“Maybe in this day and age people are looking for more complicated, more elaborate drinks,” says Dan Greenbaum, owner of Brooklyn’s Diamond Reef. “But the beauty of the cobbler is it’s so simple. That’s why it’s so versatile.”
Greenbaum has become a champion of the classic cocktail, at heart a centuries-old mix of sherry, sugar and citrus, served over “cobble” (pebble) or crushed ice. With a noted affinity for sherry, Greenbaum has experimented with a wide range of variations on this highly riffable drink, essentially creating a cobbler for every season.
“Generally, you’re just taking some fresh fruit—you don’t even need to add juice—and muddling it with some sugar or simple syrup, and usually fortified wine,” he says of the classic template.
Of course, Greenbaum isn’t the only bartender working with cobbler variations. Across the country bartenders have used the template as a starting point, often stretching far beyond the classic. Consider Leo Robitschek’s Ma Cherie at the NoMad, which channels tropical flavors and muddles celery for a fresh, vegetal accent; or Sean Kenyon’s Mexican Gentleman, which augments sherry with mezcal and tequila, yielding a complex but higher-octane drink.
By comparison, Greenbaum is more of a cobbler traditionalist, usually keeping within the low-alcohol, sessionable framework of the original. Even so, his ongoing tweaks to the drink show how malleable the cobbler can be.
While sherry was his lead-in to the drink, he’s also experimented with port and vermouth; non-fortified wines like Champagne; and full-proof spirits, like gin or rum. Consider a little citrus for balance, he says, but otherwise “the other ingredients are up to you.” Top it all up with crushed ice, a straw and add a generous crown of fruit, mint, etc. to garnish. “To me, it’s a blank canvas for using whatever ingredients you want to use,” he says.
Switching up seasonal fruit is also key to customizing the cobbler, notes Greenbaum. While oranges and lemons are widely available to dress up the Cynar-spiked Half Court Cobbler, something as subtle as switching over to Mandarin oranges or clementines can make a difference. “Citrus is available all year round, but there’s better citrus available in the winter,” he says. Like blood oranges, which provide sweet-tart flavor and a dramatic pop of color in his Coastal Grooves cocktail.
To bridge between winter and spring, tropical fruit fits the bill, since it’s often in peak season and suggests warmer days to come. In the Juicebox Cobbler, pineapple and passion fruit combine for a tiki-like feel, built on a sweet vermouth base.
Fresh berries, meanwhile, can channel spring and summer, especially when paired with refreshing elements like sparkling wine or the bright tang of lemon. A prime example is Greenbaum’s bubbly, citrusy Champagne-based cobbler or his amontillado-based Sherry Cobbler, which incorporates raspberries. With just enough citrus to give acidic lift, “a raspberry cobbler is delicious with amontillado sherry,” says Greenbaum.
When the days grow shorter again, the template calls for a more robust, warming base, like Madeira, a key ingredient for the Cape Town Cup, or an apple-based spirit like Calvados or pommeau. Sherry purists might lean toward richer oxidatively aged styles, such as palo cortado or oloroso. Garnish with autumn fruits like apples, pear or cranberry.
The cobbler’s endless versatility is hard to deny, and yet it still gets lost in the shadow of trendier or flashier drinks. Why? “Maybe it’s just because it doesn’t have a day, like the julep has the Kentucky Derby?” says Greenbaum. “Maybe we can get the PR folks to create National Cobbler Day.”