While my memories of El Puerto de Santa Maria are mostly savory - salty foods with delicious Fino - there is one night that evokes stronger aromas. We were not sober, I grant you, but my friends and I are virtual children with or without alcohol’s assistance. Walking back to our hotel in the wee hours some one of us (I don't think it was me, but you never know) took advantage of the many ripe Sevilla oranges hanging from each tree on every tree-lined avenida and before long it was a full-on siege, oranges being hurtled, smacking into walls and cars, onto sidewalks and, when things went as planned, someone’s back or head. It seemed that there were thousands of oranges with which to do fierce and juvenile battle and my guts hurt the next day from our insane hysteria. I may have peed myself I was laughing so hard.
The next morning was hung over, of course, and I’m not sure it would be as distinct a recollection had we not noticed after walking a block or two the redolent smell of recently hurled and shattered Sevilla oranges. I’m sure that an extra crew of street sweepers was called in.
Those Sevilla oranges are not sweet, but they are pungent and powerful in their tangy way; they make for fantastic ingredients whether in gin (they are favored by many distillers) or in cocktails. So it’s no surprise that the Sherry Cobbler was created for them; though crushed ice and a straw were just as indispensible to that cocktail’s origins. According to Washington Irving, the originators were Marylanders, or Merry-landers, “…so called because the inhabitants, not having the fear of the Lord before their eyes, were prone to make merry and get fuddled with mint-julep and apple-toddy. They were, moreover, great horse-racers and cock-fighters, mighty wrestlers and jumpers, and enormous consumers of hoe-cake and bacon. They lay claim to be the first inventors of those recondite beverages, cock-tail, stone-fence, and sherry-cobbler...”
The use of oranges (or other fruits) to freshen up the heaviness typical of 19th century Sherry is clever but no great innovation; the Spanish have this thing called Sangria, you may recall. Tossing fruit into any old (or oxidized) wine is easy in a land where fruits grow in profusion. But the Spanish were more inclined to add quinine drink (or quina-cola) to their Sherry. And the American development was not so much the fruit as the ice; American fixation on ice is still viewed with a mix of curiosity and irritation by European bartenders. It was one of our great contributions to the drink, and in the case of the Cobbler, we crushed it, necessitating the deployment of a straw to keep chunks of the stuff from tumbling onto our faces. Sorta like the julep we drink today.
Current practices allow any manner or blend of fruits in the cobbler. While the orange was the first fruit utilized, it wasn't long before people got creative, grabbing what grew nearby. Indeed, those old Merry-landers didn't usually grow Sevillas; fatter, sweeter oranges were easy enough to find on the Atlantic Coast, though rarely in the sort of profusion that my friends and I found so handy in El Puerto de Santa Maria.
The recipe is simple and malleable: 3 or more ounces of Amontillado Sherry, a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar (Demerara adds some depth) and several orange slices, shaken with ice and strained over crushed ice into a Collins. Add a straw, add berries, mint, whatever you like. Drink lustily.
If this made you thristy, check out one of the many Sherry Cobbler variations below:
An expansion of the original, this cocktail features 3 styles of Sherry, the classic orange, and is garnished with berries.
This 2017 Sherry Cocktail Competition winner blends Amontillado and Manzanilla Pasada with rye and exotic flavors of vanilla, coconut, banana, and sesame for a unique and thoroughly modern take on the classic.
Apple Sherry Cobbler
This cocktail is a celebration of autumnal flavors with sweet-tart apple, toasted nuts, and baking spices.
Created to quench thirst even in the extreme heat of New Orleans, this cobbler features tropical flavors and dark rum.
Picnic Sherry Cobbler
Need to whip up a drink alfresco? This is the version for you!
A strawberry Sherry Cobbler with earthy and bitter notes from amaro and a slight aromatic ‘funk’ from the Jamaican rum with some chocolate notes on the finish.
This twist on a Cobbler pairs the distinct nuttiness of three styles of Sherry, sweet-tart berries, and herbal tarragon for a perfect summer libation.