Look back at the cocktail books of the 19th century and early 20th century, and you find sherry as a common ingredient. American bartender Jerry Thomas’s 1862 guide features a Sherry Cobbler adding sugar and orange, and a Sangaree mixing sherry with sugar, water and nutmeg. In Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, recipes include the Sherry Twist Cocktail mixing sherry with Cointreau, brandy, vermouth, lemon juice and cinnamon.
While sherry is making a comeback on cocktail menus, it remains chiefly restricted to top-end bars playing with vintage recipes. At the Nightjar in London, Harveys fino is included in the Ginza Cocktail along with Japanese whisky Nikka from the Barrel, sake vermouth, pomelo bitters, Campari crystals and bamboo charcoal. The bar’s elegant Advance Sour (pictured above) uses the rich Harveys 30-year-old Pedro Ximénez with Woodford Reserve bourbon, mastiha honey, freshly squeezed lemon and orange and marzipan syrup. This is part of a move by Harveys’ distributor, Maxxium UK, to encourage bars to use the brand’s premium expressions.
It comes at a time when sherry – once seen as grandma’s Christmas tipple – is being embraced by a new generation turned on by its provenance and variety of styles. A new wave of sherry bars in London over the past two years includes José in Bermondsey, Capote y Toros in South Kensington and Bar Pepito in King’s Cross – named Time Out bar of the year – while high-quality sherries have been championed by restaurants such as Sam and Eddie Hart’s Barrafina and Fino.
This has been good news for the category, says Jane Wilson, Maxxium UK’s senior brand manager for Harveys. “Previously it had an old-fashioned image, and younger consumers had no knowledge of sherry, what it is or how to serve it. It was not that they didn’t like it but, worse still, it wasn’t on their radar. People had forgotten what complex sherry wines taste like, so trial and education are key to its future success.”
With staff sharing their knowledge of sherry with customers, these bars are instilling confidence in consumers that sherry fits into 21st-century lifestyles, Jane adds. “Discerning consumers are consciously seeking out new drinks, and sherry is gaining a resurgence with new followers, giving us the opportunity to share with them just how good sherry can be when served correctly. The love of sherry and food-matching is also emerging and, rather than being pigeon-holed as an elitist experience, it should be celebrated as a passion to be shared socially with friends and family and embraced by lovers of fine wines nationwide.”
Already the UK’s number-one sherry, Harveys has been leading the category’s fightback in the UK. This includes the “Harveys Half Hour” campaign which sampled sherry to over 200,000 adults last year and is set to achieve the same again in 2012. It aims to recruit new consumers and re-engage with lapsed fans, promoting ideas such as the signature serve of Harveys over ice with a slice of orange. Maxxium UK is also encouraging more discerning drinkers to trade up to the intense rich flavours of its VORS range and has particularly been building distribution for the Pedro Ximénez.
Drinks distributor Molson Coors UK is currently working with Harveys and sherry producer Bodegas Hidalgo – with its flagship La Gitana manzanilla sherry – to develop the category for on-trade customers. Molson Coors UK’s senior buying manager for wine, Gary Keller, adds: “We are looking to expand our sherry offering and hope this will bear fruit in the future.”
Harveys Cellars in Bristol has reopened as a contemporary sherry, wine and cocktail bar, with plans to roll it out as a brand across the UK. Originally designed as a restaurant in 1961 by Sir Terence Conran, it has been developed in collaboration with Maxxium UK and its Harveys brand.
Located in an area once central to Bristol’s sherry trade, it features Harveys memorabilia from the past 40 years on the walls and large Harveys sherry barrels as tables. The bar serves fine Harveys sherries including its VORS range, served with tapas dishes created to complement them.
Owner Clinton McLeary, who runs the bar with general manager Claire Judd (pictured), said: “I am passionate about sherry and its heritage in Bristol so, despite the state that the cellars were in, I knew that I wanted to take on the task of redeveloping them into an iconic city centre venue. Eventually we would like to roll the brand out across the country, offering something that is unique to consumers.”