Sherry Wine Punch

I have a predilection for sherry-based cocktails for drinking on hot Sundays while relaxing with friends.

You may recognize the setting for this photo as the same as the one for my Italian Lemonade post. Last year I made a sherry and milk lemonade for exactly the same purpose: kickin’ it on the river the Sunday after a big party at my friend Jen’s farm in the Capay Valley. I figured, why break with tradition?

This time it was our friend Beth’s birthday. We ate under the stars and played in the river. I napped and read about pickles. We took eggs warm from the hens. Jen made pita from scratch. There was a pinata for the kids, and another one that was supposed to be for adults, but I never saw it get cracked. (What is in a pinata for adults? Weed and porn?) We slept under the stars. These parties are always fabulous.

So I needed a low-alcohol drink for the day after such revelry. Sherry-based drinks are ideal, and a brief search turned up a Sherry Wine Punch listed in Harry Johnson’s “New & Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual” published in 1888. It includes Orchard Syrup, an ingredient I have been working on for a while. This time I made it with extra lemon juice and more warm spices like cloves and allspice. It came out a bit too apple-pie-like, but the cocktail was still tasty. Next time I think I’m going to try Chinese 5-spice powder.

I made it all in a large jug for sharing, but here it is scaled down for one:

Sherry Wine Punch
3 oz amontillado sherry
1 oz orchard syrup
1/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz red wine

Stir sherry, orchard syrup and lemon juice together in a frappe glass, then pack crushed ice in to fill and stir briefly. Float red wine on top.



I’ve been enamored of the curdled/strained milk addition in cocktails ever since I made Italian Lemonade. It’s often called for in milk punches, although bartenders tend to make milk cocktails to order. Shaken and consumed immediately, one often avoids curdling the milk, at least in the glass. But mixing the milk and citrus ahead of time, allowing it to curdle, then straining out the solids leaves the protein of the whey without the richness of the rest of the milk.

One of the features of the Italian Lemonade is its incredibly low alcohol content. I wondered if I could harness the flavors but punch up the booze to make it a proper cocktail. Also, while making it, I had to strain it several times. But the mixture remained cloudy. Although the drink did not appear mottled and curdled, there was still a lushness that betrayed the dairy content. I wondered if I could remove all of the solids, and what the remainder would taste like.

Rather than mix everything at once, I isolated the two components that cause the curdling: citrus and milk. I substituted lime for lemon, mixed them together, and waited until it was quite chunky.

Straining required time and patience. A coarse sieve removed the bulk of the solids, then a tea strainer, then finally I wet a kitchen cloth, set it in a funnel and let the liquid slowly make its way through. Ultimately I was left with a greenish-clear substance that smelled kind of like a lime popsicle.

I’ve been enamored of Marian Farms California Style Pisco since it became available last summer. The farm is located in the San Joaquin Valley and distills spirit from biodynamic Muscat and Thomson grapes in a copper pot still. The result is an unctuous, flavorful spirit with a lower phenol content than other Piscos I have tried, giving it a cleaner, more mixable quality. It lends a backbone to cocktails, yet is mild enough to let other delicate flavors come through. I think this is what some bartenders default to vodka for; they don’t want the spirit to ruin the flavors they have put together. I try instead to match qualities of spirits to the qualities of the added ingredients. As much as I love agricole rhum, it would kill the nuances of this drink. And yet vodka would add nothing. This Pisco makes me happy.

This cocktail does something I delight in: the ingredients mesh so that it is hard to identify any one thing. Various bartenders I have made this for asked if it had gin, or egg white, or rum. The foam created looks like egg white, but it’s not as slippery. And the whey adds a familiar protein quality but having the rest of the milk removed makes identifying it elusive. I love this!

I submitted this cocktail to the guys at Left Coast Libations for their upcoming book. It’s promising to be a very interesting collection of recipes from the specifically west coast style of bartending. I’ll write about it more when it comes out.

1 oz lime/whey mixture*
1/2 oz manzanilla sherry
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz 1-to-1 simple syrup
1 1/2 oz Pisco

Shake all ingredients together vigorously in mixing tins. Double-strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with an orange peel.

*Mix 8 oz nonfat milk with 3 oz freshly squeezed lime juice. Let stand a few minutes to curdle. Strain through successively finer strainers, then pour through a wet kitchen cloth, letting stand until the clear liquid has filtered through.

Italian Lemonade

I came across this recipe for Italian Lemonade, from a book titled Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks, one of the fascinating formerly-out-of-print cocktail books published by Mud Puddle Books. It’s basically lemonade with milk and sherry added to it. I love cocktails with sherry if they’re done well; too often the sherry is overpowering. But if used judiciously the nutty oxidation can lend a really interesting and elusive quality. I also love drinks with protein in them, again used judiciously. Egg white, nuts, milk? Yum!

I made a small batch at work recently to try it out and fell in love with it. Trouble is, there’s not enough booze in it to sell it as a cocktail, but the sherry prevents it from being a non-alcoholic drink. So when my friend Jen hosted a weekend at her farm in the Capay valley, I thought it might work for a lazy Sunday afternoon, after most of the party guests had left and the hardcore farm-goers were alternating between the hot tub, napping, and lazing on hay bales, watching the creek. (It’s a hard life, I know.)

As for me, I spent most of the afternoon harvesting bitter almonds (more on that later). But before I left I put a batch of Italian Lemonade in the fridge to chill. And in the afternoon, as I hulled almonds and watched the English girl kick everyone’s ass at Scrabble by playing words she insisted were part of her “mother tongue,” (teasel? sheesh…) we drank Italian Lemonade and ate leftover würst and kraut.

Did I mention it was an Oktoberfest party?

Italian Lemonade
(adapted from American and Other Iced Drinks)

24 lemons (I know, I know, just make them average- to large-sized lemons, preferably with a lot of juice)
1 to 1½ lbs sugar
1 quart dry sherry (Manzanilla or Amontillado)
1 quart water (or more)
1 quart milk

Using a vegetable peeler or a microplane, zest all the lemons, being careful to omit any white pith. Juice the lemons into a separate container, then strain the juice and mix with the lemon zest. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain out and discard the zest. Bring the milk to a boil and add it to the juice and let it cool, stirring occasionally, to curdle the milk. Strain through several layers of moistened cheesecloth. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add ice and serve.