During 2020’s slew of Zoom happy hours, where less-than-ideal conditions and solitary celebrations led many to turn to lower- and zero-proof drinks, Natasha Bermudez had an idea.
The bar manager at New York’s Llama Inn and Llama San had been playing around with sherry in the 50/50 Martini template—“it usually becomes more of a 50/25/25 recipe,” she clarifies—but found herself wanting a Margarita one night. With mezcal in one hand and a sherry she had been experimenting with in the other, she developed what she calls a 50/50 Margarita.
Bermudez’s 50/50 Margarita splits the base of the drink between mezcal and manzanilla sherry, with an ounce of each. “I think the majority of nonindustry folks are a bit scared of sherry because all they know of it is [that it’s] sweet and dense,” says Bermudez. “Of course, it can be, but you can even play with that in your cocktails.” Manzanilla, one of the driest sherries (and, by extension, one of the driest wines in the world), is particularly great for mixing, imparting a touch of acidity and minerality to drinks. With their citrusy-salty flavor, Margaritas present the perfect vehicle for the fortified wine.
Though the agave classic is an obvious choice for this technique, Bermudez—who features a 50/50 Gibson, made with gin and sake, at Llama San and a Martini built on a combination of gin and sherry at the forthcoming Llama Inn Madrid—says the method can be used in just about any cocktail for complexity and to lower the proof. Turning to fortified wines or lower-ABV spirits that match the original flavor profile of the drink is key. For example, she says, a nutty oloroso sherry could complement rum in a Piña Colada, or a Paper Plane could be made with shochu and amontillado sherry instead of higher-proof whiskey and amaro. “I think the options could be limitless,” she says. “You just need to drink more sherry to see what you like.”