Rum and Sherry – A shared history and great together in cocktails!

June 2-8 2014 is International Sherry Week and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m relatively new in my sherry knowledge, but it’s rapidly become a favorite of mind when constructing new cocktails. Sherry goes particularly well with rum in cocktails and I’ve got some sherry background and three rum & sherry recipes to share.

Sherry is a fortified wine similar to Port wine. Hundreds of years ago, regular wine was “fortified” by adding a distilled grape spirit to make the mine more shelf stable in barrels during long ship voyages. Fortified wines typically have a higher alcohol content than regular wine but usually don’t exceed the 20% ABV range.

There are a number of differences between port and sherry, but the easiest thing to remember is that true port wine comes from Portugal whereas sherry comes from the Jerez (sherry) region of Spain. Most port wine sold these days is fairly sweet and used as a desert wine. In contrast, sherry has a number of varieties falling along the spectrum from dry to sweet. Starting from the dry end there’s Fino, Manzanilla, and Amontillado. Moving towards the sweeter end are Oloroso and PX (Pedro Ximinez). Imagine the most ripe, luscious raisin you’ve ever tasted, in liquid form, and you can imagine what PX sherry tastes like. I’ve omitted a few styles and variations here for brevity but encourage you to read up on them.

It’s the ready availability of different sherry flavor profiles that make it easily adaptable to different types of cocktails. In my home bar I try to keep at least four bottles of different sherry styles at my disposal. If you’re going to dip your toes in and buy just one, I’d recommend a dry Oloroso or perhaps an Amontillado as your first bottle. For the drier sherries you’ll ideally want to refrigerate them to extend their shelf life once opened.

An interesting detail about sherry production is the solera system, wherein a number of barrels are used in a continuous aging process. Each subset of barrels contain a particular “age” of sherry from newest to oldest. Each year a portion of the oldest barrels is taken out for bottling and the barrel(s) are refilled from the next younger set of barrels. Though there may be an “average” age for a particular drop of sherry that’s finally removed, it has spent time in many barrels along the way. The primary benefit of the solera system is that difference in wine batches eventually get blended away and the end result is very consistent from year to year. Now that you know about the solera system it’s not surprising that a few rum producers such as Zacapa use the solera system for the same reasons.

Sherry and rum share a common nautical background, both sloshing around in barrels in ship holds as explorers, navies and pirates crisscrossed the oceans. A further connection between rum and sherry is that some rums are aged in used sherry barrels. Truth be told, used sherry barrels are a favorite for aging many spirits including Scotch whisky and bourbon, but we’re talking about rum here! For a “knock you over the head” rum aged in a sherry cask experience I highly recommend trying the Dos Maderas PX 5+5 or 5+3 rums.

So enough background and history – Let’s get to the cocktails!

La Frontera – Rumba, Seattle

Rumba bar manager Jim Romdall is a big sherry advocate and came up with this recipe for international sherry week. I saw a list of the ingredients on Instagram and noticed several key ingredients with one of my own concoctions below, so I of course immediately headed to Rumba to try it out. Jim describes the La Frontera as a Corn ‘n Oil variation using sherry. Rumba uses a hearty house made, rum-based falernum so you’ll see a bit of back and forth between the sherry flavor and the falernum spices.

  • 1.25 oz Lustau amontillado sherry
  • 1.25 oz Plantation 5 year rum
  • 0.5 oz falernum (Ideally not Velvet Falernum, or falernum syrup)
  • 2 dashes Angostura,
  • Squeeze of one lime wedge.

Build in short glass and lightly stir with ice.

Sherry Experiment #3

I came up with this after reading about the Sherry Cobbler in David Wondrich’s Imbibe! The basic idea is to use a big dose of sherry as your “base spirit”. However my improv made a left turn off the track and rapidly became not a cobbler. This is a somewhat sweet drink with no real sour component but nearly everybody’s who’s tried it raves about it. Also, the relative sweetness and overall character is easily adjust by popping in a suitable sherry. I wouldn’t go for PX in this recipe, as the sweetness might overwhelm. For suggested variations try an Oloroso sherry and/or Plantation Original Dark rum.

Sherry Experiment #3, Cocktail Wonk original
  • 2 oz Amontillado sherry
  • 1 oz Barcardi 8
  • 0.75 oz Velvet Falernum (Really, use the Velvet Falernum here)
  • 0.25 oz Dry Curacao

Build in double old fashioned class, fill with crushed ice.

The Smokey Old Quartermaster

This is my variation on the Old Quartermaster from Rum Club in Portland, one of my favorite bar in that city. While the original is quite good I wanted it to have a bit more depth and smoke. This is also a favorite with my cocktail friends who don’t mind a bit of the Islay in their drink.

  • 1oz Bacardi 8 rum or other good quality aged Spanish style rum
  • 0.5 oz Balvenie Doublewood 12 or other “woody” whisky
  • 0.25 oz Johnnie Walker Double Black or other smoky whisky
  • 0.5 oz Pedro Ximinez sherry
  • 3 dashes chocolate bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

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