You’ve likely come across a sherry cocktail or two on drink menus at some point in the past decade—but likely not many more than that. Sherry is an ingredient that’s often misunderstood, having been resigned to digestif status by older generations. Contemporary cocktail bartenders, however, have given new life to this fortified wine, tossing it into everything from tropical-influenced drinks to twists on classic cocktails.
Sherry is a type of fortified wine, which is to say it’s had a spirit added to it for increased shelf life, similar to vermouth. It comes from Spain and can only be produced within a specific region known as Marco de Jerez (aka the Sherry Triangle), which comprises three cities: Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It’s produced in a variety of styles, from the dry styles of fino and manzanilla to the oxidative amontillado and palo cortado styles and the sweet styles of oloroso and pedro ximénez. Most sherries are made from just one grape, called palomino, while some of the sweeter styles are made with pedro ximénez.
As far as cocktails go, sherry’s rise to the mainstream can be partially credited to the low-ABV cocktail movement, since the fortified wine serves as a great base for lower-alcohol drinks, but cocktail bartenders have also latched onto the ingredient for the distinct flavors and acidity that sherry varieties provide.
These sherry cocktails will show you the fortified wine’s full range in drinks.
1. Sherry Cobbler
The prototypical sherry cocktail, this drink’s origin dates back to the mid-1800s, making it one of the oldest classic cocktails in existence. Its formula is simple: sherry, a sweetener, crushed or pebble ice, and a menagerie of fruit and herb garnishes. Some bartenders keep it classic and only use one type of sherry, while others blend oloroso, amontillado, and so on to create a more complex sherry base. Most important, though, is the ice: It must be crushed, cracked, or pebble; cubes will leave the drink heavy and under-diluted.
If you’re looking for a Martini-esque drink without the robust alcoholic punch of the Martini’s gin or vodka, this cocktail is the answer. This classic version calls for equal parts dry vermouth and dry sherry, plus a couple dashes of bitters (Angostura and orange, specifically). As for the dry sherry, fino and manzanilla are the two go-tos. This cocktail has the alcoholic strength of wine, and is floral and herbaeous, with a beautiful balance of sweet and dry. You can drink it all afternoon or evening long.
Crafted sometime in the mid-1880s, the Adonis was born at the Waldorf-Astoria New York hotel, created in honor of a Broadway musical of the same name that was the first show to reach 500 performances. This low-ABV cocktail employs sweet vermouth in a way similar to the Manhattan, but instead of whiskey and bitters, the vermouth is paired with dry fino sherry. The stirred drink is then finished with an orange twist for a soft, citrusy aroma.
4. Coronation Cocktail No. 1
This classic cocktail appeared in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book, but is relatively obscure when compared to its sherry-based siblings, the Bamboo and the Adonis. Similar to the Bamboo, this drink splits dry vermouth and sherry as its base, but it’s sweetened with maraschino liqueur for sweetness and depth, and is finished with orange bitters and a lemon twist.
5. Cabana Club
Created by esteemed bartender Yael Vengroff, this sherry colada riff is simple in its build, but has mounds of depth and complexity due to the ingredients it calls for. Nutty, oxidative amontillado sherry is paired with coconut water, coconut cream, coconut puree, cinnamon syrup, and absinthe. It’s easy-drinking yet complex enough to appeal to cocktail sophisticates, and as far as low-ABV drinks go, this one is as tasty as it gets.
6. Italian Bird
This spirituous twist on the bittersweet tiki classic the Jungle Bird is the perfect drink for Negroni lovers looking to try something new. Aged rum serves as the base and is paired with bitter Campari, dry and saline fino sherry, honey syrup, and a pinch of salt to make the flavors pop. Unlike the Jungle Bird, this drink omits the pineapple juice and is stirred rather than shaken, but pineapple gets some aromatic play in a pineapple sage garnish.
7. Tootsie Roll
Inspired by the sweet, chewy, chocolate-flavored candy, this drink resembles a Manhattan in format, with a base of rye whiskey that gets paired with a rich PX sherry and chocolate bitters. This simple, playful cocktail is served up and is garnished with a maraschino cherry for a final flourish of decadence.
8. La Perla
Created by bartender Jacques Bezuidenhout, this Martini-style cocktail combines tequila with manzanilla sherry and pear liqueur for a drink that showcases the best of the Mexican spirit. It’s vegetal, strikes a perfect balance of dry and sweet, and has lovely undertones of orchard fruit for complexity.