DOES THE WORD “SHERRY” inspire, for you, an image of lace-clad old biddies sipping gaggy-sweet syrup from cut-crystal stemware, a few doilies flung about to complete the picture? You are not alone, says Alison Sever, bar manager at the Local Vine (thelocalvine.com) on Capitol Hill. “Sherry has a reputation as something your grandmother used to drink,” she says. “Most of us grew up with an awful impression of it, and rightly so. The product available was a terrible imitation of true sherry from Spain.”
But bartenders like Sever are rediscovering real sherry—the stuff made in the Jerez area of Andalusia, Spain. There, sherry is fermented, fortified, and aged in the barrel using the solera system, which blends older and newer vintages. “By the time the wine has gone through, five to 100 years may have passed,” says Sever. “Despite all of the time and care, the wines are a bargain because they have not been popular here in the U.S. for some time.”
When stirring up cocktails, Sever reaches for Manzanilla, a delicate type of sherry with a somewhat crisp edge. Recreating recipes she unearthed in pre-Prohibition bartender books, Sever found the classic sherry cocktails were often pucker-up sour, so to soften the Local Vine’s Bombay punch, she subbed oranges and orange juice for lemon and lime. She infuses the mixture with cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise, approximating the flavors created when teas were steeped into cocktails of yore. These same spices lend a deck-the-halls vibe to the drink, so a big boozy bowl of it makes for fun times at holiday parties. Feel free to lay out a doily or two for old time’s sake.