Sherry Cobbler: The Cocktail Made Famous By Charles Dickens

Just the name Sherry Cobbler invokes visions of a delicious dessert you want to sink your teeth into; however, this sherry cobbler is not a dessert, but rather a delicious cocktail, birthed in the United States in the 1820s-ish, per Punch Drink. In fact, it was quite in demand in its youth, according to Slate, and at one point the sherry cobbler was the most popular drink in our newly minted country. This refreshing drink even attracted the attention of the great English writer, Charles Dickens, when he visited America. This cocktail became a muse for Dickens, which inspired the author to make mention of it in his novel, "The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit."  

But Dickens wasn't the only author to become infatuated with this drink. Sauver reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne also made mention of it in his book, "The Blithedale Romance." The rumors about this cocktail soon found their way to the shores of England where even Queen Victoria could be found sipping on a sherry cobbler. What made this drink so uniquely American? 

What's in a sherry cobbler?

According to Saveur, when it comes to the humble beginnings of the sherry cobbler, what made it special was really the ingredients used, along with the straw it was sipped through. Those first sherry cobbler cocktails were made with sherry, ice, sugar, and polished off with orange slices and berries. Why sherry? In its heyday, sherry, which is best described as a fortified white wine that hails from Spain, was considered both "fancy" and easy on the pocketbook.

WineMag notes that sherry can be either dry or sweet. When mixing up a round of sherry cobblers, Punch Drink notes that an amontillado sherry, which is of the dry variety, is used. WineMag explains amontillado sherry will have an "umami" taste reminiscent of a nutty flavor on the palate. But it wasn't just the sherry that had Dickens singing this adult beverage's praise. 

Ice, ice baby

The fruity elements of orange slices and berries really brightened this beverage, but crushed ice greatly contributed to the love of the sherry cobbler, making it cool and refreshing on those hot days. Saveur goes on further to explain that using ice in a drink was a bit of an original concept, and with the advent of rail cars and ice houses, it made it easy for the rich to have their sherry cobbler in whatever climate they might roam.

Couple the newfound love of ice with the easing of sugar's accessibility and affordability up and down the East coast of the United States, and the sherry cobbler was destined to rise in popularity and consumption. In fact, in an edition of Burtons' Gentleman's Magazine and Monthly Review, the writer shares that the cobbler replaced the julep, describing the sherry cobbler as, "...a light vinous punch, exceedingly well iced, and grateful to the delicate esophagus." 

The first straws

Esquire reports the straw is what really made this drink pop because it was the first time people were consuming their alcoholic drinks in this manner. That said, the straw was not of the plastic variety. It was a much greener version of this commodity: a simple reed.

In fact, it is this detail of the sherry cobbler that Dickens was sure to capture in his novel, writing, "Martin took the glass with an astonished look; applied his lips to the reed; and cast up his eyes once in ecstasy." However, according to the Tampa Bay Times, the concept of the drinking straw has been around for at least 6,000 years with Mesopotamian civilization using it for their beer consumption. So while the sherry cobbler may not have been the first alcoholic beverage to be sucked up by a straw, this early gadget definitely helped contribute to the craze of this cocktail.

How to make a sherry cobbler

Today, the sherry cobbler is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Bon Appetit says if you have a bag of ice, this is the cocktail to use it for, while Saveur attributes recent sightings of this drink at parties and bars to its "simplicity" rather than Charles Dickens' endorsement of it. Sure, the literati helped spread the word about the sherry cobbler, but it's the drink's taste that keeps its fans sucking on those straws. suggests another notable aspect of the sherry cobbler is its low alcohol content, and making this drink is a cinch, only requiring you to shake your ingredients all together and pour over ice. If you want to make a sherry cocktail at home, Punch Drink shares that all you need is sherry, simple syrup, and orange slices to recreate this cocktail of yore. Simply muddle the orange with the simple syrup, add the sherry and ice, shake, strain, and serve.

Of course, you can add berries and a sprig of fresh mint as a garnish if you're feeling fancy. And if you feel inspired to crack open a book by Dickens or Nathaniel Hawthorne, that's just a side benefit.