Simon Majumdar Interviews Author, and Spirits & Cocktail Expert 

DEREK BROWN

on the History of Sherry

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Derek Brown Interview Notes

Sherry is one of our host, Simon Majumdar’s favorite drinks, but it is often misunderstood. In this very special interview episode, Simon shares his passion for these unique wines from Derek Brown, famed bartender and author of the excellent Spirit, Sugar, Waters, Bitters. Derek explains the history and styles of sherry and how you should best pair them with food and incorporate them in cocktails.

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TRANSCRIPT

EAT MY GLOBE: THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT FOOD

Simon Majumdar Interviews Author, and Spirits and Cocktail Expert,

DEREK BROWN

on The History of Sherry

INTRO MUSIC

 

SIMON:

Hi everybody. I'm Simon Majumdar.

 

Welcome to the latest episode of Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn't know you didn't know about food.

 

And on this very special episode, we're going to talk about one of my favorite drinks or selection of drinks in the world. A drink that's often very misunderstood, uh, particularly here in the United States, but I think is becoming increasingly popular around the world as people are discovering it's fascinating history and the range that's available.

 

And to help me on this, we're going to have a really special guest. Someone who I met about seven or eight years ago at an event at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. A gentleman who owns a number of bars in that fantastic city and who is passionate about this subject as well.

 

So we're going to talk today on Eat My Globe about The History of Sherry.

 

BREAK MUSIC

 

SIMON:

 

So please let me introduce you to the one and the only Derek Brown.

 

Derek, thank you so much for joining us on Eat My Globe.

 

DEREK:

It's my pleasure to be here. Simon. Thank you for the invite.

 

SIMON:

Thank you.

 

Now before we go on to talk about anything else, I've got to get this out of the way because I believe that you and I share a mutual fascination with The Clash. Is that correct?

 

DEREK:

That's correct. In fact, my Sherry Bar, which was. . . lived for a few years in Washington DC in the Shaw neighborhood, was called Mockingbird Hill after a Clash song.

SIMON:

Spanish Bombs.

 

DEREK:

Of course.

 

SIMON:

Which is, which is wonderful. And so, yeah, I think I'm about 10 years older than you. So I used to go and see The Clash when I was a kid in England.

 

Uh, and they were, they were always often supported by Joy Division. None of this to anyone listening has got anything to do with Sherry, but you've got to get these things out of the way first.

 

But before we go on to talk about Sherry, which is, you know, as I said, one of my great passions. . . perhaps you could tell us just a little bit about yourself and your latest book, because I know you were kind enough to send me a copy. I absolutely adored it. It's called, “Spirit, Sugar, Water, Bitters.”

 

But perhaps you could tell us a little bit about yourself, your, your history as a bartender and what you've done to date. And then we could go on to talk about the wondrous subject that is Sherry.

 

DEREK:

Um, well, uh, I'm from Washington DC and, uh, I have a bar here called the Columbia Room and I work with other bars as well. And I recently put out, as you mentioned, “Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters,” which is a book about the history of the cocktail.

 

I was, uh, at um, the, um, chief spirits adviser to the National Archives, which, I joke, makes me the highest ranking bartender in the US government.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

DEREK:

Although actually no such [inaudible] exists.

 

[Laughter]

 

But, um, they did an exhibit in 2015, uh, called, um, the Spirit of the Republic and it was about Americans and drinking and how much we drank. And I, uh, created a series along with it called the history of the cocktail series where we have 30 different experts come in and talk about, uh . . . and these experts were journalists and historians and distillers and bartenders. And they talked about the history of the cocktail. It was one of the most amazing, um, series I've ever been a part of. And I, uh, you know, sometime around I guess the 10th, um, or ninth or 10th seminar, I realized I hadn't, hadn't recorded anything.

 

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

DEREK:

So we had all this great information, but we didn't have, um, anybody but a few ears listening at least the whole thing.

 

Um, overall we had hundreds of people would come, but only me and a handful of people attended every single one. So I decided to write a book on it. And that's what the history, that's what the “Spirits, Sugar, Bitters, Water” is about. It's about the history of the cocktail based off the history of the cocktail series at the National Archives. And really is told in a conversational tone. Um, I tried to make it the same as if I was talking to you over [inaudible].

 

SIMON:

Now that we know a little bit more about you and, and tell us about your passion for Sherry. Because I know when we first met, and it was at a Smithsonian? In fact, I think it was celebrating the Stars and Stripes, if I remember rightly.

 

DEREK:

Um hm. Yeah.

SIMON:

Wow. So it is a little while ago now, 2012.

 

Um, we, we had a long chat about Sherry, I still remember this while we were there with David Wondrich and other people from, uh, the cocktail world.

 

So tell us a little bit about your passion for this drink and, and tell us a little bit about what Sherry's are. Because I think it's one of those subjects that people in this country, the United States particularly get a little bit confused about. They usually find it in the cooking section of their, you know, their supermarkets or they, that's how they often think about it. And yet this is such for me, one of the most wide range and wonderful drinks in the world.

 

DEREK:

That's right. Um. Well, uh, I think certainly Sherry is misunderstood and I'm glad that we share a love of it. Um, but when I first tasted Sherry, I didn't like it. And I think that actually that's a lot of people's first story with Sherry.

 

The first taste of it is kind of, it's complex. It can be dry, it can be intense. Of course, people's assumption about Sherry is that it's sweet. Right? That it's the kind of grandma drink. And uh, that it's, you know, it's going to be sweet and syrupy. But the first one I had was actually dry. And it was really intense. And there was so much going on that I just put it down. I said, this is, I don't know, you know, I don't want to drink. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

DEREK:

. . . this anymore. Um, but it was like, um, I guess like a really great song that you hear that sticks in the back of your head.

 

And I just kept thinking about it. And I went back to it and I tried it again. And again. And again. I probably thousands of times since and, and I've realized that I enjoy that complexity. That I enjoy Sherry because of that reason. That it's something that's not easily accessible.

 

Um, a lot of people still are like, well, what is it? Is it wine? Is it alcohol? Is it, um, well, obviously it's alcohol, but is it wine? Is it a fortified drink? Is it a liquor? All of that is kind of, can be confusing and the answers, it's kind of all of those things.

 

SIMON:

Um, and we'll go on to talk about some of the different styles because again, that's the thing, when people say to me, Sherry, I often say it's an umbrella term for obviously many different styles of fortified wine that are all produced in one area of Spain particularly.

 

But perhaps we could go on and talk about that history because obviously this is a food history show when we do episodes on the history of different ingredients.

 

And to me, this only exists really in the form that we have it today. Sherry. And we'll talk about the different styles because of a point in history.

 

So perhaps you could tell us about that because it is one of those things that, you know, often when we look at, uh, an ingredient or a meal, there's no big bang. But I think with Sherry there actually is or a particular point in time we can point towards and say, well this is where it all started. Perhaps you could share some of that with us.

 

DEREK:

I guess the region of Spain in which Sherry has made. It's been really a wine has been made there for thousands of years. So it is very old. Um, but the type of Sherry that we're talking about today came about, um, sometime in the 15th century, 16th, 15th century. And that's where, um, there was a, um, a wine that was created, but it was also fortified. Um, so it was fortified with a spirit. Um, a neutral Brandy that made it a couple of things. One, it made it easy to travel, um, because it lasted for longer than regular wine. You know, most wines will spoil and in a matter of days, a week and certainly gone. But for Sherry, and certain styles of Sherry, it can last for much longer. So it became part of the sort of seafaring life of the, uh, 16th, 15th century. And, um, most specifically and probably where it connected to England especially and became sort of worldwide. . . known. Is that it. . . Um, Sir Francis Drake, um, sacked the Spanish Armada.

 

I think that was in, um, it was in 1587 that he sacked the, uh, Spanish Armada and, and brought with him, um, 3000 barrels of Spanish Sherry back to Spain, which created a taste for Sherry among, uh, the English people. And that sort of went from there to America where it was actually the first spirit, or I'm sorry, where it was the first wine to come across to the New World.

 

It was sort of an essential part of being a, um, a pirate or a privateer. You had to have Sherry. And so, uh, it's funny cause we were just talking about how Sherry's a grandmother drink and then. . . boom. Now we're talking about how it's a pirate’s drink.

 

So . . .

 

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

And one of the things I know that slightly later on than that as well, when the British were blockading the French ports, probably in the middle of the 18th century, they were unable to get some of the sweeter wines to which they've become accustomed from France. You know, the ones that were coming up from Bordeaux or any of those sweeter wines.

 

DEREK:

Right.

 

SIMON:

And then that's when they really began to develop a passion for, uh, an extra passion across England. And up the point I've just been writing about whiskey and gin, we did an episode on earlier, but at that point. . .

 

DEREK:

Right.

SIMON:

. . . Sherry was the number one drink outside of beer for the working classes in the United. . .

DEREK:

Um-hm.

 

SIMON:

. . . in, in Great Britain. So it became so increasingly popular and they, I guess that went over to what became the United States because of that history.

 

DEREK:

That's right. And, and it was all it was mentioned throughout literature as well. It's mentioned in Shakespeare, it's mentioned in Charles Dickens. Um, it's, it's, it's all over the place. Sherry was huge. Um, and you know, maybe not so much now. But. . .

 

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

Tell us about the different styles because again, I think what people. . . as you did when you first started it, and certainly I did in England when I was drinking, you know, my grandmother's . . . literally my grandmother's Cream Sherry, uh, that was rather. . .

DEREK:

Um-hm.

 

SIMON:

. . . rather sweet that she used to get. Just as a little fun story, but you used to be able to go into off licenses, liquor stores in the UK, and they had a big plastic barrel of British Cream Sherry. And you would take in anything, a milk bottle, whatever, and you would fill it up. And they were trying to give it a Spanish sounding name. They couldn't call it the strict name cause it wasn't from there. And they would, and it was called Armadillo Cream Sherry. And she would fill up with Armadillo Cream Sherry and fill it up from this bottle and she would like pour it to me when I was an 18 year old student with Sunday lunch that I used to have at her house. Um, but so let's talk about. . .

 

[Laughter]

 

I just thought I'd share that with everyone.

DEREK:

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

But it is just one of those fascinating things that how it kind of got its reputation as a grandmother's drink in the UK.

 

But tell us about the different styles because what the styles of them and, and, and how they work together and how they’re created. I think people would love to know about that going from the very dry ones to the very sweeter ones.

 

DEREK:

Sure. And, and I think the first thing to talk about is what you've already mentioned is that it is from one area. It's from Spain. It's from the Southwest of Spain. And so Sherry from anywhere else is not really Sherry. Um, it is a regional product and it is special because of that. It can only come from that place.

 

SIMON:

And that name actually comes from the place, doesn't it? The name of the drink.

 

DEREK:

Yeah.

 

It's kind of the anglicization of the word Jerez.

 

So Jerez, Spain is where it's from, um, and Cadiz from Cadiz, um, and the province of Cadiz. And so that's where it gets its name. Um, and, and that actually, those names have morphed over time depending on who's lived there and, um, what they referred to it as. So, so Sherry is, is the, um, I guess the English way to refer to it.

 

So the thing to know about Sherry is that there's what I call three F's, right?

 

First there's floor. And floor is a kind of yeast that essentially lays on top of the Sherry in the barrel and it protects it from the oxygen. Oxygen obviously in. . . for wine is something that will ruin it over time. So this is, um, a way to protect it, preserve it, and to let it age for, uh, you know, uh – in the case of the, um, youngest style of Sherry, um, which is called Fino, if it's from Sanlucar de Barrameda, is called Manzanilla. Those are similar, um, and that they're usually aged up to seven years under floor. Um, and so again, that floor is a yeast.

 

And, um, once that floor breaks, then there is a also, um, a style beyond that called Amontillado, where it's fortified to a higher level, um, and it's oxidized, so it actually turns a darker color.

 

So the Fino and Manzanilla Sherries, which are extremely dry, extremely complex and delicious, I think, those are going to be, um, eh, essentially clear. Um, but maybe like a darkish pale color. Darkish pale.

SIMON:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

DEREK:

 

[Inaudible]

 

Um, but, but so, um, then there's Amontillado which is a richer sort of almost nuttier, uh, it's often described as nutty, um, style. And then beyond that is something called Oloroso, which is, um, completely oxidized and very rich and, and, and, um, fortified to a higher level alcohol even than Amontillado.

 

Now, high level alcohol is not much. It's about 18, 20%. Um, but it is a higher amount. Um, those are all technically dry styles. So it's funny that we often think of Sherry's sweet when a majority of the styles are actually dry.

 

Um, I mentioned three “F’s.” There's the first one was the floor and I talked about how that developed. But there's also fractional blending.

 

So it means that in most wine you have sort of like a vintage, a specific vintage, right? It is the 2019 vintage or this is a 1974 vintage, which is technically the vintage that I am.

 

Um, but it's, uh, fractional blending means that they're taking different barrels and putting together to create a uniform style.

 

So it is not from one vintage. It could be from many vintages. And some very old vintages in the case of older Sherries.

 

Then the last one is, um, so it's floor, fractional blending, um, and fortification, which we've already mentioned.

 

So all of these are fortified with a mutual Brandy, which makes them different than wine and not quite a liquor. Right? They're sort of in between. The other, um, I guess, alcoholic drinks that are like this would be vermouth, would be an example, um, of something that is, that is wine and fortified as well. Um, so all those things make Sherry unique. And if that sounds like a lot of information, it is. Sherry's a lot. Um, but maybe the best way to think about it is just in terms of color. The lighter colors are the driest and youngest and the darker, richer, and, and, and sort of the more oxidized.

 

Well, where did the sweet ones come from? You mentioned Cream Sherry, which is essentially when they add a Pedro Jimenez, which is a, a style, it's a specific grain, a style of Sherry that's very, very, very sweet. When they add that back to something like in Amontillado you get Cream Sherry out of that.

 

And then they have the, um, uh, they have a, um, Pedro Jimenez or PX as it's sometimes called and Moscatel, which are very sweet, um, wines.

 

SIMON:

What. . .

 

DEREK:

I'm sorry. There's even one more that I forgot, which is, it's called the unicorn of Sherry's in some ways because it's the more rare and kind of a particular style of Sherry. It's still dry, called Palo Cortado, um, which is, uh, going to be very aromatic, um, and, and very complex. And one of the more interesting, I think, within an interesting category, one of the more interesting types of Sherry.

 

SIMON:

What I wanted to ask as well, and you touched on it in that conversation is one of the unique ways that Sherry has put together and you called it fractional blending and there is a system there and I've been lucky enough to go and see it at the Gonzalez Byass, um, uh, plant. Well, I don't know what you call it. Gonzalez Byass winery or bodega. . .

DEREK:

Um-hm.

 

SIMON:

. . . um, is the solera system. And people often read about that and they'll see the word “solera.” And that's touching on what you said about fractional blending. Perhaps you could just explain how that works. The solera system.

 

DEREK:

Yeah. Essentially they have rows and rows of barrels and they actually have them sort of one on top of the other. So there's usually three or four levels. I think it's usually three levels in which they have, um, the barrels stacked up and they take from one to the other.

 

And if you read like a book on Sherry and you see the diagram, they'll show you going one to the other, to the other, right? So it's kind of using gravity to blend into the final row, which is the bottom row. That's not really how it is at all when you go there.

 

[Laughter]

 

It's more chaotic than that. Especially if you go to a place like Gonzalez Byass where you have there, they're taking it from all of these different areas and there's like this bad blender who's done, knows where everything is and puts it all together. So it's very complex, but it's also, I guess, somewhat of an art form.

 

SIMON:

It is. It's that, it's that true blending that you see also in great distilleries if you go up to Scotland and you'll see them blending, particularly in a great vatted malt or something and they're putting it together. It's that same individual intuition and they've got it in their, in their kind of sixth sense. It's in their DNA, I think, in Spain when they're blending.

 

DEREK:

Right. And another wine that's like that is Champagne is also blended. So if people can relate to that.

 

SIMON:

I also wanted to touch on the kind of symbiotic relationship between the Sherry industry and other spirit industries. Whether it's using, you know, using the barrels, for example. Uh, so perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about that. For example, the, the connection between the Sherry industry and the Scotch Whiskey industry.

DEREK:

Yeah. Um, you know, though. . . The Sherry barrels are prized for their sort of venous quality. You know, they, they're these old barrels that contain a lot of the sort of, um, I guess last little bits of Sherry within the fissures and cracks in the barrel. And so, um, they’re probably because they add character to whiskey. So lots of, um, uh, Scotches will actually be aged in Sherry barrels. And so, um, a lot of people say, well, I've never had Sherry and maybe they think that they'd never tried Sherry. And I ask them, have you ever, and obviously this is not Scotch, it's an Irish Whiskey, but I say, have you ever tried Jameson? I know, yeah. Yeah. Well that's, you've tried Sherry then.

 

[Inaudible] aged in Sherry.

 

And so I think that that's something to consider. If somebody doesn't really like Sherry [inaudible] or they're not sure of it, just drink a Scotch. . .  the taste of Sherry or, or try an Irish Whiskey that's aged in Sherry. Even now there's some bourbons that are aged in Sherry.

SIMON:

So what I wanted to. . . . Let's go through just some of the styles and, and how you think people could drink them. And then we'll talk a bit more about the history and how it's kind of faded out of the history and then coming back I think pretty strongly.

 

So you have. . . you started the dry ones. Fino, my own particular favorite. Manzanilla, which has, you know, that almost saltiness to it. It's nearer the coast. They. . . I think they leave the barrels open even sometimes and they get that little saltiness into the Manzanilla. The one I'd probably enjoy drinking the most. And then through them, and how you would pair them if you were doing them.

 

I know you . . . oh, you what, you did food at the bars. You know, how you would serve Sherry and how people could have them if they were having them as they, you know, if they were trying them for the first time.

DEREK:

Right. Well, the first thing I would start with when pairing Sherries, especially with Fino and then moving to Manzanilla as well, is . . . get ham.

 

Get a really nice Jamon from, well, Spain, a Jamon Iberico, Iberico. And uh, try it with Sherry.

 

When you go to Jerez, that's like the first thing you do. Almost every bodega that you go to. You will walk up and they will hand you a glass of Fino and they will hand you a plate of ham. And it's so wonderful together and it is all you need to know. Um, if you know anything about Sherry and it goes great with ham.

 

SIMON:

So, tell people just in case they don't know. And I've, again, I've been fortunate enough to go to Extremadura during the, what they call, “The Sacrifice” or the slaughter of the, the Iberico pigs. Um, to me, I think, probably I think the greatest food on earth is Jamon Iberico. But if people aren't aware of it, why this combination? Which for me, Sherry and ham sums up Spain. But tell us a little bit more about that ham just in case people don't know about it.

DEREK:

Well, it's basically a, an aged ham. I mean, and it's a, it's a wonderful product from a specific area. Some of the, um, the pigs have a very specific diet and you can even get certain types of hams where they're fed acorns and that sort of thing. Um, and it's, it's, it's wonderful. It's very. . . usually there's a special art to, to shaving it or cutting it. Um, that I tried to learn, Simon, and I, I could not. Um, I tried really hard, but you have to get like a special knife and you cut it, uh, uh, just so way that you have these very thin strips of ham that have, uh, enough meat and enough fat on them and you lay them out on a plate. Um, you eat them as they are. You don't need to add anything else to them. You certainly could. Um, but you take a sip of Sherry, the Fino. It's going to be, you know, dry and you're gonna get hints of apple and chamomile. Um, and then you eat the ham and it's rich and it's oily and those things just pair together so well. Um, and I, I wish I could give even a more poetic description of how it tastes. I think everyone has to just try it. And it's one of those pairings, and if you're interested in pairing, taste that, and you'll see that's one of the most sublime things.

SIMON:

Particularly the fat I know, which actually melts at room temperature and is just oozy and delicious and actually good for you because it's so full of, they call them in Spain, the, the pigs, they call them, uh, acorns with legs. Olives with legs. Sorry, not acorns with legs. Olives with legs. Cause it has so much oleic acid from the acorns. They, that actually they prescribe it in certain places to help reduce cholesterol. So whoever thought that you could do that with, uh, with a pig.

 

DEREK:

So one more to throw in there is, basically, if you're a vegetarian, you might be turning off this podcast. I want, I want to keep you engaged. Um, so, so olives are another really great pairing with it. And tomatoes. And so I'm sure you've had pan con tomate.

 

SIMON:

Sure.

DEREK:

Um, uh, garlic and tomato, fresh tomatoes. And olive oil on a, um, on a baguette and it's absolutely fantastic pairing as well. There’s something about tomatoes and a Fino that go really well.

 

SIMON:

So then moving into the more, uh, kind of the oxidized ones, the Amontillado, Oloroso. Those are darker, they're richer. Where would you be serving those? What would you pair them with?

 

DEREK:

So, and one of the great things about Sherry in general is it has, it's a such a complex beverage. It has just a lot more going on than your average wine that it actually would pair with a wider variety of things.

 

But when I'm looking at Amontillado, um, one of my favorite things to pair it with is something that's like a little richer and sometimes gamey-ier. You can imagine something like oxtail. It would be great to pair it with. Or, or beef in general can be really nice, uh, with an Amontillado or Oloroso. Um, those go really great. In fact, uh, you know, I think a steak and Oloroso can be a really nice pairing.

 

Obviously it depends on accoutrements as well. Um, but I think that something meatier, heavier, richer is great too.

 

Now, uh, something that might be an unusual pairing, um, for most people is Chinese food and Amontillado. . . .

 

SIMON:

Oh.

DEREK:

. . . Sherry.

 

Now Chinese does a broad range of food. I'm not trying to say there's only one, but when you look at things like soy sauce and ginger, um, those things go really well with Amontillado. Um, and a little bit of spice. So I would say definitely if you're getting some Chinese carry out, grab a bottle of Amontillado and experience. . .

 

SIMON:

I'm going to try that. I have never even thought of that. That is a fantastic idea. I'm definitely going to give that a try.

 

And then going into the very. . . the sweeter ones, the ones that are coming from Pedro Jimenez. Um, those are very different. I mean, almost I think of those as dessert wines. And I know sometimes we say in England that Pedro Jimenez is like melted Christmas pudding because it's sweet and raisiny. And uh, what, where would you serve those?

DEREK:

Yeah, you know, Sherry has the driest wines and the sweetest wines in the world.

 

Um, the sweet ones, the PX is great with a variety of dishes. Uh, in fact, PX and chocolate is a very famous pairing. But here's where I think you find the best use of it.

 

Get up. . . get a nice vanilla ice cream and pour the Pedro Jimenez on top of it and eat it just like that.

 

SIMON:

Yes. And I've been fortunate enough to do that in, in some Spanish restaurants and it is a wonderful combination.

 

So now we've talked about the styles and I hope particularly when pairing it with these incredible foods, we've got people excited about maybe going out and trying some Sherry.

 

And let's go back to the history. So obviously you said at this one point there were all these Sherries hugely popular in Great Britain, took it over to the United States. It was often the, particularly the wealthier households, the wines that people had, you know, at the time of the formation of the United States.

 

How did it suddenly go from that to being this drink that people just avoided or thought was old fashioned and, and really suffered because of that?

 

DEREK:

There's a lot of reasons for it, but the one that I like to point back to is actually the last really great leap in Sherry was in the 1980s. When, in the United States, Sherry was seen as a luxury product. You know, it was kind of looked at as an upper class or high class product. And that specifically had to do with a brand card, Harvey's Bristol Cream. . .

 

SIMON:

Uh-huh.

 

DEREK:

. . . which I think, uh, older bartenders and sometimes older people worked in restaurants remember the characteristically blue bottle that was behind the bar that probably should've been refrigerated but never was.

 

And that was sort of like a symbol, a status symbol. Um, unfortunately, because it was very sweet and syrupy and, and I don't know, it's really the greatest Sherry. Um, I'm not going to say it's the worst, um, but I don't know about it'd be the highest quality. And so when people, I think eventually started getting into Cream Sherry and thinking that's what Sherry was, they were turned off a bit by it.

 

SIMON:

And I think as well, I always think of episodes of things like when, uh, Frazier, when, whenever Niles turned up, the first thing he was offered was a small schooner of Sherry. So they immediately meant it. . . meh. . . made it part of this very kind of elite society.

 

DEREK:

Oh, that's right. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you could imagine some blow hard like Frazier. Although I very much enjoyed the show. But you're going to imagine him, you know, waxing poetic about Sherry and you know, you're like, please.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

Um, but I, what I, what I love about Sherry, it's one of these things I think about the great drinks. They're still there. Even if people don't know about them at a time, they begin to reassert themselves.

 

And I know you are definitely part of that movement in the United States. Certainly, I know people in the United Kingdom with the opening of great tapas bars, Brindisa, and all these other places brought Sherry. Yeah, people like Jose Pizarro, who's an amazing chef. I think one of the best Spanish chefs outside of Spain in the UK, who's got a number of restaurants.

 

They really brought Sherry back and, and what is it now? Because I am beginning to see it coming back into, you know, people talking about it, people seeing the different ranges. I'm beginning to see it in restaurants in the United States. There’s a great one in Los Angeles called Dama run by Antonia Lofaso that has a wide Sherry list.

 

Why do you think it suddenly came back? What . . . do you think it’s part of a wider issue with people being more experimental with, uh, drinks and cocktails or do you think it's a, there's another reason?

 

DEREK:

I do think that, that's part of it. I think people are generally just becoming more experimental and interested in a range of things. But specifically they're interested in heritage products and traditional products.

 

And when you talk about Sherry, you're talking about something that we've already admitted has this very long history that is very unique and special to a region of many of the Sherries that we, uh, you know, that are made, are made from, uh, in these traditional bodegas from families that have been making it for hundreds of years.

 

And I think that that story is a huge part of it. I think sommeliers had a big part to do with that because then you recognize how well it paired with food.

 

Um, and I think bartenders have a part to play in that because they realized it was very versatile in cocktails. And in fact, when you look back at American drinks starting with colonial times, we see Sherry being mixed in everything. So it is not just something that, you know, is present day, but something that we've always kind of mixed. And so it's coming back because I think people are learning that story, learning that history, and they're curious to try it.

 

SIMON:

You are so much a part of the redevelopment of cocktails and this classic cocktail program, uh, probably from the turn of the millennium.

 

So if someone wanted to go to their, yeah, cocktail bar or a great cocktail bar in restaurants now, which is one of the great trends that I'm seeing right now. It's really terrific bars in restaurants as well as, you know, dedicated cocktail bars, and they wanted to try something with a Sherry in a cocktail. What kind of drinks would they be looking for that they could sample it?

DEREK:

Well, there's two that I always point people to because there were the two that really got me and gotten me interested in not just tasting Sherry with food or tasting Sherry as is, but trying it in cocktails.

 

And the first one is called the Adonis.

 

SIMON:

Oh.

 

DEREK:

Uh, the Adonis is a really great old cocktail that has Sherry in it, usually an Amontillado Sherry though you could make it with a range of Sherries and sweet vermouth in it and bitters.

 

So it's very similar to it, to the Manhattan, essentially. So it's a simple drink to make.

 

Most bars, um, can make it, uh, if they can make a Manhattan and they have Sherry, they can make an Adonis. Um, and it is really wonderful and one of the benefits of that is it's not quite as boozy as a Manhattan. Manhattan's great. Whiskey is great. You'll never hear me really denigrating neither one of those things. But, um, sometimes you want, you know, it's a marathon, not a race. So you might want to have more sessionable cocktail and that is the Adonis in a word.

SIMON:

That's some very great way for people to go and try it for the first time, I think. Um, and let's, let's kind of finish up on the Sherry before we go and ask you just our fun questions we always ask people at the end.

 

What do you think. . . Well, two questions.

 

One, if people wanted to go out and buy Sherry for them to try at home, where would you suggest they go and buy? Do they need to go to a specialist like a store? Do they need to go to, you know, a general, you know, liquor store? The BevMos? This kind of thing of the world? Or where are you going to find a good, good collection?

DEREK:

Don't go to places that are sort of your everyday liquor stores on the corner. They usually don't have Sherry. And if they do, they have, um, maybe very old versions of it. Cause a lot of, a lot of times Sherries are left on the shelves and not ordered. And so, um, they do have a time frame that they can be consumed in. Um, and in fact in the back of like Fino and Manzanita bottles, there's a code to find out where, uh, when the Sherry has been made.

 

And so I, you know, I don't want to go into too much detail but go look it up online if you're curious. Um, you can, you can actually decode when the Sherries were actually made and figure out if it's something old or newer.

 

Um, but I'd say most, uh, mid-range and definitely most specialty stores that have a broader range of gins and whiskeys and maybe some more cocktail oriented grievance. . . ingredients are going to have Sherry and that's where you want to get it from. Those are the stores that I would trust, um, because the people behind it are passionate about their products and surely they're going to pick good Sherries. There's so many different Sherries you can get. You know, there's very small sort of like family owned Sherries. There are larger producers like Gonzalez Byass, and even Harvey's. Um, and those are all good. Um, but they're all different. And so you may need a little instruction just getting to that first bottle.

 

So maybe the first purchase should be at a store. . . that's. . . specialty store, whether it's a high end wines or has cocktail . . .

SIMON:

That sounds great. And I think people, if they do go out. . . and hopefully this conversation has kind of whetted people's appetites and they're going to go out and at least give it a try or even order a glass in their restaurants. Particularly if they go to somewhere that has a Spanish bent. As I said, some of the restaurants that are opening in LA right now are really focusing on this and you're seeing a lot of. . . not just these fortified wines. You've seen Port, as well, Madeiras. You're seeing even Malaga wines, which is something I haven't seen for a while, which has all come out of this same history. Rather delicious. So hopefully they'll go and give it a try. And I, you know, thank you so much for doing that.

 

But before we let you go, we have the important questions as well as ones on The Clash that we like to hear from people. Everyone we ask, we ask about these questions just cause I think it gives us a little bit of insight of who people are.

 

So, so Derek, if you were a meal. . .

 

DEREK:

Yes.

 

SIMON:

. . . or a cocktail, what would it be?

 

DEREK:

I’d probably be a cocktail. I think that's probably, that's probably fair to say. My favorite cocktail is a dry martini, so I'm going to go with that. And I'm going to s. . . I'm going to tell you why.

 

As I think that, um, the dry martini is the sort of perfect combination of sophisticated and Savaged ingredients. You know, it's not, um, it's sort of, uh, both reverential and irreverent at the same time. So I think that it has these contradictions in it, uh, which make it really a wonderful complex beverage. I'd like to think that I have those contradictions in me as well.

 

SIMON:

I'm going to totally agree. April too, this is our favorite drink. In fact, I introduced April to a dry martini for which I think her husband's never forgiven me.

 

And I still remember going back when I was at theological college in one of my kind of reports that I got from one of the priests when I was supposed to be training, which obviously never happened to become an Anglican priest. He said, Simon's only aim in life seems to be in search of the perfect dry martini. This was in the 1980s when I was about 19. So it stuck with me. So I absolutely agree with you on that. Well, that's a great choice.

 

DEREK:

[Inaudible] typical debates. I will say that one of the great theological debates of our time is between me and one of a priest friends of mine, whether it should be equal parts or whether it should be two to one in terms of gin to vermouth ratio.

SIMON:

Ooh.

 

DEREK:

So, um, I see people, parts . . . Father Bill Daley, a friend of mine says two to one. So we, we are, um, debating that.

 

SIMON:

Let's see. I'm, I'm, I, I guess as I'm getting slightly less than in need of liver shuddering it's more three to one for me these days with a splash of orange bitters.

 

[Laughter]

 

DEREK:

Orange bitters is always better.

 

SIMON:

Now if you could select any meal or period in history in which to experience a meal, when would it be? You have one choice.

 

DEREK:

All right.

 

So yeah, this is gonna be, um, pretty odd considering my last answer. But I would say, I would like to go back to sort of pre history. I love the idea of sitting around a fire, slow cooking animal. Um, I love the idea of fishing oysters out of the water. I love really simple food like that. So in a way I kind of wish I was back then in this primitive time, this sort of ritual around. . .

 

SIMON:

So, roasting a wooly mammoth over an open fire.

 

[Laughter]

 

DEREK:

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

Finally, what would you argue is the most important food invention in history? We've had some fascinating answers to this.

 

DEREK:

I would say that the cocktail is the most important.

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

DEREK:

And, and I'll tell you why.

 

Because the cocktails. . . the earliest chemically authenticated alcohol that was discovered about 9,000 years ago in Jiahu, China is the mixed drink. Mixed drinks go, uh, is early back as humans go back. Obviously, we don't have proof before that, but I'm sure it goes back at least 300,000 years.

 

And so, um, it's part of our, um, uh, how we socialize. It's a sort of, uh, spiritual technology. It is a bio social technology. It's something that is really been an important part of who we are as humans. And so I think the mixed drink and finally the apogee of that cocktail is the most important.

SIMON:

I'm not going to argue too much with any of that given that I’m a man who does love his mixed drinks.

 

So before we let you go, let's just remind everybody about your latest book, “Spirit, Sugar, Water Bitters,” published by Rizzoli.

 

Obviously available all your favorite bookstores or online, wherever you buy your books, do go and check it out.

 

You were kind enough to send me a copy and I really enjoyed it. I read it all the way through. It's one of those things that I have on my phone now because it's just so full of great information and as with you talking now just really is, it inspires people to go out and ask, you know, kind of broaden their horizons when they're trying drinks and learning more. So they're drinking kind of with more consciousness of where everything came together. So I really recommend people go out and get the book because it's a great one to have in your library if you're interested in food at all.

 

And if people wanted to follow you, I know we follow each other on Twitter. Um, if, if people wanted to follow you on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, all of those things, how can they find you?

 

DEREK:

 

My Twitter handle and Instagram handle, um, is the same. @ideasimprove.

SIMON:

@ideasimprove on Twitter and Instagram. Well worth going to follow. You'll learn so much about spirit history, great conversation. And also you end up having great conversations with other people in this industry as well. I know, cause I kind of stalk you when you do it and learn so much as I'm doing it.

 

I wanted to really thank you for coming along. I know this is a subject very close to your heart and I know from when we talked all those years ago, it stayed with me, your passion for Sherry and for the mixed drinks in general. So really thank you for joining us here on Eat My Globe. Uh, and hopefully we'll get to share a Sherry again soon.

DEREK:

I look forward to that and thank you for the invite. I really appreciate you having me on there, Simon.

 

SIMON:

Thank you so much.

 

OUTRO MUSIC

 

SIMON:

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.

 

And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us a good rating on your favorite podcast provider.

 

Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.

CREDITS

 

The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”

 

[Clapping and cheering sound]

 

and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Doctor Tawny Paul, Public History Initiative Director, for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.

 

Published Date: April 20, 2020

Updated: April 22, 2020

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.

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