We’re Going to See Sherry in a Few More Cocktails This Summer

Spanish fortified wine is back in style thanks to low-alcohol cocktails

July 4, 2018

By David Kitai / Photo: courtesy UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar

Sherry is finally breaking out of your grandma’s liquor cabinet. The long-misunderstood fortified wine has shrugged off its dusty reputation thanks, in large part, to a new drinking trend: low-alcohol ‘session’ cocktails

Session cocktails replace eighty-proof base spirits with fortified wines and lower-alcohol liqueurs. They’ve emerged — or re-emerged as one author would tell you — through a confluence of bartenders choosing to limit their indulgences and patrons looking for drinks that don’t leave them reeling. Sherry has become the darling ingredient in this trend.  

Much of that popularity has to do with sherry’s surprising versatility. Over centuries of practice, winemakers in Jerez have developed a range of different styles based around degrees of residual sugar and exposure to oxygen in barrel. Fino sherry tends to be bone-dry, fresh and delicate, while Oloroso and Amontillado tend towards rich, nutty, and oxidative flavours.

Fino is lighter and dryer so I stick to lighter ingredients,” said Sabrine Dhaliwal, VanMag’s 2017 bartender of the year and a local champion of the sherry cocktail. “With Amontillado and Oloroso I go for bigger, bolder, more bitter modifiers. One way to think of them is to treat Fino like gin and treat darker sherries more like bourbon.”

Sabrine Dhaliwal champions the sherry cocktail (photo: courtesy Sabrine Dhaliwal)

“The key is balance,” she insists, “as with any cocktail, it’s about letting the base flavour shine through.”

Dhaliwal sees plenty of local drinkers going for session cocktails. “It’s important to give options to people who don’t want to deal with full spirits,” she said, “and the trend is just going to keep growing, these low alcohol drinks are going to be huge over the next few years.”

For home bartenders, sherry cocktails offer a cheaper way to mix at home. Most drinks don’t require much more than sherry, fruit juices, sugar syrup and — if you’re gonna get real fancy — a splash of vermouth. You don’t need to go dropping hundreds of dollars on speciality liqueurs and rare bourbon.

To show off the ease of session cocktails, and sherry’s versatility, Sabrine shared three cocktail recipes based around the fortified wines.

Bright Eyes (Photo: courtesy UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar)


Method: Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice, shake vigorously  for 7-10 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass, top with soda & ginger beer and garnish with lemon wheel.


Stir/coupe/lemon twist

Method: Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice, stir until chilled and diluted (about 10 seconds), strain into a cocktail coupe and garnish with a lemon twist.

Petals and Pansies (photo: courtesy UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar)


Method: Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake without ice (to emulsify the egg white), add ice, shake vigorously  for 7-10 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass and garnish with dried rose petals.

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