He was not the father of the rebujito, but so what: the sherry-cobbler conquered the planet based on Spanish sherry
Last week you and I agreed that no matter how many times it is repeated, the cocktail called sherry-cobbler was not the antecedent of the Andalusian rebujito. No father, no grandfather, not even a third cousin. At most we could describe them as very, very distant relatives, since the nineteenth-century sherry-cobbler (the one that the media insists on bringing up every time the April Fair begins) was never made with soda or any carbonated soft drink. If we insist on looking for three pies al rebujito –fino or manzanilla with lemon-lime soda– and find some cocktail lineage with which to relate it, we should bet on drinks such as sherry fizz, smash or sherry lemonade, recipes for final of the 20th century to which seltzer with bubbles and abundant citrus was added.
The sherry-cobbler was something different, much more important than a theoretical missing link in rebujitismo. Born 200 years ago on the east coast of the United States, it was not only one of the first drinks that made use and abuse of ice or the pioneer of drinks drunk with a straw, but it also universalized the very concept of cocktails. Its sweet taste and innovative appearance opened the doors of mixed drinks to a global audience.
Men, women, workers and empresses fell at his icy feet and contributed enormously to the enrichment of Spain. Although variants made with Madeira, port, claret or other types of wine arose, the classic formula specified the use of sherry. To give you an idea of what that meant in commercial terms, think that during the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867 the American bar (official home of the Yankee embolingue) spent 500 bottles of sherry a day serving sherry-cobblers.
Where was born or who came up with this happy combination? The first references in the press date from 1837 and the oldest recipe, from 1838. The writer and cocktail historian David Wondrich found it in the personal diary that the British artist Katherine Ellice (1813-1864) kept during a trip through Canada and USA On August 24, 1838, while passing through the town of Lake George (upstate New York), Ellice made a list of the most popular American drinks –mint julep, brandy cocktail, gin sling. ..– and took the opportunity to indicate that «the sherry-cobbler is delicious and easy to prepare: put a glass or more of sherry, sugar and lemon peel in a glass that is then filled with crushed ice. This content is then passed from cup to cup for one minute, and the result is rated (à la Yankee) first-rate.”
Shaken, not stirred
Like the James Bond martini, the cobbler was served shaken, not stirred. And if the former had Ian Fleming as its champion, the latter had a plethora of literati behind his banner. We can find it in the pages of Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry James, Jules Verne or Charles Dickens. The English novelist made a long trip to the United States during 1842 and took advantage of part of his American experiences to give life and veracity to a work that he published in installments shortly after, ‘The life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit’.
Just as its author had done, the protagonist of the novel jumped the puddle to, among other adventures, try that new concoction made from ice and Spanish wine.
In fiction, an exhausted Chuzzlewit discovers the refreshing beauties of the cobbler from his servant Mark Tapley. “He brought out a very large glass, filled to the brim with small pieces of clean, transparent ice through which thin slices of lemon and a delicious-looking golden liquid drew, from the still depths of the vessel, the loving gaze of the beholder” . To the surprise of the British traveler, the ritual involved a straw through which the drink had to be sipped. “Martin took the glass with a look of astonishment, put the straw to his lips and looked up in ecstasy. He didn’t stop again until the glass was completely empty. ‘That’s it, sir!’ said Mark, snatching it from him with a flourish. ‘If he’s ever dead tired again and I’m not around, all he needs to do is ask the first man he sees to fetch him a cobbler. […] Sherry cobbler is her full name, cobbler for friends.
In December 1839 the magazine ‘The Southern literary messenger’, in which Edgar Allan Poe was editor, had defined this cocktail as “the greatest liquor invention” and “a literary gift”. It certainly was. One of his best recipes did not appear in a cocktail manual or a cookbook, but in the novel ‘The upper ten thousand’ by Charles Astor Bristed (1852). Thanks to her, we can find out that New York high society then preferred manzanilla wine, but that to make a cobbler they continued to opt for ‘dark sherry’ or aged and sweet sherry. “We use it for its potency and color,” wrote Bristed, “it gives the blend a beautiful golden hue that would be too weak with amontillado or chamomile.” And then we think we are sybarites…
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.