Sherry, “Dry Sherry” and The Adonis Cocktail

Question for you all. It’s about the Adonis cocktail. Old recipes for the Adonis generally just call for “Sherry” or “dry Sherry.” But during the cocktail revival, the Sherry commonly used in the drink is Fino. How did everyone settle on Fino as the appropriate Sherry for this cocktail?

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Ah, this is also a preoccupation of mine. Virtually no recipes prior to the Cocktail Renaissance that employ sherry of any sort ever specify anything more than “sherry”. Almost any of these recipes will work with any of the bone dry sherry styles, from fino/manzanilla through amontillado and palo cortado, to oloroso, but the results get progressively “nuttier” as the sherry selection progresses from unoxidized to fully oxidized.

My guess—and it is only a guess—is that, like vermouth in the early days, people used whatever was lying around if it said “jerez” on the label.

And then there’s “cocktail sherry” a.k.a. “medium sherry” (e.g., Dry Sack) that materialized at some point in the 20th Century…

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So, do you expect that, when bartenders began toying around with the Adonis in the aughts, that they tried every kind of sherry and decided fino tastes the best? Or was fine chosen–as the case in many house recipes–because of its cost? If that’s the case, it surely can not have been difficult to find a cost-effective version of other expressions of sherry.

I’d be surprised to hear that cost was a common consideration. My guess is that the Cocktail Renaissance intersected sherry when the latter industry was in a very different position than where it was the last time anybody was trying to work sherry into mixed drinks (40-50 years earlier?) Also, the interest in details (styles, flavor distinctions, terroir) has just been much higher in the last twenty years than it was prior, with bartenders creating drinks around specific products, not general categories of products.

Paging @francois.

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Good point. Bartenders got so specific in their bottle brands/expressions during the last 20 years.

I always assumed people went for fino when the Adonis and the Bamboo were rediscovered because everyone thought this should be a dry drink and fino was the most easily, widely available dry sherry --certainly to bartenders. It’s also the style @RobertHess highlighted in the Trident so it was an ingredient of interest early on.

The only bartenders to have specified what type of sherry were to be used in their drinks are --unsurprisingly-- the Spaniards. Sanfeliu usually is quite good on this, Chicote less so. 99% of the time, they call for a dry style. Unfortunately, they don’t specify anything for the Adonis or the Bamboo (the latter features less often), maybe because those were drinks they encountered in other books and not out there in a bar somewhere.

As for what style of sherry was used originally in the Adonis, well… A friend of mine who has extensively worked with the Consejo Regulador (the regulating body) is adamant that the dry stuff didn’t make it to the US in any significant number at the end of the 19th century. Export sherries were mostly sweetened / off dry, he says. I do think, however, that @Splificator, doesn’t share that belief. He may even have data to share!

Here’s the problem. Before the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906, wines and spirits were almost unregulated, as long as you paid your taxes. With brands still in their youth, all an importer had to do was send a ship to Cadiz, buy a barrel of sherry, bring it home, and start pouring it into bottles. I see “dry sherry” advertised in American papers as early as 1774, and consistently thereafter, but I suspect what we’re dealing with here is usually an amontillado, which is fairly robust, being oxidized, and not a delicate fino. But then there’s John Q. Little, of Baltimore. This is from one of the ads for his saloon, from 1852:


That “Vino Fino” is pretty suggestive, and there’s manzanilla! At the same time, this is not something that one commonly sees. Again, barrel-ship-bottle; that means there was a lot of niche stuff that came into the country (mezcal, absinthe, vermouth, Fernet, old single malts, etc.), but very little of it was anything more than an attempt to see if it sticks or an accommodation for special tastes. None of the old recipes I’ve found for the Bamboo/Adonis specify what kind of sherry. Fino is possible, but the sherry you see advertised most is blended or oloroso or amontillado; the stuff that keeps and travels well. So I think the Consejo Regulador is right, but in the larger sense.

As for modern bartenders. In the oughts, Steve Olson and Andy Seymour did a whole lot of work teaching bartenders about sherry for the Consejo Regulador. One of the sexiest things to teach about was fino, because of the way it grows under flor and its delicacy and subtlety. It was a bridge to wine people, who thought the oxidized sherries were kind of old-fashioned and stodgy. NO residual sugar = elegant. So that plus dry vermouth = the most elegant way to make a Bamboo.

Personally, I prefer amontillado and Italian vermouth these days, but when I wrote Esquire Drinks in 2001 I went with “dry sherry” and French vermouth, and with Italian vermouth for the Adonis, included as a variation. In Imbibe (2007) I included Louis Eppinger’s recipe for the Bamboo, which actually specified French vermouth; “use a fino or an amontillado” was my advice). At the time, the Bamboo/Adonis was not well known. I had to teach it to a lot of bartenders when I ordered it. I would just say “vermouth and sherry 50-50” and see what they came up with if they didn’t ask for more detail. It came up fino an awful lot.

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Interesting. And interesting how your preference in Sherry for the Bamboo/Adonis evolved, David. I got to thinking about this because of something the DC bartender Adam Bernbach said to me. The Adonis is his favorite cocktail and he prefers it with oxidized Sherry, and never understood why everyone was doing it with fino.

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I’m with Dave and Bernbach on this. The best cocktail in Madrid the last three years was an Adonis made with a VORS amontillado (and a touch of East India). Who knows, maybe this one’s closer to the original than the (enjoyable, very pleasant) fino Adonis.

Ok, can we put a chain on this squirrelly word “dry”? Dry can mean “not sweet”, “less sweet” (than something, what?), or fuck all. To my knowledge—today—amontillados and olorosos are no less “dry” than any fino or manzanilla. There is effectively zero residual sugar, and they’re not sweetened. Is this a recent development? Process/regulatory changes? Then we have “brown sherries”, “cocktail sherries”, “medium sherries” kicking around, raising dust—are these just the vestiges of an era when everything routinely had sugar dumped in it?

Aside: in the US, Lustau has had a profound effect on bars for many years by offering a well-distributed, comprehensive one-of-each-kind economical product line, making ordering cleverly easy. As long as I can remember, if a US cocktail bar has any sherry inventory, 90% of the time it’s comprised of Lustau products.

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Yeah, “dry” is tough here. Unfortunately, it was used extensively in the 19th century, without definition. It could mean a dry amontillado, which I don’t think has changed (have to dig out my sherry books), but “amontillado” could equally mean a blended sherry with a sweet edge. Not everything had sugar–or Pedro Ximenez–dumped into it, though. If you were a connoisseur who liked you sherry bone-dry, if you lived in a major port city you could probably find it. But I don’t think that’s usually what they were using in bars. The vermouth is just as vexing: originally, the Adonis and the Bamboo both seemed to be made with Italian vermouth; French vermouth creeps in later, once the Dry Martini has gotten in there and ballyhooed it.

And yes, Lustau was smart enough to hitch its fortunes to the cocktail people and not worry so much about what the wine geeks think. Result = $.

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I don’t know much about the history of what was used, but I find this very interesting and I figured I’d chime in here with how we build these at our bar in 2021.

For both the Adonis and the Bamboo, we do 50/50 with a couple dashes of orange bitters

Our Adonis uses Fino Sherry and Vermouth di Torino (Bordiga) while our Bamboo uses Manzanilla Sherry and Chambery Blanc Vermouth (C. Comoz)

Orange peel on the Adonis
Olive and lemon twist on the Bamboo
-Miles

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