Served alongside sugar and citrus over crushed ice in the iconic Sherry Cobbler, or as a companion to vermouth in drinks like the Adonis and the Bamboo, dry sherry has a long history of being used in cocktails as both a base and as a modifier.
But the use of the sweet, sticky Pedro Ximinéz sherry (affectionately known as PX) in mixed drinks, on the other hand, is a relatively recent phenomenon.
“I only started tasting more PX sherry options after I fell more in love with the drier styles of sherry,” says Chantal Tseng of D.C.’s Mockingbird Hill, who likes to use PX in place of simple syrup in classic drinks like the Old-Fashioned, the Whiskey Sour and the Margarita.
Made from raisinated grapes that contain up to 450 grams of residual sugar per liter at pressing—making them nearly twice as sweet as Aunt Jemima pancake syrup—it’s easy to see why PX is so effective as a sweetener. Fortified and aged in the solera system, a process by which fractional blending creates a multi-vintage wine, it’s not uncommon for PX to exhibit a variety of unique flavors—from chocolate to dried fruits to black tea to molasses.
“The fact that sherry is … brought together through the solera system year after year after year, you get this sort of concentration of flavors in very specific flavor profiles,” says Aaron Gregory Smith, Managing Director and owner of San Francisco’s 15 Romolo. “It’s almost like with a scalpel, the way you can bend it with other spirits and bring those flavors out specifically,” he adds, noting that when paired with rum, PX will bring out notes of tropical fruit, while when paired with bourbon or Scotch, it’ll accent the spirit’s stone fruit flavors.
In the bar’s Pedro Suckerpunch, PX brings the sweet to bourbon and Amaro Nonino, while a garnish of coffee liqueur highlights the raisinated flavors in the sherry. It acts as something of a stirred sister to Natasha David and Jeremy Oertel’s shaken Betty Carter, which combines bourbon, PX, Amaro Nonino and lemon juice.
Boilermaker’s Erick Castro likes pairing PX with darker spirits, too, especially Cognac, rum and whiskey. Inspired by the 1934 book, Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars, he riffs on the Manhattan in his Ken Burns Effect, which replaces vermouth with Dry Sack Sherry (which is a blend of Oloroso and PX). “The raisin, toffee and caramel flavors contributed by the Pedro Ximenéz in the sherry mix so well with the spice already found in the rye whiskey,” says Castro.
When swapped into shaken drinks, PX adds a “complex rich twist, like the addition of bitters, but more rounded with it’s rich, textured sweetness,” says Tseng. In her appropriately named PX Daiquiri, she mixes rhum agricole, lime, PX and nutmeg for a cool-weather riff on the classic Daiquiri.
While PX undoubtedly plays nice with others, Tseng is also quick to plug the joys of taking it back straight, its richness and gauntlet-level sweetness almost acting as a dessert replacement. “There is a time and place for all cravings,” she says. True that.