The drink that popularized ice and straws
Ever have a cobbler? The drink, that is, not the dessert?
Back in the 19th century, the cobbler was one of the most popular mixed drinks around, with sherry usually serving as the base spirit. It was among the first drinks to include ice as an integral component—and one of the first to be served with a straw. More on that later.
The Sherry Cobbler has been out of favor for a long time, but we think it’s due for a revival. It makes a particularly tasty and refreshing summer drink. Plus, sherry has a fairly low alcoholic quotient. That means you can have a couple of these on a lazy afternoon and still keep your wits about you.
So why not mix up one of these charmers and sip a little cocktail history? Your great, great, great grandparents would approve.
Recipe: The Sherry Cobbler Cocktail
A cobbler is a specific class of mixed drink—just as a cocktail used to be (though today we tend to call all mixed drinks “cocktails”). One of the distinguishing features of a cobbler is its elaborate garnish. The top of the drink usually sports fresh fruit, such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, or oranges (sometimes all at once).
Back in the day, most cobblers were made with sherry. But Victorian mixologists sometimes substituted other liquors. So you could have a Brandy Cobbler, a Rum Cobbler, a Gin Cobbler—or whatever you fancied.
Since sherry was the original spirit of choice, that’s what we feature in our recipe. But what kind of sherry should you use? Most any kind will work, though we find that this drink tastes best when made with a fairly dry sherry. A fino, amontillado, or oloroso would be ideal. If you use a cream sherry (which is sweeter), you may want to reduce the amount of simple syrup specified in the recipe. (Disclosure: We used cream sherry for the pictures in this post simply because its color is so nice.)
This recipe calls for 4 ounces of sherry (which you can reduce to 3 if you prefer). Despite that hefty portion, the drink contains less “punch” than you might think. That’s because sherry is a fortified wine, with an alcoholic content that usually runs about 17% (34 proof). By contrast, most spirits (like gin or whiskey) are 80 proof and up. BTW, because sherry has a low proof, it can oxidize fairly quickly once it’s opened, making its flavor less bright. So after we open a bottle, we usually store it in the refrigerator to retard the oxidation process.
Our recipe is adapted from one presented by cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich. See Notes for some variations on our recipe.
This drink takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 4 ounces of sherry, preferably a dry variety (see recipe headnote; may decrease to 3 ounces if you wish)
- 2 to 4 teaspoons of homemade simple syrup (to taste; may substitute store-bought simple syrup, or even finely granulated white sugar)
- 1 slice of orange, cut in half
- garnish of fresh fruit or a sprig of mint (whatever is in season; raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and oranges are all ideal)
- Add all ingredients (except garnish) to a cocktail shaker that is half-filled with ice. Shake until well blended (20 seconds or so), then strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice (see Notes for suggestions on the type of glass to use).
- Top up with additional crushed ice if necessary. Add fruit garnish and a pair of straws, and serve.
- This drink is probably best served in a tall glass that holds 10 to 12 ounces. We often like to use a hurricane glass (as shown in the pictures), or you can use a wine goblet if you prefer.
- Including a slice of orange when shaking this cocktail adds a hint of citrus flavor to the drink. Some people skip the slice, and substitute ¼ ounce or so of Grand Marnier or orange curaçao. I haven’t tried this, but it sounds wonderful.
- Some drinkers like to muddle the orange slice with granulated sugar in the bottom of the shaker, then add the ice and sherry and shake. That’s more work than my method, but it sounds interesting.
- Other imbibers prefer to half-fill a shaker with crushed ice (as in Step 1), then shake as directed and pour the shaker’s contents into a serving glass without straining. That works, but we find the drink tastes better if you use fresh ice in the serving glass (as the recipe directs).
- As noted above, you don’t need to use sherry in a cobbler. You can substitute whiskey, rum, brandy, wine, or almost any spirit you can imagine. Feel free to experiment with our basic recipe for the Sherry Cobbler, but be aware: If you’re substituting 80-proof spirits, using 4 ounces will make a very strong drink. So you may want to reduce the amount to 3 ounces (or even less).
- If you substitute sparkling wine for sherry, don’t shake the drink. Instead, add both the sparkler and the simple syrup to a glass filled with crushed ice. Stir the drink briefly with a spoon, then top up with crushed ice and garnish.
- You can make your cobbler more elaborate by adding pineapple, lemon, or other ingredients. I prefer the more standard version myself. But if you like fancy drinks, take a look at Dale DeGroof’s The Craft of the Cocktail. He has an extensive section on cobblers (with many interesting recipes).
- Sherry originated in the Cádiz province of Spain (specifically, around the town of Jerez de la Frontera). This region has produced wine for over 3000 years. Sherry was developed after Moorish invaders introduced distillation to the area, probably sometime during the 8th century AD.
- In the EU, any fortified wine sold as sherry must be made in a specific region of Cádiz. In the US, however, “sherry” can be used as a generic name for domestically produced fortified wines.
- There are numerous varieties of sherry. Fino is the driest (and probably the best known); it typically has a very pale color. Amontillado is darker, and oloroso is darker still. Wikipedia offers a useful list that describes the different types of sherry.
- Before refrigeration was developed, ice was a precious commodity. In pre-fridge days, “harvesters” typically would cut large blocks of ice from frozen lakes, ponds, and rivers during the winter. Then they would store the ice in insulated buildings for use throughout the year.
- The cobbler was one of the first drinks to incorporate ice—then a costly (and thus probably upscale) ingredient. The original cobbler likely was developed as a sweet, refreshing summer drink (almost all alcoholic drinks were sweeter in the 19th century than they are today). Bartenders didn’t have machines to create crushed ice back then, so they would pound chunks of ice in canvas sacks. This produced little ice “pebbles” that resembled the cobblestones used to pave streets. Hence, the name “cobbler.”
- The cobbler was also among the first drinks to use a straw. In fact, David Wondrich calls the cobbler the “killer app” for the straw—which drinkers apparently used to protect their teeth from those ice pebbles. They found this necessary because, in the 19th century, most people seem to have had pretty bad teeth by the time they reached adulthood (dentistry hadn’t progressed very far at the time). Ice in contact with decayed teeth? Yelp!
- The earliest drinking straws date back to at least 3000 BC. They originally were made from gold or other metals (for the swells) or plant stalks (for the hoi polloi). During the 19th century, straws made of rye grass become common, although they turned soft and mushy with prolonged exposure to liquid. Paper drinking straws were patented in 1888, by Marvin Stone.
- As if popularizing ice and drinking straws weren’t enough, the cobbler is notable for another reason as well: It gave its name to the three-piece cocktail shaker (the metal type with a bottom mixing container, a top with a built-in strainer, and a small cap covering the opening for the strainer). Cobblers were among the first drinks to require shaking, and the 3-piece shaker was developed to make mixing them easier.
- No one is quite sure when the cobbler was invented, but it dates back at least to 1809. That’s when Washington Irving mentioned it in his book A History of New York.
Bring Back the Cobbler!
“Who knew sherry could work so well in a cocktail?” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, taking a long sip.
“Yeah, I’m surprised this drink ever fell out of favor,” I said.
“Well, I guess sherry does have an ‘old fogey’ reputation,” said Mrs K R. “I mean, it was probably the favorite drink of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, back in Downton Abbey days.”
“Right,” I said. “She no doubt consumed it in carefully measured portions, served in teeny glasses.”
“Ah, well,” said Mrs K R. “I’m just glad this drink opened my eyes to what sherry can do. This is outstanding.”
“Hey, speaking of old fogies,” I said. “Did you catch the bag boy at the supermarket today? He asked if I needed help out to the car with our order! That little punk must think I’m over the hill.”
“Now, now,” said Mrs K R. “He was just a kid.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure he was even shaving yet,” I said.
“Besides, that store prides itself on customer service,” said Mrs K R. “They probably give the bag boys guidelines on how to treat shoppers.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” I said, harrumphing.
“Maybe even little rhymes to remind them,” said Mrs K R. “You know, like ‘grey scalp, needs help.’” She smiled broadly, glancing at my silvery locks.
Sigh. Maybe I should stock up on sherry. And teeny weeny glasses.
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