The problem with Sherry
Updated: Mar 29
Dear hipster bartenders, I just love your romantic notions of moving to sunny Andalusia & monologues about the Renaissance of Sherry. You’re all masters of the Bamboo cocktail or the Adonis as you wax on about the mythological properties of the Solera system as some sort of rare Pokemon card of knowledge. Before I dive in I must say Sherry is one of my beloved top 3 categories in spirits, I event did a preface for an amazing book called “Sherry by Talia Baiocchi” for its Italian translation published by Readrink & have travelled numerous times to Jerez to visit Bodegas!
Wait you haven’t heard of Sherry? Well that brings me to my first point…
NO one really has ANY idea what the deal is You can make the argument for Spain & the UK as well as parts of the US but realistically outside of that specific range the only thing you’re likely to find if you try your hardest is Tio Pepe Fino Sherry. Oh are you one of our followers from outside Anyone without prior knowledge what Fino Sherry is about is likely to open it, taste it & decide that it was a huge waste of money then either leave it on the shelf to oxidise or throw it in the bin. Your second best bet is some type of Pedro Ximenez being available on the market that is usually used as a substitute for sugar syrup & usually turns most drinks a delicious brown.
Although there will be bars around the world that will champion Sherry through its use in classic cocktails or attempt to promote it as a food pairing to Spanish tapas in the end everything ALWAYS comes down to VOLUME. I’ve seen bartending websites globally reporting Sherry as a trend or being part of another trend for the last 5 years: - 2013 - THE TELEGRAPH - 2014 - FORBES MAGAZINE - 2015 - THE SPIRITS BUSINESS - 2016 - FOOD REPUBLIC - 2017 - SHERRY.WINE - 2018 - THE DRINKS BUSINESS
Do you want to know what Sherry sales look like for 2002 - 2016 well have a look below:
That is because the usual demographic of Sherry drinkers is 55+, the average life expectancy is around 80 & that generation isn’t sticking around for as long as we think it could. So sales are declining, most people have no idea what it is & you cant get hold of decent product…
The PEOPLE vs the BARTENDERS So lets just say the planets have aligned & you’ve obtained a fantastic Amontillado that you’ve just popped open for the guest you’ve also happened to convince to give it as go. The Sherry is cold & poured into the glass then the first sip happens as the dry, tannic & sour wine guzzles down the neck of said customer - “interesting” - then they order a Mojito & leaves the Sherry to slowly warm up on the side.
I’m not talking here about the ‘correct’ way to appreciate the product, or the the skill behind making it or even if the bartender is doing anything wrong in this situation. Sherry just ISN’T mainstream or has a ‘perfect serve’ that we can bang out in every bar around the world that isn’t piggy-backing on an existing trend. I’ve heard a whole bunch of them: - Fino-Colada - Rum - Sherry Vermouth - Clue is in the name - Sherry & Tonic - Is Gin dead yet?
In 2015 thanks to Celia Schoonraad & Michael Callahan I had the pleasure to be part of her seminar at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans on “The Global Future of Sherry in cocktails” where I attempted to challenge the audience on how the perceive the category. I told a story about a Bodega outside the “Sherry Triangle” that produces a sparkling Sherry wine using the Méthode Champenoise as they do in France. The whole thing was a LIE & we were just carbonating a Sherry blend, adding bitters & sugar as well as sprinkling some marketing magic. The room lit up as if we revealed The Philosophers Stone to them & appreciated the product for what it was as opposed trying to be pretentious & smart-ass about a niche category.
EDUCATION & COMMUNICATION The global education about Sherry is absolutely awful & I would be surprised if even 10% of the readers are still reading this article from the opening sentence. For those of you in for the the ride when was the last time you attended a Sherry masterclass? Do you have any idea how the Solera system actually works? I’ve been to 10 Bodegas, 3 seminars & still scratch my head half the time.
The whole thing is controlled by the Illuminati wannabe - The Consejo Regulador - who have a bizarre role that can only be compared to that of the Judge Dredd comics because their role in the production of Sherry wines can be boiled down to: - Judge - Jury - Executioner - PR & Marketing They control & inspect the production of Sherry wines from everything happening during the growth process to blending of the wines & categorisation of what they can be called. Under the guise of the “greater good”, “heritage” & quality the “Sherry Educator” program which only runs once a year, is sponsored by Bodegas & has very limited spaces available this giant Bureaucratic circle-jerk is slowly killing the category.
In the End As always with articles like this I have presented with numerous problems surrounding the category as opposed to any solutions because naturally as a bartender these things are most definitely out of my control. So if anyone out there working for the Sherry industry - Let the young winemakers play with the wines, get some modern bartenders trained in your craft & instead of boring them with stories of Gypsies in the sun maybe sponsor a few parties with DJ’s on a beach?
For those who made it this far I salute you & the next Sherry & Tonic is on me. If its still around for us to buy…