A Cocktail to Remember: The (Very Likely) Love Story of Sherry and Agave

by Emily Bell
Aliza Eliazarov
April 2015

Recipes

St. Bernardino | Ryan Lotz
Into a nonreactive container, pour 8 ounces Greek olive oil followed by 1 liter Pueblo Viejo reposado tequila. Infuse 6 hours. Freeze. Thaw and strain through chinois lined with coffee filter. In a shaker with ice, Combine 1½ ounces of the olive oil fat-washed tequila, 1½ ounces Lustau Papirusa Manzanilla Sherry, 1 dash orange bitters (50:50 Fee Brother’s and Regan’s), and 1 pinch salt in a shaker with ice. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

La Frontera | Ezra Star
In a shaker with ice, combine 1 ounce Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry, 1 ounce Del Maguey Vida mezcal, ½ ounce cassis, and ½ ounce lime juice. Shake and strain over cracked ice into a 10-ounce Collins glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with lime peel.

The Grand Tour | Jared Sadoian
In a saucepan, bring 1 quart water to boil. Remove from heat, add 8 cups sugar, and stir until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature. Transfer to nonreactive container, add the diced flesh of 1 pineapple, cover, and refrigerate 48 hours. Purée in blender, strain through a chinois lined with cheesecloth, cover, and refrigerate. In a shaker with ice, combine 1 ounce Lustau Dry Amontillado “Los Arcos”  Sherry, ½ ounce Fortaleza reposado tequila, ¾ ounce of the pineapple syrup, ¾ ounce lime juice, and 1 dash Regan’s orange bitters. Shake until chilled and diluted. Strain over ice into a double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.  

Spirits and cocktail ingredients are a lot like people looking for—or thrust into—relationships. Such is the story of Sherry and agave, creatures of nagging complexity and products of long, rocky development. Agave, the relative ingénue, and Sherry, the longtime player, are being very much, and very well, thrown together in Boston.

“There’s definitely a lot more Sherry flowing around town now,” says Jared Sadoian, MIT graduate turned head bartender at Craigie on Main and The Kirkland & Trotter. Along with Ryan Lotz of No. 9 Park and Rising Star Bartender Ezra Star of Drink, Sadoian is playing matchmaker with the New World desert distillate and the fortified Old World wine. With Sherry’s categorical complexity alone, there are as many possible liaisons between Sherry and agave as there are bartenders to mix them.

Some relationships, like Sadoian’s, are about pairing delicacies. Such is the case with The Grand Tour, his first-ever attempt at mixing tequila and Sherry that defied the Sherry-as-modifier trend and put the partially oxidized complexities of Amontillado at center stage. “I’m more interested in delicate flavors and balance,” says Sadoian. That delicacy might have been a liability when the Sherry “didn’t have the backbone” to stand on its own, but a mere half ounce of Fortaleza reposado tequila came to the rescue. The reposado allowed Sadoian to add more aroma and flavor without losing the aperitif-level ABV or masking the contours of the Amontillado.

Relationships being what they are, there’s also room for louder characters who keep each other in check. Just ask Star. She mixes La Frontera with none other than Palo Cortado, the unpredictable small production Sherry with a very big flavor profile. “Not only are many Palo Cortado’s expensive, they’re very complex,” says Star. Palo Cortados begin as Finos or Amontillados (chew on that) but the flor (the thin layer of yeast) fails, leading to oxidation and alcohol levels that unite the richness of an oxidized Oloroso and the dry complexities of Amontillado under one cap.

In finding a mate for that kind of complexity in agave, Star encountered one of the central issues of working with Sherry: “If you don’t use the product correctly, it’s easy to hide its complexity and have it overtaken by modifiers.” That might make the Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal seem like a bold choice, but Star found a surprising balance. Beyond “smoke and earth the Chichicapa has a subtle iron flavor that, when put with the Palo Cortado, seems to marry very well. I like to think of it as a collection of intense flavors, forcing each other to calm down.”

And then, of course, there are the relationships that blossom after a bit of careful finessing. “It’s a hard relationship to predict, because Sherry is so varied,” says Lotz, who has the advantage of working in proximity to Cat Silirie’s historically Sherry-friendly wine list at No. 9 Park. The basic chemistry between two ingredients can only be manipulated so much. Lotz did more than his part by fat-washing Pueblo Viejo reposado tequila with olive oil in preparation for its encounter with Manzanilla. “A classic pairing is Manzanilla or fino with olives,” says Lotz, who found the briskly dry Lustau Papirusa Manzanilla “pairs beautifully with a lightly aged tequila.”Fat-washing the reposado was a way to play on that classic olives-Manzanilla pairing, imbuing it with some gentle, complimentary fruit and brine—a kind of compatibility boost.

If Sherry and agave were (generally) meant to be, Steve Olson is the guy who’s going grab the mic at the wedding and shout “I always knew it!” Olson, “aka Wine Geek,” is an unabashed, professional proselytizer for what he loves, and he’s known for a long time that Sherry and agave “highlight one another’s strengths. The smoke and earthiness of agave spirits can play off of the (sometimes matching) salinity and minerality found in Sherry, particularly in the dry Finos and Manzanillas or the nuttier Amontillados,” says Olson. There’s also a range of ways they can love one another. “Texturally, agave spirits and Sherry make complementing bedfellows. Sherry in the form of a PX can be used as a sweetener.” Agave spirits, for their part, “have a natural acidity that highlights and enhances the dryness of Sherry, or brightens the flavors of the sweeter styles. “They both also have an inherent earthiness or terroir built in that can be a perfect match, but can also create great contrast.”