I’ll admit, it’s taken me some time to warm to the idea of mixing sherry in cocktails. On its own, the wine is so well aged and perfect for any food combination. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would add it to other ingredients. In my mind it would be like taking a beautiful Bordeaux and blending it into sangria. However, if I want others to be open to trying sherry, I too should be open to trying sherry cocktails.
Recently, I met up with Ian J. Adams from 15 Romolo in San Francisco, California. Since winning the Copa Jerez, I’ve been cyber-stalking his Instagram feeds for inspiration. Not only is he a fellow sherry nerd, but also a real creative when it comes to sherry inspired cocktails.
I sat down with him to learn how he maintains the fine balance in his restaurant between serving sherry on its own as well as mixed in a cocktail.
Ian has been bar tending and managing bars and restaurants for a little over a decade. When he moved back to San Francisco, he had the opportunity to work with some really great wine folks who turned him onto the category of fortified wines and their practical applications in cocktails. He explained that when you get into dry, still wine with so much age and complexity, there’s really just nothing like it.
As we discussed sherry cocktails, he admited that working with sherry is a current trend in cocktail culture. He would go so far to say that the vast majority of sherry cocktails merely include sherry for the sake of including sherry. Most of the time, one can’t even taste the sherry, because it’s blended with a bunch of other stuff with a complete lack of balance. It’s just being included for the sake of being included, rather than being included because of the nuance that it provides. Sherry has an astounding amount of potential as a cocktail ingredient when it’s utilized to its potential. For that reason, cocktails can be a great gateway to introduce others to sherry who otherwise wouldn’t give it a second glance.
He explained that’s not specific to sherry, but to anything that becomes fashionable in cocktail culture to have on a menu; anything that people aren’t terribly familiar with, but now have to work with or want to work with because it’s trending.
It is an additional challenge, which I think is fun! The cocktails that are coming out everywhere are getting better and better. People are actually starting to make a note of the style of sherry that they’re using on the menu, instead of just writing sherry, making everyone assume it’s probably a cream sherry. It’s still trending upwards and the quality is getting better and better.
Ian’s also seen a big surge in the amount of people ordering 15 Romolo’s sherry flights, both the standard Tour de Jerez and the Old + Rare flights. They’re created for two different demographics: the former is for those who have never had sherry before and want to sample the spectrum, and the latter for people who know sherry really well and can’t / don’t want to decide on just one. (That’s exactly what I did when I first visited last year.)
For everyone in between, they’ve also seen a big spike in people who order sherry by the glass. It helps that the menu at 15 Romolo lists their suggested sherry pairings for each dish. Also, as Ian pointed out, it’s nice that half bottles are only 500 ml, which is very easy for a couple to split at the bar with a shared appetizer.
The cocktails at 15 Romolo will always be king. The team has a lot of fun coming up with ideas to keep sherry cocktails on the menu year-round. A comment Ian made has stayed with me as a reminder to remain open to the potential sherry brings to the glass, whether on its own or in a cocktail:
I love sherry and always have a few bottles in my fridge, if not dozens, but it’s also not the only thing I drink. One thing that you have to impress on people new to sherry is that it’s very different; it takes some time getting used to, but it also doesn’t have to be your ONLY thing.