Weekly cocktail time here at the farm, and with another Mixology Monday coming up, we figured we could get a twofer in before the weekend. Firstly, we want to thank Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail for hosting this month and Fred Yarm at Cocktail
Virgin Slut for keeping the ship afloat. And secondly, here is this month’s theme:
Fortified wines began, in large part, as a way to deal with the difficulties of shipping wine long distances in the holds of sailing ships. Without the rigorous sterilization that is possible today, wines would often spoil en route. However, increasing the alcohol concentration to around 20% ABV was enough to keep them from going off… These wines held an important place in.. punch and have continued on in cocktails proper. [These wines include] sherry, port, and, to a lesser extent, madeira and marsala, all find their way into various mixed drinks… They can play many different roles – from taking the place of vermouths in classic drinks, to providing richness and sweetness in winter tipples, to serving as a base for lighter aperitifs. Whether forgotten classics or new creations, let’s see what you can put together.
Hmmm. Truth be told, we are big fans of port and sherry with food, but have some history of struggling with them in cocktails (we love really good Madeira, but as a treat, and wouldn’t put the really old stuff in cocktails). One of the biggest challenges is the range of fortified wines, styles and producers. Spirits are consistent, fortified wines are most certainly not. Sherry by itself has half a dozen varieties from the bone dry (and almost salty), to the sticky sweet. A cocktail recipe with one type of sherry or port may rock, but be fully gag-inducing with another variety. A high-risk, high-reward ingredient.
Happily, the point of this blog is to try new things and we took it as a challenge to come up with a sherry-based cocktail we liked. And since sherry cocktails are in vogue at the moment, there were plenty of new recipes out there to try with dry sherry. We tried a few that used dry Fino and Amontillado sherries (we will leave them unnamed) and, frankly, thought most were pretty bad, with the woody, saline flavors dominating and none of the nutty flavors we enjoy. Ugh.
So when the newfangled fails, we go back to the classics. And there are few more classic cocktails than the Bamboo cocktail. The Bamboo was created in the 1890’s by Louis Eppinger, the bartender of the Grand Hotel in Yokohama. The Bamboo is an even mix of dry sherry and dry vermouth with two dashes of orange bitters and a light dash of Angostura bitters and a lemon twist. This is an easy drink to make, and with its rich amber color, it certainly is pretty.
So how does it taste? Well, if you like the sherry you have on hand (we used a richer Oloroso that we like to sip) and have some good dry vermouth (we like Dolin) and have the bitters, the Bamboo is a very good aperitif-style cocktail. The sherry has dry and nutty flavor and the vermouth adds some herbal notes. But the key is the bitters and the twist, they add just enough fruit and spice to make it taste like a true cocktail and round out the finish of each sip. The Bamboo would be a good drink to enjoy with rich foods like nuts and cheese (just like sherry). If you like sweet cocktails, look elsewhere.
So is going for a classic a bit of a copout for Mixology Monday? Maybe. We did experiment with Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso sherry, and we also tried dashes of Chartreuse and Amaro to change the flavors. We also played with other bitters and even celery shrub (don’t do it, trust us). But in the end, like many classics, the Bamboo is best left alone. Classics are “classics” for a reason.
- 1 and 1/2 oz. dry sherry
- 1 and 1/2 oz. dry vermouth (the best you have)
- 2 dashes orange bitters (Regan’s #6)
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Lemon twist
- Combine the sherry, vermouth and the bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, about 20-30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass our coupé. Twist the lemon peel over the drink, run it along the edge of the glass and the put it in the cocktail. Serve.