I’ve worked in bars for about 10 years and over that time i’ve been lucky enough to try all kinds of drinks and weird flavour combinations. But one of my biggest lapses has been Sherry. It’s embarrassing for a bartender to admit but i’d never tried the stuff. I’d managed to go a decade with never quite getting round to trying it. Perhaps because in my head like many other Britons, Sherry seemed old and stuffy, a drink consigned to grandmothers at Christmas. So I was glad to find, whilst surfing the internet late at night, a cocktail competition all about Harvey’s Sherry. It afforded me an opportunity to force myself to try it, and then try and be creative with it. And somehow against all odds I qualified for the final which just so happened to be in sunny Spain.
I landed in Malaga towards the end of September alongside the two talented bartenders i’d be competing against; Robyn & Georgia, Simon from Bar Life UK and Amanda from Mixxit. We hit the road towards Jerez and soaked up the Spanish sun and scenery. I had managed to start the trip off with a startling lack of sleep going from work at Rub to a 3am bus ride to an early morning flight from Gatwick. I was feeling rough around the eyes but the drinking had started and I felt it my “Rub-ly” duty to power on through and kick our Spanish party into gear. I put on my sombrero, yes sombrero, and prepared for a non-stop few days.
The sherry flowed thick and fast as we soaked up some late night Flamenco dancing before hitting the town in search of a drink. We ended up at what would become our local “Kapotes” drinking the night away with hefty pours of Jim Beam and cheesy music. All things that would become mainstays during our time in Jerez.
On day two we were special guests at the Harveys distillery. We got shown around the vast barrel warehouses and even got to sign our very own barrel of sherry which will have it’s place at the distillery for years to come. Then we were walked through a sherry tasting by the master distiller himself trying the whole Harveys range from dry Fino to sweet Pedro Ximenez.
We broke for lunch and a trip to a local horse show, the PG kind, and then saddled up for our evening showdown. Three bartenders facing off for the title of Harveys Remix champion over the course of 3 rounds. We needed to recreate the signature cocktail that won us our place on the trip, a mystery box round and a blind sherry tasting. I decided to continue my trend of doing something different each time I enter a competition. And so I decided to embrace just that, a look at trends and how they could be applied to creating a cocktail for sherry newbies like myself. I created a boulevardier twist that embraced cocktail trends, flavour trends and consumer trends whilst embracing my American cocktail roots at Rub. I mixed Harveys Fino & Amontillado sherries with Knob Creek bourbon, Cherry & Thyme infused Campari and Grilled Pineapple Syrup, layering the yellow pineapple syrup to create a sunset effect giving my drink it’s name “Sunset Boulevardier”.
The mystery box round was a lot of fun. We all got given a 3 minute time limit and a blind pick of two mystery ingredients to combine with sherry. I had clearly used up all my luck getting to Jerez in the first place as I pulled cinnamon sticks and tomato juice out of the box and spent the 3 minutes mostly laughing giddily as I tried to pair sherry with brandy, lemon juice, cinnamon and tomato juice in a “not as disgusting as it sounds” bloody mary twist. Luckily all the mystery box creations were pretty dire so the round was a bit of a whitewash and we all were relieved to shirk off the pressure of the previous round with some lighthearted fun.
Our final round involved blindfolds. Kinky I know. As we were asked to identify 7 different sherries by taste. Now for someone who had only recently tried sherry and had only tried most of these sherries that morning, I was ecstatic to be able to identify 3 of them. It wasn’t a world shattering score but for a newbie to the category I was pretty chuffed.
So we all gathered round the main hall as the judges tallied up their scores and announced the winner. It was the lovely Robyn from MASH in London that took the honours with a drink that I quite happily admitted was absolutely delicious. A Pina Colada-esque combination of sherry, lemon, absinthe and coconut orgeat. It was a great drink that if it finds it’s way onto the menus at MASH I definitely recommend that you try.
We had one last day in Spain to reflect on our little trip and unwind. And we kicked back in style. Beers in hand, walking along the streets of Jerez & Sevilla. We soaked up the sights and got a little impulsive. I acquired a ukelele to go along with my sombrero and was fast becoming an englishman abroad cliche. But it was a good laugh and I enjoyed my final moments, kicking back on our tour bus, drinking sherry and listening to “I really like you” and “shake it off”, cheesy music that would make Rub proud.