The idea started at The Beagle, a short-lived but much-loved New York City bar, “where it was all sherry all the time,” recalls Matt Piacentini, now co-owner of The Up & Up and Stay Gold.
It’s a straightforward trick: a splash of sherry, particularly dry styles like fino, amontillado or oloroso, can add a subtle nudge of salinity or nutty richness to drinks that typically only call for vermouth. Stirred classics like Martinis or Manhattans are a natural fit for this trick, but it can also be applied to sours and even tiki-style drinks.
The Sherry Split
“People figured out 150 years ago that one ounce of 12 to 15 percent alcohol wine works really well with two ounces of gin or whiskey,” Piacentini explains of the classic cocktail ratio of strong spirits and either dry or sweet vermouth. Since both vermouth and sherry are fortified wines, it’s easy to swap one for the other—or, as Piacentini advocates, split the difference and use a half-ounce of each in the same glass. The 2:1 spirit-to-fortified wine ratio remains the same, he notes. “You’re just playing with what kind of wine that is.”
Of course, the type of sherry used adds an additional layer of nuance. For a Martini variation called the Lifetime Ban, he opts for a bracing fino sherry to supplement blanc vermouth. But for whiskey-based drinks like Piacentini’s take on the Perfect Manhattan or the Rob Roy, the deeper, oxidized notes of oloroso sherry are a better match for the half-measure of sweet vermouth, yielding a “dry but rich” effect, Piacentini says.
“So much of what you get from sherry is on the finish, not in the front,” explains Piacentini. “It rides underneath and comes out at the end to make it all a little more interesting.”
A natural complement to stirred-and-stiff drinks that historically call on fortified wine, sherry can also work in less expected formulas, like the Daiquiri. In this case, Piacentini recommends splitting the sweetener component with sherry. Starting with a classic Daiquiri blueprint, he calls on a half-ounce of rich demerara syrup and an equal measure of oloroso sherry. The end result is a Daiquiri with a ruddy hue and a surprising, subtle nutty undertone that follows through until the last sip. (Fino works in this variation as well, with a brighter effect.)
“This works so well in rum drinks,” Piacentini observes. “People think orgeat is the tiki flavor—but so many of those drinks have sherry in them. Trader Vic loved sherry.”
Even within the standard 2:1 cocktail ratio, there’s plenty of room for variety when adding a splash of sherry. Piacentini will play with the proportions of the one-ounce component, adding just a little sherry to supplement the vermouth (try oloroso paired with sweet vermouth, he advises, or brinier amontillado with dry vermouth), or adding quite a lot, keeping only a little vermouth. Yet most often, he’ll stick with a 50-50 split.
“By splitting that ounce half and half, you can usually get a pretty nice result without having to think too much,” Piacentini observes. “I tend to not want to think that hard when I’m making a drink.”