It’s become quite fashionable in journalistic circles to introduce a story about a particular cocktail as being something you might have expected to see your grandparents drink but that you should try it anyway.
I’m going to suggest it’s time to retire this approach.
I didn’t know my grandfathers well but when I reflect on my grandmothers I remember two women who loved laughing loudly, group singalongs and a drink. Or two.
I also remember the stylish cocktail carts and elegant freestanding ashtrays of their houses.
Nothing out of date about that (except smoking I suppose).
I also remember the Sherry.
My grandmothers – the delightfully symmetrically-named Mabel and Muriel (Mae and Mu) embraced the full potential of Sherry as a pre-lunch tipple.
Poet Maya Angelou apparently did same so they could have had a Mae, Mu and Maya Mid-Morning Sherry Drinkers gang. And if they’d ever worn a t-shirt, that would have been a good thing to put on them.
But Sherry, after centuries of having proven its worth is now on the social outer.
Christopher Columbus loaded his ships with Sherry, making it the very first wine to be drunk in America.
And when Magellan set out to circumnavigate the globe in 1519, he spent more on Sherry than on weapons.
Fast-forward to the 1970s, Sherry was still everywhere.
Here’s Sean Connery in 1971’s Diamonds are Forever. James Bond using his superior knowledge of Sherry to assert himself in a genteel cock-fight.
Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry HERE was even a call-to-arms for emancipated women to just bloody invite themselves over for a shag if that’s what they wanted.
A valiant, somewhat feminist-if-you-squint-your-eyes message for the 1970s.
The good news though is Sherry is BACK.
And better than ever.
Before I get to my evidence for that claim, a few things to know about this versatile fortified wine which can be equally at home as an aperitif or digestif, at 11am or 11pm.
Firstly, Australian Sherry died in 2010.
The good news was that it was reborn on roughly the same day as Australian Apera, tasting pretty much the same.
Like Champagne – which we are getting used to calling Sparkling Wine now unless it is from Champagne – the drink was redesignated as being primarily about the growing location of the grapes (which you’ll remember is the opposite of Japanese Sake).
In this case, Sherry is only from white grapes grown in a specific region of Andalusia in Spain. You may have heard of Andalusia because of the bizarre dancing horses that tour every couple of years.
Apera is the Australian version, made with the same process.
Basically, the wine-maker deliberately leaves some space at the top of the barrel in which the wine is aging and introduces flor, which is a yeast (a word I enjoy almost as much as “Moist”), and oxidisation occurs, turning it into a fortified wine.
A good Sherry or Apera is delightful on its own – take the Pedro Ximinez here at Sydney’s The Bridge Room.
Fun to order, you get to try out your Inigo Montoya accent, with the double benefit of tasting great.
But Shake, Stir, Muddle is about cocktails so to talk Sherry, we need to talk Sherry cocktails.
And through this investigation, I have gathered the evidence that we are at the precipice of a Sherry Revolution.
For once, we aren’t looking to popular culture for our proof.
It was used as a character device in 2011’s fun Cedar Rapids to show how Ed Helms’ Tom Lippe is supremely uncool because he orders shots of Cream Sherry.
Not a positive reference. And quite isolated.
But popular culture is not everything, not even at Shake, Stir, Muddle.
What does feel like everything though is entering Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House.
In the smallest sail, the only freestanding one, is Bennelong, a restaurant of white napkins, neat-bearded waiters and $5 oysters (totally worth it).
Sit at the bar and peruse the cocktail list, you’ll find a lot of tortured puns among the 8 featured cocktails.
Notable among these is the Rye’it in the Middle with You, a delicate and delightful creation of rye whiskey, fino Sherry, tangy pink grapefruit, orange and raspberry.
Sip and ponder this extraordinary cathedral of the Arts that was opened in 1973 from a design dating back to the 1950s.
Yet no one would write it off as being too old fashioned to be relevant or cool.
So it is appropriate that it is here that we see the resurrection of this classic drink; a bit like the Sydney Opera House in that it belongs to this age as well as those past.
In recognising that beauty is not only found in the new or the complex, to complement the cocktail they’ve got two Sherries on the Digestif Menu – a Fino and an Amontillado.
You can order these as my Grandmothers enjoyed them, old school, straight up.
Like all wines, there is a spectrum of sweetness – or dryness if you prefer – in Sherryland.
Fino is the driest style, Amontillado still dry but slightly sweeter.
Harvey’s Bristol Cream, in spite of its undeniable role in bringing the gender pay gap to only 20%, joins other cream sherries as being the sweetest.
There’s no actual dairy in them, the story goes that it was once described as being “the cream” of the sherry crop. (It’s not).
Its sweetness tells me that it was quite likely what my grandmother was serving in the early 1970s when my brother – then a toddler – walked cutely around from lady guest to lady guest in my grandmother’s social gathering, sipping a minuscule and seemingly harmless amount from each glass before wandering out into the garden and pulling up ALL the flowers and trashing it in his pissed state.
A lovely family story.
The other Sherry story from family lore is that my other grandmother – with a theatrical flair her life and marriage didn’t really leave room for but way ahead of her time and setting the pace for Keith Floyd some decades later – liked to tuck into the cooking sherry while she prepped meals for her five children in the 1940s and 50s.
My grandfather was a very kind man but when I think of my paternal grandmother, I think of a Maya Angelou’s caged bird singing in the apparent freedom of white middle-ish class NZ.
And for the removal of doubt, drinking the cooking Sherry is not a solution to anything.
So seek out the good Sherry or Apera and break out those tiny glasses that are useless for anything else, or order a Sherry cocktail.
I’d suggest a pre-Prohibition cocktail, the Up-to-Date.
Drink it in memory of three people born about the same time as the cocktail was invented.
Jorn Utzon, who never got to see his masterpiece completed, and to my fabulous grandmothers who I would love to have had a Sherry with (or a Scotch, they were quite tolerant of diversity).
30 mL Amontillado Sherry
30 mL Rye Whiskey
5 mL Grand Marnier
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir over ice. Drain into a cocktail glass. Serve with a twist of lemon.
PS Please, please watch The Ship Song Project clip below, it is a remarkable tribute to this beautiful building and I promise you, you will LOVE it