On this episode of the “Cocktail College” podcast, host Tim McKirdy is joined by Melissa Brooke, bar director at New York’s PS, to unpack the Sherry Cobbler. From inspiring a number of themed bars across the Atlantic to spreading the practice of drinking through a straw, the Sherry Cobbler, while a classic cocktail, taps into the modern trend of lower-ABV imbibes. Tune in for more.
Melissa Brooke’s Sherry Cobbler Recipe
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- 3 orange slices
- 2 ounces Lustau Amontillado sherry
- Garnish: fresh berries
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Hard shake until well chilled.
- Strain into a chilled highball or snifter glass.
- Top with crushed ice.
- Garnish with fresh berries.
Check Out the Conversation Here.
Tim McKirdy: It’s the “Cocktail College Podcast.” We’re joined in the studio today by Melissa Brook. Melissa, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
Melissa Brooke: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
T: I’m excited to get into this drink today, one that perhaps is not the best for the season. I’m not sure, it’s a particularly chilly day as we record here in New York, but it’s the Sherry Cobbler. Timeless, season-less, this drink. Convince me.
M: It’ll warm you up.
T: It will.
M: It doesn’t have to be warm to warm you up.
T: The Sherry Cobbler. Here’s the first thing I think about when it comes to this cocktail. I feel like it’s one of those ones that people will be like, “Yes, I’ve heard of that or I think that I know it, or I have a basic concept or probably it has been gaining steam again in recent years.” For those who need reminding, tell us what a Sherry Cobbler is, please.
M: What is a Sherry Cobbler? It’s interesting that you said they’ve been gaining traction in recent years and I think part of that is with the clamoring for lower ABV-style cocktails once again. I’ve loved this cocktail forever. I just love sherry so that’s why I’m here, but sherry does not pack as much of a punch alcoholic-wise as perhaps some of the other spirits that people might be familiar with, as it is a grape-based spirit, fortified wine style made from Palomino grapes mostly. The Sherry Cobbler is a very easy cocktail for even the laymen to make in that there’s really only three ingredients, the fourth being frozen water. If you can get sherry and if you can get sugar, and if you can get your hands on some citrus, you pretty much have this amazing, beautiful cocktail at your ready.
T: How much of an outlier is it in the modern-day cocktail sphere where we think about this idea of — and I might be wrong here, but I believe there might be some muddling or fruit going into the preparation of this. I feel like we hit the old apex mountain for that with the Caipirinha, maybe the Mojito in recent years and I feel like things have been going downhill on that preparation front.
M: Yes. When I was refreshing my memory on how classically this cocktail was made, there really is not a lot of mention of muddling and, in fact, the ingredients — even if you’re going back to the 1800s — seem to be just thrown into a glass of some sort, shaken, and then either poured directly into the vessel that you’re drinking from or strained without any muddling. When you’re shaking with the ice and with the force of the shake, you are really muddling the fruit, for example, that’s in this cocktail. I’ve never personally muddled a Cobbler, but also you can. In the bartending community, there’s a lot of opinions, but sometimes if you’re making it and it tastes really good, then I’m thinking that’s A-OK, whether it’s muddling or shaking.
T: Two bartenders, three opinions, maybe I don’t know. Again, or just maybe one further step removed, just that idea of using a chunk of fresh fruit as a component in the cocktail and maybe doing the old dirty dumper or however you want to describe it. Just I feel like I don’t know, maybe that speaks to something of the pursuit of consistency that we see in bars these days where maybe folks would prefer to use just juice or-
M: Like a quarter-ounce of-
T: Exactly, of juice or even prefer to save the fresh stuff for as a garnish rather than — I don’t know. I feel like I don’t come across those too often.
M: I guess, what you’re getting if you’re muddling or bruising the actual fruit as opposed to just using, not just, but as opposed to using the juices that come from it, you’re not getting, obviously the peel. That’s an entirely different part of the fruit that tastes very different and potentially might add, maybe a little bit of — I don’t know what, I don’t want to say bitterness but if there’s the pith in there.
T: The essential oils and that-
M: Exactly. Again, so I said what the ingredients are, but I wasn’t as exact. We’re talking about citrus, but citrus, theoretically, if you’re making it properly, by the way of a few slices, it says two to three of oranges, sherry and sugar. Now, we could do the same thing and talk about sugar and how is that introduced or you using superfine sugar, hoping that it dissolves, or are using simple syrup?
T: Yes. It’s an interesting conundrum there. “The Regal Shake,” some people might call that one we were talking about before, discussions for another day, though we have thoughts on the regal shake here.
M: I feel as though our thoughts are the same.
M: We digress.
The History of the Sherry Cobbler
T: Yes. Listener, you did hear that right before, though, earlier when Melissa mentioned the 1800s. This is a drink that we have very definitive mentions of stretching back that far. Why don’t we dive into history here? Can you take us back to some point in the 1800s? What year would it be in? Where would we find the first mention of a Sherry Cobbler?
M: I would love it before I say even the first mention, which I think we talked a little bit before, and I feel like you — I digress. I’d love to talk about, not necessarily the first mention right away, but just the fact that there are two mentions in literature that to me is — it’s a Charles Dickens novel is one of them, so that’s pretty popular. When we’re pouring through, and when I say we, I mean all these amazing cocktail historians that have come before me and have literally poured through newspapers, literature, all kinds of documents, what have you to find these details that they did a really great job, and wrote books for me to just read them a lot more easily. “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.” That’s a novel I know, I’ve heard of. I guess when I had read it when I was younger, I guess I wasn’t interested as much in the cocktail diaspora as I am now, but that’s in 1843. There’s a mention of not only the Sherry Cobbler in that, but also in a novel that was written, I think in 1852 called “The Upper Ten Thousand” by someone named Charles Astor Bristed. The actual preparation of the Cobbler is walked through. In both of these, there’s mention of a straw and ice. Currently, obviously, to not think that there’s a straw available, or even ice is unheard of. It excited me to then dive deeper into where is ice coming into the cocktail zeitgeist during this time, and where is the straw coming in. Those to me, the mentions of the Sherry Cobbler and the ingredients, and the characters loving it, by the way. It’s like, ”This is the best cocktail I’ve ever had,” which you read a lot. In also cocktail guides and books that were written in the late 1800s, there’s mentions of Sherry Cobbler, and ladies and gentlemen alike will love this. It’s crazy that they’re gendering a cocktail. It’s going to be like this great thing that you’re all going to like, which I think is a great cocktail, so it makes sense to me. It’s pretty palatable to the masses.
T: Yes, definitely. I think you mentioned there that the preparation is also described, so there is a feeling that maybe people reading this or not, everyone reading these novels at the time would’ve heard of the drink, but it must have been somewhat notable enough to include it rather than choosing something so esoteric that no one’s heard of. It reflects public opinion at the time.
M: Yes. The fact that these authors that we now know are very famous to us, are hearing about this cocktail specifically and then mentioning it in a book that they’re writing.
T: I’d done a little deep dive there as well. I think I came across this in the “Oxford Companion,” which is wonderful for research on these topics. I believe it was the same year the Dickens novel came out, I think it was 1943. The first-
T: 1843, yes. Not 1943. 18 in that one a little bit. Good catch.
M: You got it. . I have my notes here.
T: Yes. My mind just wanders off. 1843 in The Strand in London, I think David Wondrich in his, what do you call it, David Wondrich in his entry for the Sherry Cobbler there in that book mentions that there’s the first American-style bar opened in London that basically focuses on two American drinks. It’s the Sherry Cobbler and the Mint Julep, which are somewhat similar in composition to the idea.
T: I find that fascinating too. You were talking about straws and ice and thinking about how we take them for granted. We think that we are so forward thinking with the idea of concept bars these days, or taking — sorry guys we’re an aperitivo bar, we only serve, I don’t know, Aperol Spritzes or whatever, but this concept existed basically 160, 170 years ago. I find that fascinating.
M: I do too, actually on two levels for this one so firstly, they’re concentrating on like one or two cocktails. It’s not even just a larger genre of cocktails, like aperitivo. Secondly, I think there has always been– I don’t want to say has always been, but from what I have read recently, a lot of — I don’t want to say fighting words, but about what country cocktails were created and Americans just want to take ownership over certain things. Then you have our brethren across the pond who are saying, no, it came here and you mentioned David Wondrich, he’s a great person to go back and look at because he actually finds the research that does like yay or nay. Sometimes it’s impossible to find, especially I think during Prohibition, we lost maybe a lot of literature about these cocktails that were created prior to, in the 19th century and so the fact that there is a London bar being like, “We’re going to make these cocktails and they’re American,” and in some of my travels, I wasn’t sure — It seems that the Cobbler was definitely invented in the United States.
T: It seems that way. Yes.
M: There is definitely — some people want to take ownership over certain things, so I think that’s really interesting.
T: Yes. We’re mid-1800s here. Any other notable years around that time or things that stand out in the history of the drink for you?
M: Well again, like for me, the notable years also, we already spoke about this a little bit. Where the ice, for example, when did ice start get introduced into cocktail culture? How were people just drinking like warm glasses of spirit? Yes is the answer, but so it really seems like the 1830s is when ice for the masses is coming to be. Now whether that means ice for the masses, but only the upper echelon of society, I’m not quite sure because I found a bunch of different articles but either way, ice for the masses isn’t until the 1800s. Full stop like middle of — where are they getting their ice? We have refrigeration systems here at least in New York City, from what I understand, they’re getting it from New England, from frozen lakes. Like from frozen water, because that’s what ice is. It’s free and comes from Earth and nature. Then they just had to figure out how to get it here, which obviously I assume horses are involved and they get it here and then all of a sudden these New York bartenders are having to harvest and butcher ice.
T: It’s wild.
M: If you go to, there’s many cocktail bars here in New York City and just here in our world now where people are using ice in that way but it’s a lot of work. Again, even if we’re doing that, we have a freezer right behind us that we can put it back in and pull it out of. Now we’re getting mallets and ice bags and all of these other different bar tools to help utilize the ice and make it exist in the cocktail.
T: It’s so fascinating. The history that you’re outlining there, I think you can definitely attribute the popularity of ice to this drink in some way because like we mentioned the Cobbler alongside the Julep, neither of these drinks exist without ice. It’s crucial to the — you could argue that about most cocktails but there’s ways around it, especially modern day. Another one I have here, just along those lines, Harry Johnson, very famous, is a name that will come up a lot. I’m sorry if I’m jumping in on any of your facts here.
M: You’re not.
T: But I believe in the 1880s, somewhere he noted that without a doubt, it is the most popular drink or cocktail. Again, if we are giving it something of some credit for spreading the popularity of ice, I think that’s fair enough to say given what he’s saying about the Sherry Cobbler at this time.
M: Yes. He’s saying it’s the most popular, so you better have all the ingredients, including the one that maybe is hard to source.
T: Really hard to source.
M: I believe both he and Jerry Thomas, but definitely Jerry Thomas also made mention of this cocktail as one of the most important parts of it was looking pleasing to the eye. It not only tastes good, but it’s beautiful. In my opinion, the ice actually does enter because when I think of the most right now, beautiful Cobbler, I picture — it almost looks like a snow cone on top and then you’re building your garnishes around it and getting fresh fruit and berries and whatnot.
M: Without this beautiful specific type of ice that’s being used in this drink, you’re not going to get that beauty that, I guess, was also what made this cocktail luxurious, or appealing to people. I think that’s important as well to note.
T: What goes wrong for the Sherry Cobbler?
M: I don’t think anything.
T: What happens because-
M: Oh. Why does it disappear?
T: Exactly. It’s on this streak. Doing so well. Johnson saying this is brilliant. I think another one, there’s a Paris Universal Exposition again, thanks Dave Randich for this and the “Oxford Companion,” but l I think this happens in 1867, they’re getting through 500 bottles of sherry a day at this convention purely because of Cobbler. The Sherry Cobbler’s on this tear.
M: Also, not to try and out nerd you or like out factoid you.
T: Bring it.
M: Again, I was trying to figure out how sherry got here or when did sherry get here in the first place? I was reading articles about how Magellan had hundreds and hundreds of barrels of sherry on his maiden voyages. Sherry was really knocking around, getting to us a lot earlier than I had envisioned it might have. Obviously, I understand when sherry came about originally, might have preceded that by a lot, but there was lots of sherry being had. You’re right. Then it just fizzles out. I’m sure there are a lot of answers for that. I know if we go a little bit later down the line and get to Prohibition. I love to drink sherry on its own, but if you’re talking about the Sherry Cobbler, people weren’t making cocktails when it was illegal to be drinking because they were just trying to get whatever they could and get it quickly. I assume that has something to do with it. In the early 1900s, again, I guess anything if it’s not being spoken about or something else just takes over, maybe stirred cocktails or just really-
T: The novelty of ice is worn off. How fickle we are.
M: We are. That’s funny. Another thing too is about the drinking straws. In a lot of accounts, you read that the reason why they wanted to drink out of straws is because it was bad for your teeth to touch the ice. Like dentists said, I’m sure everyone’s teeth were so gorgeous back then. The ice, the straw really prevented your teeth from touching the top of the Cobbler ice.
T: It’s crazy. I think another thing when it comes to sherry and Prohibition, it’s just how are you drinking alcohol in the U.S. during that period or where are you getting your alcohol from? Someone’s making it here illicitly and probably to a very low standard, or we’re bringing it in from abroad for the most part. Whether it’s coming through Canada or from whiskey, I guess. I look at that and I think two things. First of all, I don’t think Al Capone and the likes have set up a Solaris system, where they’re waiting to get their floor to perfectly develop for their sherry. We’ll get into sharing a little bit, but you know what I mean? I can’t imagine Capone and the gang thinking, this is what we need to invest our time in. Also if we’re buying from abroad. You want bang for a buck. People want to get drunk, people want to get loaded and it’s like, what’s the strongest thing we can get for the cheapest price? Sherry is not it.
M: No. Also, I just realized I had a little bit of a moment where it could also have something to do with — I’m the worst at pronunciations but phylloxera. That was around the late 1800s so that’s also another huge possibility that I should have thought of. With these vines being destroyed in Europe, maybe it was actually genuinely just harder to get your hands on grapes.
T: Yes, that’s probably so true. Again, probably another theory here could be right, that extreme popularity of sherry in the U.K. and the U.K. being a closer market and just easier to get it there probably established relationships already. Who knows? Probably like much in history, it’s not one factor, it’s many.
M: Well, we know currently, with the supply chain, what an issue it can be getting stuff.
T: We’re living through those.
M: I got it.
T: All right, we’re going to fast forward around 100 years, I’m going to say. What about now? Why do we feel like this is a drink that’s becoming popular again? Yes, there’s more focus on it these days.
M: Yes. Again, I’m going to just harken back to this whole low-ABV movement that we have. I think a lot of people are drinking less anyways and then if they are imbibing not trying to drink to get drunk so much anymore. Also, with cocktail culture, I don’t even know how many years at this point to say, like 20, 10, people really love cocktails and love understanding them. It’s again, not about drinking to get drunk as much but it is about drinking something that genuinely has an amazing flavor profile and interesting ingredients. Again, with this one in particular, I think oloroso is 18 percent alcohol by volume and that’s I think around the highest in terms of sherry. You can enjoy this really wonderful cocktail and still feel good afterwards. I think it’s a really well-balanced cocktail. The coolest thing that I think about cocktails, for especially laymen, is that with three very simple ingredients, you can make an entire library of cocktails, and the three ingredients, I said, spirit, sugar, and citrus. Input one, take out another and you have a whole other cocktail, like a Daiquiri. Those three things are in a Daiquiri. For this cocktail, again, you take a specific type of spirit, which is the sherry, specific type of citrus, which theoretically is three orange slices, and a specific type of sugar, which could be actual sugar or simple syrup, and you have this cocktail that tastes delicious. It’s really complex and we can talk about sherry, and why that makes it so complex. There’s just a lot of layers to this very, very, I don’t want to say basic but basic cocktail.
T: The fact that it’s called the Sherry Cobbler, does the Cobbler become an unofficial category of drinks that julep does in a way? Are there any other common base spirits or ingredients, whether it’s a fortified wine or something that’s used to your knowledge too or it’s just the Sherry Cobbler? It’s just like, that’s just the name.
M: No, there’s a Champagne Cobbler. There are many Cobblers you can make with wines of different sorts. If you go through these old cocktail books from the late 1800s, into the early 1900s, they have sections on Cobblers. It’s not just sherry. I happen to like the sherry the best because I just love sherry. Specifically, I would say, amontillado sherry, for me, is just such a winner.
M: There’s other kinds of Cobblers, but that is a really good question. I love the idea of all these different categories of cocktails, which the word cocktail itself was a cocktail. That was the Old Fashioned, which is mind-blowing. Yes, you would have your list of all these cocktails and go into a bar and have this original menu in the 1860s and it’s just like, “I’ll have the,” and they have the silliest names, the coolest names of all time. Sherry Cobblers is a much easier name to say, I think.
T: I love the old categories of cocktails too. You have your flips and whatnot and the Cobbler suddenly in there your Juleps. I don’t know. It’s cool. This is going to be a hard one for you because you’re a sherry fan as I am. I’m assuming that you enjoy drinking sherry on its own or in cocktails. Hypothetical question here. Why do you think the bartending community has somehow been able to do a better job of embracing this ingredient that bartenders at large like than the sommelier community in a way. I know plenty of somms that love sherry too but I would imagine most bars get through a lot more sherry than most restaurants do when on their wine program. Why do you think that is?
M: That’s such a great question. I was working at a restaurant through the pandemic for the past three years and it’s a fine-dining Michelin-star restaurant. Their wine program is fantastic or the sommelier, there’s this young amazing genius. I started running the bar program and I put a sherry cocktail on my menu. He loves sherry and we used to talk about it all the time. Actually, the restaurant which was contemporary American, he was able to put sake for the tasting menus on one of the lists and yet sherry — I think it’s a generational thing. I think my parents’ generation, for example, when they think of sherry they think of Harvey’s Bristol Cream. I actually don’t even think I’ve ever had it but it’s sweet. I think that the issue possibly is that people hear the word sherry and think, “Oh, it’s a sweet dessert wine.” Which, by the way, can be and also is delicious. The sweeter sherries are also fantastic. It’s a much larger category than maybe people are educated on and maybe current sommeliers are like working on that but just haven’t got there yet or haven’t gotten there yet. For me, I love savory cocktails, period, or nuanced cocktails and I also really love clean cocktails that don’t have a lot going on. Sherry again, I’m going to keep repeating but it’s lower ABV so you can work with it in a lot of cocktails and it’s not going to make the alcohol by volume rise. I had mentioned amontillado earlier, like there’s different categories and a sherry connoisseur I am not necessarily, but certain categories to me have this amazing, umami I guess is the word that I’m looking for because it’s all-encompassing. There can be nuttiness, the salinity perhaps if you are on the sweeter side, this raisinated date quality. Tobacco, leather, which I’m also describing the wines I like too. I think people don’t know that maybe if they know that then they would have a little bit more interest in trying different kinds of sherries and understanding, “Oh, I might not like this one because it’s really sweet or if it’s Harvey’s Bristol Cream,” but I really love this fino sherry that’s super dry and it’s like crisp and like citrus. I don’t think people even know that sherry is just made from white grapes.
T: We’ll hold that thought because I want to get into that in a second here. Before we do, we were talking about the different profiles of different styles there. What about this drink in general, Sherry Cobbler, if I make one for you, what are you hoping to get from that glass in terms of the profile and that experience when you drink it?
The Ingredients Used in Melissa Brooke’s Sherry Cobbler
M: I guess the first thing that I’m always looking for is just balance. I think that goes back to the way that it used to be made on the early menus and the ingredients that we have now. Things are different now. The sugar that we’re using is not the same sugar that I have access to. I think it’s important for us as bartenders or anyone who’s making this cocktail to play around and find out whatever sugar they’re using and whatever citrus they’re using. How do those balance each other out? One size orange is not the same as another size orange. I can say two to three slices and I can say X amount of sugar whether or not I’m saying a half-ounce of simple syrup, which is obvious or not obviously but equal parts sugar and hot water. How are those going to balance each other out? Then what sherry are you using and how are all three of those ingredients going to flourish together? For me, well balanced is what I’m looking for. I find it to be just like overall a really lightly refreshing cocktail. It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of fuss and muss. Again, I use the sherry to bring the nuance and the layers to it.
T: When you see that drink being handed over to you, you want to see that snow cone of ice as you mentioned earlier. That’s immediately embodied.
M: I do. I feel though I’m being hypocritical to myself because one of the things that I always learned and something that I feel strongly about is introducing ingredients into a cocktail if they’re not already in the cocktail, so for example, garnishing it with fresh berries when there’s not even berries in the actual cocktail. There’s something about that gives me a little bit of pause. It’s because that’s just not, when I’m creating cocktails myself, that’s not how I personally work. I would probably garnish it with some citrus-aligned scenario. However, I have seen them garnished with mint also, which now you had likened it to the Mint Julep, which I don’t disagree they are similar. That might be really fun to play with, some herbaceousness or some other herb bouquet so that when you’re sipping it, you can smell that, but overall, I’m just looking for this really beautiful exciting — again, you’re saying it’s winter. I don’t know, maybe in the wintertime, we need something that reminds us of the warm weather.
T: Put it this way, I crack open a can of Coke every now and again, and I don’t want that warm in winter, do you know what I mean? I can have cold drinks in winter too or my Martini. There we go, first mention today. All right, I stopped you, we paused a little earlier when we were talking about just the fact that maybe most folks don’t know that sherry’s made from Palomino or what the production process is. We’re not going to get into that today because two reasons. A) I want to say that as soon as we go through this, people will listen or go in one ear and out the other because that’s what happens when — I’ve been drinking sherry for years. I know the production process, but I still need to look up my notes every time so there’s that — I just think it’s a little bit pointless, but also, B) you don’t really need to know how it’s made, how does it taste is what we care about here and specifically for this. I’ve just skipped a whole Alcohol 101, Sherry 101 lesson there, you can find it on VinePair. We have multiple explainers, but let’s talk about sherry as an ingredient and the categories and which style of sherry you think is best for this or most classic and why you think those work.
M: Sure. Thank you for saving me the possibility of doing a science lesson. I will say, just really quickly, for anyone who might be interested, you and I know this, more or less to really dumb it down and I’m not intimating that anyone listening is dumb. It’s more for me. Feel like I can explain it in a way that I’m comfortable but it has to do with the yeast. It has to do with how the fermentation process works, and depending on what type of sherry you’re drinking, how much yeast basically exists in the process to allow or not allow oxygen to affect the product.
M: The most dry would be fino, I would say, and manzanilla. Those two while not — let’s start with fino. Fino is just this really light refreshing crisp, grape-based spirit. It’s not in my opinion as I keep using the word nuanced, I don’t know what’s the one word that keeps coming into my head as maybe some of the other sherries that I would use for this cocktail. I think fino sherry has its place in other cocktails, but specifically for the Cobbler I want one that is a little less of all of the words that I just used. Therefore, manzanilla is the same, in my opinion.
T: It just comes from closer to the coast. It’s got that salty, that’s the 101 on manzanilla. It’s fino, but it’s from a specific area and it’s slightly salty.
M: Yes. Then I think again, maybe the tiniest bit more oxidation and we’re talking about Spain, by the way, for anyone who-
T: Oh, yes, sorry. Yes, maybe that’s an important one.
M: This is in Spain, in the south with a really lovely climate. Then now we get to amontillado which is the one that I personally recommend but again, I love amontillado sherry just so very, very much. Again, it’s aged maybe a little longer and it’s aged after these certain yeasts that were more active in the original ones, disappear on its own, and so this one just has a little bit — There’s just a lot more going on because I assume the interaction with the oxygen. Again, for me amontillado is nutty. It’s a little bit like there’s saline, there’s just this viscosity that I can’t explain, again, like tobacco, leather, it’s a lot more intense.
T: Deeper in color.
M: Deeper. Intense is not the right word, but yes, deeper amber. The fino is going to be lighter, pale, straw colored basically.
T: This is going to be also, like you said there, maybe richer in texture, slightly more weight. Again, I guess you spoke about fino being great for other cocktails, maybe where you’re using a dry vermouth. That’s a good replacement there.
M: Yes, I think that fino sherry works really in stirred spirit-forward cocktails. That’s not to say it couldn’t work in other cocktails. Just for me personally, that’s how I feel, based on its flavor profile, whereas I think the amontillado, for example, holds up a lot better when you’re shaking it with ice or when there’s more dilution, and then adding the citrus because you need something that has a little bit more character and body, I think, to stand up to other ingredients that you’re adding that aren’t simply spirit with a tiny bit of dilution.
T: That’s the number one you’re going for. If that’s not available, it can be hard to get hold of good sherry, depending on where you are in this country. Where are you going next?
M: All right, oloroso. That’s the one we haven’t discussed yet. Oloroso is going to be the highest in ABV. In terms of the nuttiness that I just described, this will also have that. However, it’s a little sweeter. I would actually happily use an oloroso in my Sherry Cobbler, but I would pay attention to the amount of sugar that I was using in producing the cocktail.
T: Got It.
M: I think if you are looking up the classic specs for a Sherry Cobbler, you can get away with using exactly all of them with amontillado without really playing around much, and most likely produce a cocktail that is going to be well balanced and lovely. Whereas any of the other ones that we’ve mentioned, the first two, I think they would probably just end up feeling over-diluted. Then I think with oloroso, it might add some really interesting characters and some raisin quality to it, which could be really cool. I would just worry that it would be slightly sweeter. I might even part from the classic specs of that cocktail and add a lemon slice.
T: Ooh, nice.
M: Again, I don’t want anyone to come at me angry that I’m changing these cocktail specs that were created in the 1800s.
T: That’s fine. Don’t worry about that.
M: No fighting words here, but again, that’s what we do.
T: Yes, we change things.
M: We take what we know works. Usually, if you know it works, you should leave it. If we are going to do anything, you take what works and then you just tweak it to make sense in the moment based on what is available.
M: I heard.
T: Everything can be changed. All right. I did mention, before we move on to the next ingredient, Sherry can be hard to come across. If you were going to just maybe suggest one or two bodegas or wineries, production houses in the region that you think people should look out for. They might not be at every Total Wine across the country, but you’ll have a good chance of getting them. Is there one or two names you might want to highlight there and say, “Look, this is something I’ve used before in cocktails and this is really solid.”
M: My go-to, all-the-time producer, my go-to, I’m not saying I use it all the time, is Lustau. I’m never feeling like that was not a good decision. Lustau Amontillado is definitely a go-to of mine. I would say it depends on obviously where you’re listening to this. Like here in New York City, I assume you can get it at Astor Wines & Spirits. As someone who mostly at this point sources from the places that I work at, I get these kinds of things from my distributors. I’m not constantly out on the streets looking for my sherry source. I would say, to me, they get it down. Exactly.
T: I would say that perfectly fits that bill there. You can find it in smaller markets, I’m sure. They also make an incredible sweet vermouth that mixes a wonderful Manhattan. I’ve had a bottle in my fridge for about a year, so I should probably get rid of that tonight just thinking about it. Don’t drink enough of those. All right, that’s good. Perfect. Next ingredient is orange. I think this is probably the first — I’m going to say this is the first cocktail that’s allowed us to do a little bit of a deep dive, or a shallow dive on orange as a fruit, maybe not. Is there anything that — Obviously, I’d assume what? Ripeness are things to consider, but when you’re picking up an orange for this, I don’t know, maybe you don’t have a specific variety, but what are you considering when you look at that fruit and you assess it before using it for the drink?
M: I don’t have a specific variety. I, in my travels, when brushing up on this cocktail, read everything from blood oranges to not. Again, thinking back to what was available when the cocktail was first created is interesting. Actually, a lot of the mentions of this cocktail and people loving it talk about the South, which again, is similar, I think, to what we were saying about a Mint Julep. But here in New York City and in London, for example, where are your oranges coming from in that time period? For me right now, when I’m looking at an orange, listen, the first thing that we said about this cocktail, one of the first things we said is that it should be pleasing to the eye, and with garnishes in general. This fruit is going into the cocktail, so it is not only being used as a garnish. I think it looks pleasing to the eye. Right now actually a lot of the oranges I’ve been getting at work are green, and I have to politely ask my teammates to not use the green ones, “Please, and thank you, and please, take the sticker off. Love you.”
T: Those are two great points right there.
M: For anyone out there, get the orange oranges and make sure that they’re clean.
T: Clue is in the name, folks.
M: I think, again, whatever orange you’re using, you need to know the sweetness level of it. How sweet is this orange? Then once you know that, you know how much sugar you should or should not be using because as opposed to many other cocktails that have citrus, a lot of times we’re working with fresh lime juice or fresh lemon juice or fresh limes and lemons. Obviously, you need sugar to counteract the tartness of those two fruits, whereas an orange innately brings more sweetness, but it depends on which orange and what time of year it is and where it’s coming from. That would be what I would be looking for, not necessarily the exact type of orange.
T: Oranges. That’s a great point. Let me know when you’re good to jump back in. Good to jump back in. Here is another thing, when you were talking about that there, it got me thinking. It got me thinking about some of the other episodes we’ve done in this show, particularly acid adjusting, because as you mentioned, there’s no other citrus in this. There may be a temptation among some modern bartenders to look at this and say, “Okay, orange,” but I’m going to maybe dial in the acidity using some citric or some lactic. Is that a good thing or is that a bad thing? How do you feel about that?
M: I don’t know. I’m inclined to get annoyed when you say that, but also it makes sense to me that someone might want to do that. It’s all about playing around with the ingredients that they had and tasting that cocktail and thinking, “Well, this is really good,” but like I had said earlier, maybe I would add just one lemon. I think there is a validity for that. I wouldn’t do that, but that’s never where my brain goes. I’m a little bit more of a purist. There are a few cocktails I have on my menu right now that I use citric or ascorbic acid, but that’s more for preservation rather than acid adjustment. I’m not sure, I think you could have a lot of people sitting over here on my side and have a lot of different answers right now, depending on what the vibe is of the bartender, but even as I said earlier, I really usually like to stick with, if it’s made this way, if it was created this way, there is a reason why it was created this way, and not necessarily veer.
T: A great point. I think depending on your personality as a bartender, maybe you’re inclined to go that way, unless of course it’s, the specs as they stand from 100 years ago, they’re just ridiculously sweet. No one’s drinking that these days. Then yes, sure, you can adjust it, right?
T: Felt like I should put that one out there because some folks might be thinking about it. Speaking of sweetness, the next ingredient is sugar, sweetening agent in some form. Off the bat, what’s your preference here?
M: Well, when you’re looking at the original recipes, they call for sugar, one of them had one-half tablespoon of sugar to one-half wine glass of water. Now, what size wine glass was that?
T: This is a great question. I’ve done that deep dive. I don’t know.
M: I’m not sure. I think that was the Harry Johnson specs, right? Then you have the Jerry Thomas specs, which are two wine glasses of sherry. Again, what size? To one tablespoon of sugar, then two or three slices of orange. If I’m making it traditionally, then I guess the answer is tablespoons of sugar, but also, what kind of sugar? What does that mean? Not powdered sugar. Obviously, for this, I wouldn’t use Demerara or turbinado or anything like that. White granulated sugar is, I assume, what we’re going for here. I wouldn’t personally feel badly using simple syrup. Again, you just need to make sure that the sugar is dissolving and certain sugars won’t dissolve as quickly. Sugar dissolves most quickly when you’re adding alcohol. Will it dissolve quickly in the Sherry versus if you’re making an Old Fashioned and dissolving it in rye whiskey? Again, depending on the size of the orange slices and then I would do 2 ounces of sherry, not wine glasses, personally, for the cocktail, I will gladly drink two wine glasses of Sherry. Then the other thing you can do is dissolve the sugar with the oranges and muddle it-
T: Got it.
M: -which we talked about earlier.
T: Yes. It definitely seems like simple is the easiest way to go. I guess it’s called that for a number of different reasons. I did look into the wine glass thing recently as well, and I forget, it’s either one wine glass is 1 ounce or one is 2 ounces. If it were 2 ounces, that would be 4 ounces of sherry in this. Does that track or does that seem excessive? Because I do feel like a lot of cocktail recipes also from back then were one wine glass of gin.
T: Right? That makes sense that it would be roughly 2 ounces-
T: -given modern day, right?
M: It makes sense to me that it would be 2 ounces.
T: Does 4 ounces of sherry sound excessive there or does that-
M: It sounds excessive to me, but it’s sherry, it’s not something that’s a hundred proof. It makes me less concerned.
M: It also depends on the vessel that you’re drinking from. Then that’s the other thing when you look up the older recipes. Again, I think I said this earlier, but some of them may get directly in the vessel and then dump it into something new or strain it over something new. How much volume, I guess, is the answer to the question. How much volume are you looking to create in the vessel that you’ll be drinking it from and how much volume does the ice displace?
T: Yes, so many hypotheticals.
How to Make Melissa Brooke’s Sherry Cobbler
T: I’m going to ask you to make some final decisions on those because I’m going to ask you now to talk us through the preparation of this drink as you would make it, including your specs. You get to make those decisions, and I don’t know, add your name in history here somewhat to the old Johnsons, the Dickens. We have Melissa Brooke here now, etching her name in history on your version of the Sherry Cobbler.
M: I’m so wildly uncomfortable right now. No etching.
T: No etching. All right.
M: I have my number two pencil here so we can erase if need be.
T: Quietly penciling into the annals of history. No, but all of which is just to say — yes, feel free to take those executive decisions on those.
M: Well, it’s funny. Part of the reason why I wanted to do the Sherry Cobbler today is because we’ve been playing around with sherry a lot at the spot that I work at, because I have found my match in a coworker who I love working with, who also loves sherry just as much as I do. We’re just on the fly, making a bunch of different cocktails all the time. The other night we had a couple guests come in and she was playing around and we have a cocktail with an apple fennel shrub that I made and there’s a lot of stuff in it, just not apple and fennel, but she made basically a version of a Sherry Cobbler using that as the “sugar.” It’s liquid. We did an ounce of that and then a half- ounce of fresh lemon juice and a bunch of other stuff. That’s where my mind is going right now. Currently, if I was making this, I would use simple syrup, just for the ease of measurement. Again, one tablespoon of sugar. I have a scale, and I have all the things that I need to do, but I just think it would be easier for me. I just work with my jigger, and I would probably measure half an ounce of simple syrup and then add three orange slices, and then I would add a couple of ounces of the Lustau Amontillado Sherry, and I would shake it up and dump it, and then just top it with my crushed ice.
T: You’re not doing any muddling there?
M: No, I wouldn’t muddle.
T: When you say a couple of ounces, are we talking 2 ounces?
M: Yes, yes, two.
T: Two ounces, cool, and a hard shake.
M: Hard shake. That’s why I’m not muddling. That’s also why if I’m shaking, I’m not using sugar. Sorry, that’s why I’m not using sugar, is what I’m saying.
T: Perfect. Those oranges are orange, not green.
M: They’re the most beautifully fresh, right off the tree, ripe orange oranges.
T: Preferably a Seville orange because sherry is from Seville.
M: Yes. If it grows together, it goes together.
T: It goes together. I was wondering how these two ingredients first came together. That does seem like that would be a pretty — it was maybe invented in Spain. It’s all a lie. New York, who knows? Highball glass for this chilled highball.
M: I actually love a really beautiful, bigger kind of snifter glass so that when you’re topping the ice, you have the ice. The snow cone that I was talking about, I guess a highball works great.
M: They say berries, so I’m doing berries.
T: Berries. Wow.
M: It looks pretty. Fresh berries, right in the dead of winter.
T: Yes. Maybe some — definitely not seasonal. Maybe something that you pick up in the Sherry, I don’t know, a blackberry or something. I don’t know.
M: Yes, I love that idea. Again, that’s my ethos. It’s the way that I always work, is when I’m creating cocktails, I always look up the — obviously, on my own, I smell and I taste and I figure out, and then look up what they say. For example, if it’s Lustau Amontillado, what they feel the flavor profile is and the notes are, because they might cue me into something that’s in the earth there that I would have never thought of. I think clay is quite prevalent in the Andalusian terroir.
M: So I garnish it with clay.
T: Yes. Just a sculpture.
M: You’re exactly right. A note that you’re picking up. I would get wild with if I was working with sherry, and not for a Cobbler, but for a stirred spirit-forward cocktail and maybe do something fun with an olive stuffed with a nut of some sort. If this particular sherry has notes of almond, an almond.
T: Yes, perfect.
M: Something like that. I agree. That’s a very good point.
T: If I wanted to put you on the spot and say, look I’m going low ABV with this drink. I’m happy to do it. However, I need some kind of spirit here. I’m going to ask you for just maybe a little float on top of this snow cone or something. A bar spoon or a bar spoon and a half?
M: Right this very second, for some reason, I’m really gravitating towards rum, a really beautiful aged.
T: Aged rum?
M: An aged rum, again, that picks up those kinds of nuttier, maybe is not the word I’m looking for, but those really caramelized, raisin notes from the sherry.
T: Perfect. Yes, we like to throw in a little curveball there at the end every now and again.
M: I like that. I always say for me, adding something like that would be really fun. There’s so many ways my brain went in that one moment. We always say bitters are obviously the bartenders’ ingredient that occasionally is like that, “There’s just something missing. What is it? I can’t figure it out.” For me, it’s always either bitters or salt. I think a pinch of salt in this cocktail would just be banging just to pick up the salient through line and then maybe a bitter to play around.
T: Because that will look great as well in this snow cone.
M: I Know. I’m not sure that I want — If we’re using the rum too, I want to see what rum it is. Now I’m going back to their kitchen to work on it.
T: If all else fails, just go to Ango, because chances are you have it and it looks great.
M: I agree.
T: All right, then. Any final thoughts on the Sherry Cobbler before we move on to the next section here of the show?
M: Now I feel like I want to go back and just read more about it. Deep dive into the Sherry Cobbler.
T: Honestly, so much we’ve uncovered here, we’ve traced the history of ice, the popularity of ice. That’s it. That feels like a good one from a historical standpoint today.
M: I think it’s so cool. It’s crazy. It’s ice.
Getting To Know Melissa Brooke
T: All right, now we’re going to go into the final questions of the show, where we get to know you better as a bartender and a drinker. Melissa, are you ready?
M: Yes, I’m ready.
T: You’re ready. All right, then. Question number one. What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
M: I would say the masses are clamoring for agave these days. That’s just what it is. That being said, as we are going into the colder months, whiskeys are right up there, definitely tequila, and there’s been a lot more mezcal knowledge out there, which I think is really cool, so within the past — again, it’s hard for me to say how long, I’ve been doing this for so long, but definitely five years, mezcal has been a new big hit amongst, certainly, the people drinking cocktails here in New York City. I know. It’s a whole thing.
T: I feel like from bartenders, I get this, “Yes, it’s amazing. More people are drinking mezcal,” but then you’re like, “All right, how should I drink it in a cocktail?” Whoa, what are you doing? Leave the mezcal out of the — it’s like, “What am I doing then?”
M: Sip it nicely.
T: Sip it nicely. No, to be honest with you, I’m on board with that too, stick it in a cocktail if you want, but that’s one I can go for a nightcap of more frequently than maybe some aged spirits. Good One. Question number two, which ingredient or tool do you believe to be the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
M: Now, of course ice, to me, is the craziest, awesome ingredient that we have. I discovered, sorry, I did not discover. I was reading an article about half a year ago from Jeffrey Morgenthaler that he had recently switched from using a Y peeler to a Boska cheese slicer. This has changed my life, and I will fight to the death. I will fall on my sword for this cheese slicer that I’m now using to peel my green oranges, because as someone who — in my bartending years, definitely lost a fingertip here and there. I can very much use a Y peeler and be fine. I have not had any accidents in a while, but I ordered one for — the place that I work at now is six months old. I was going from soup to nuts, figuring, getting everything for the bar to be ready, and I took a chance and I ordered one of these and then I ordered two Y peelers, and every bartender that I work with was like, “What? How did you-” I was like, “I don’t know. How does everyone not know this right now? How did I just find out about this six months ago? Why have I not been using this forever?” Especially in those really high-volume bars, because that’s the thing. It depends on where you’re working, and what bar tool do I like the best? Depends on, am I serving quality over — it’s always quality, but is there also quantity involved?
T: Is it a volume place or is it-
M: For the volume places, having this foolproof way that peels the fruit still so beautifully.
T: Really nice.
M: Maybe there’s a tiny bit more pith if you’re pushing too hard, but that, I swear by it now, it’s the best thing ever.
T: It’s a great hack.
M: It’s a great hack.
T: Yes. I’m with you on that one. Question number three. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
M: I don’t know. I don’t remember who necessarily, if there was one person that told me this, or if it’s just something that you’d think would be — something that I definitely have just picked up throughout the years that you would think wouldn’t need to be ever told to someone who works in hospitality. I feel, and especially now that I train a lot of people, there still is this inability sometimes for even the best bartenders to remember that we work in hospitality, and so for me, I think when you are in a busy moment, being able to engage a guest in whatever way as possible, to let them know that you are here, they are seen, you see them, you’re here for them. That to me is an invaluable piece of my puzzle in hospitality. I don’t know that it was necessarily advice that one person gave me, but it’s definitely from working with some amazing people, something that I picked up, and so just that simple, like making eye contact with them, letting them know you’re getting there, if you can. Obviously the ideal is that you can get to everyone all at once. Just so in general, remembering when you work in hospitality, that you work in hospitality.
T: Yes, it’s such an interesting thought, because it’s like, you can make these decisions, some people are shy. When some people speak with you, they might not make eye contact or whatever, they might be more reserved, but that’s fine, but it’s part of this job. Being in hospital, part of it is making people feel comfortable by these things. It might make you uncomfortable, but you have to make other people feel comfortable. I don’t know, it’s part of the gig. It’s interesting.
M: It is. That part of it, during the pandemic too, being hospitable in a time when you felt potentially uncomfortable, that’s a conversation for another day or maybe one you’ve already had, but I think just coming back to that center place of, “Okay, well, but I do work in hospitality, and I’m here to ensure that everyone else is having a great time, and hopefully, I’m having a great time too in the process.” Something as small as making eye contact I think is really important.
T: Quick follow up, do you think that that has aided you in other aspects of life or do you feel that that has always been something that’s been part of your personality?
M: I think it’s something that has always been part of my personality, although I think being in the hospitality industry definitely has formed me, whatever that is, has brought out a lot more, I would say. When you meet someone, look them in the eye. Well, my dad always used to say that though. Look them in the eye, shake their hand, and then if you can repeat their name, because then you’ll hopefully remember it. Things like that. It’s really nice when you remember someone’s name.
T: It’s brilliant. It’s a good quality. I don’t know, I think it’s — none of the rest of my family really worked in hospitality in any way. I think one of the things, my first job was working as a food runner, would give me the confidence just for something as simple as you go to a restaurant, actually someone at your table’s not happy with something, but we’re not really a family of complainers or whatever. We would just grin and bear it, and get through it. Whereas that gave me the comfort to be like, “You know what, actually can we change this?” Or, “We’re not happy with this,” or, “We’re not happy with the wine.” I don’t know, I think working in hospitality arms you with that too.
M: I think that’s a really good point. I actually had a guest the other day. I’ll preface this by saying people don’t usually send back my cocktails because they’re fantastic.
T: Of course.
M: I’m just kidding, but the cocktail program that we currently have is going really well. We don’t get a lot of send backs. I actually mean that. I had two guests order two cocktails and finished them and then one of them made a comment that they didn’t really like it. I was like, “Oh my goodness, I wish we would’ve known this before.” I did. I solved the problem and it was fine in the end, but it’s me feeling sad that I didn’t make this person comfortable enough to know that they could just say to me, “This isn’t for me.” It’s okay if it’s not for you. Not everyone loves everything. That’s why my ethos, like I said before, a lot of times is just keep tasting it and see if you like it. I might like something that’s less sweet than you or vice versa. Everyone has different flavor profiles and the way that they interpret their taste buds, and the way that they interpret cocktails. I think of myself working in the industry, if I sat down and genuinely didn’t like something, I would feel comfortable to say it because I know I would want someone to do that for me, not in a way that’s rude, but being honest. Acknowledging. It’s okay.
T: It’s a win-win for everyone, I think, in that scenario.
M: Yes, it’s no big deal.
T: Yes. Feel empowered, people, send those dishes back.
M: Oh, no.
T: If you have to, or cocktails. Only if you have to. Penultimate question. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
M: That’s such a hard question. I love bars mostly for the ambience and less for everything else. Obviously I make cocktails, so a beautifully made cocktail. I think you and I are on the same page where it seems like we enjoy drinking rather clean cocktails and maybe not a lot of fuss and muss, and I heard you talk about a Martini and my favorite cocktail is the Gibson.
M: The Gin Gibson. More bars have pearled onions these days, but still it’s not the most common thing. I’m not just going to roll up somewhere and assume that they have that for me, but there are so many bars that I could think of that I’d love to go to, especially here in New York City. At this point, I have so many friends that work at so many places. I go for the vibes and the energy and the music and all that, but I would say probably Raul’s Bar, and I don’t even know if they can make me a Gibson, but I know that they can make me a Gin Martini.
T: That’s a great start.
M: They have the old-school Martini glasses. There’s so many of them out on the bar being chilled, because so many people are already marching here. I just love watching it. The service bartenders just knocking out Martini after Martini.
T: So much fun.
M: I think that’s it. The bar team there, they’re just fantastic.
T: Yes. That’s a great pick there. Like you said, but hey, if you see a Gibson on the menu, nine times — well, the bartender definitely cares about it. We talk about this a lot, but B, if it’s on the menu, chances are they’re making their own onions, so even better.
M: Yes, of course, brine away, I want to know all about it.
T: Last question for us today, Melissa. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
M: Well, I think it’s a Gibson.
T: It’s a Gibson.
M: I would brine my own onions.
M: I don’t know that I’m so attached to cocktails that I need a last meal kind of thing. I would maybe want to order a really nice bottle of wine. Is that such a faux pas?
T: That’s allowed. A sherry maybe.
M: I think that is the answer. I’m not sure. I think I would probably want a grape based spirit. Also, again, if it’s a cocktail, it’s a Gin Gibson all the way, or maybe a 50/50 Gin Martini.
T: Oh, okay. I was with you right until you said 50/50.
T: Well, Melissa, thank you so much. It’s been a blast. I appreciate you joining us here today.
M: Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun. I was very nervous.
T: Well, you must have just shared that as soon as you walked in the elevator. It’s been wonderful. Thank you very much.
Okay, that was a lot of info, but here’s the good news. Every single episode of VinePair’s Cocktail College is also published on VinePair.com as a transcript. So you can check it out there all over again.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.