "It needed a sense of history to the fruit, almost." The caramel-hued sherry, he adds, "drains down into it, and you get this visual effect of the darkness of the sherry crawling into the ice."
The Black Tom at Grace Bar
Murray Hill newcomer Grace Bar tapped a who's who of top female bartenders to contribute original recipes for its debut cocktail list. When Lynnette Morrero was tasked with rethinking the Dark 'N Stormy, she gravitated toward ingredients recalling the spice trade (Grace O'Malley, the 16th century Irish pirate, is the bar's namesake). She settled on a mix of Gosling's aged rum, King's Ginger liqueur, date molasses, lime juice, and Lustau "Don Nuno" Dry Oloroso sherry. "The Don Nuno brings out the almond and all those really great wine notes," Morrero explains. To boost those flavors, she says to ask for a Black Tom "Royale"—which trades the Gosling's for sherry-cask-finished Zacapa rum.
The Old Dog Shandy at Betony
Betony's general manager, Eamon Rockey, lovingly calls the Old Dog Shandy "the beverage representation of my granddad." Its roster of ingredients -Greenport Harbor Brewing's Old World-style porter, Canard Noir; hot-smoked honey; sherry vinegar; and a misting of Black Parrot American pipe tobacco–infused white dog whiskey - recalls the smells of camping near his grandparents' Colorado home as a kid. The barrel-aged sherry vinegar adds nutty, complex acidity to a drink where citrus would feel less at home. The sherry vinegar "integrates really beautifully with dark beer and makes for a really lovely cocktail," Rockey says. "A shandy is so much more than just beer and lemonade...there can be some really cool stories to tell and riffs to have."
The Cape Cobbler at DB Bistro Moderne
Sherry has long been a fixture in the ever-evolving cocktail program at Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro Moderne, a joint effort between its sommelier, Joe Parker, and Darryl D. Chan, head bartender at Boulud's Bar Pleiades. The Midtown restaurant is fresh off a renovation that added a handsome zinc-topped bar, allowing for a greater focus on mixed drinks. With the new-for-fall Cape Cobbler, "We tried to take the Cape Codder and the Sherry Cobbler and infuse them into one," Parker explains. Oloroso sherry, thyme-infused simple syrup, and housemade cranberry compote are added to a gin base. Very little sugar is added to make the compote, Parker says, so the fruit's natural flavors can shine. "We try to leave it as herbaceous and bitter as possible."
Baltimore Eggnog at The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog
Bar manager Jack McGarry and his team at Dead Rabbit are on a mission to bring back pre-20th-century mixed drinks to their former glory. Their contemporary version of Baltimore Eggnog is a hat-tip to a 1871 recipe, including Redbreast 12-year-old Irish whiskey, Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez sherry, half-and-half, vanilla syrup, one whole egg, and a house blend of three rums intended to replicate brash 19th-century Jamaican juice - which, McGarry says, "would have been much more like...what we call 'hogo'" - a funky potency. The Hidalgo PX adds raisin and currant flavors that play perfectly with the heavy molasses notes of the rum.
The Jerez Hack at Toro
Sherry plays a big role in her drinks program, says Toro's beverage manager, Caitlin Doonan. "Sherry is something that is only Spanish; it can't be made anywhere else," Doonan says. "To celebrate not only that region but the beverage itself was really important to us." The winter-ready Jerez Hack resembles a Sidecar, but in lieu of brandy it features a nutty, oxidized Oloroso sherry new to Toro's bar. Measures of lemon juice and Combier add balance. "Then we use Moscatel sherry instead of any sort of simple syrup, which gives it an extra dimension - more citrus notes, and also a little bit more viscosity."
The Ambrosia #2 at Wallflower
Xavier Herit, the brains behind the beverages at Wallflower, mixes with a wide variety of sherries at the recently opened West Village cocktail bar. Consider the crisp, tangy, savory-sweet Ambrosia #2, which practically swims in fine Spanish libations. (By contrast, the original Ambrosia cocktail - created in 1920s New Orleans with Cognac, Cointreau, Calvados, lemon and Champagne - was decidedly Francophile.) It features Cardinal Mendoza Brandy, not one by two sherries (Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso), verjus, maraschino liqueur, sparkling wine and orange bitters.