It is the simple things we take for granted. Consider ice. Do you even think about how easy it is to get ice? All you have to do is go to the freezer and pull it out. Hell, maybe you even have the ability to press a glass to a lever on your fridge and have it fall right in. It was not that easy in the mid 19th century, and cocktails did not really use it. When you could get it, it was carved out of nearby lakes and transported all over the country. When it was delivered, you then had to carve it into manageable pieces. Until ice became more common, you usually only saw ice in the occasional punch, or you did not see it at all.
The Cobbler changed all of that. The Cobbler was a general term for any cocktail that used a spirit, a little simple syrup or other sweet liqueur, stirred and poured over crushed ice. There were brandy, gin, rum, wine, whiskey, and any other spirit you can imagine. Sherry, which was amazingly popular at the time, was just one of many, and a popular one at that. The French were completely enamored by it. Alexis de Toqueville marveled at how flexible it was, just like America and the human spirit.
Call it ‘mutability,’ si vous préférez. The judgment of history accepts loose constructionism of the original recipe is the correct view. You may interpret 'sugar’ and ‘fruit’ as liberally as you like. You may muddle a lemon peel or an orange wheel, garnish with whatever berries are in season, use a half-ounce of pineapple syrup or fruit liqueur in lieu of sugar. The sherry cobbler is lovely in its pluralism. - Alexis de Toqueville
It stayed popular well into the 20th century, until Prohibition drove sherry, and the cobbler, out of the country and out of the minds of bartenders.
Sherry adds a difficulty to this cocktail that few other liquors do. Sure, there is variation in rums, whiskies, and wines. But sherry covers the gamut of flavor. Fino sherry is extremely dry while Pedro Ximenez is nutty and sweet, like a port. The type of sherry you use will dictate how much sweetness you should add; Fino demands the full amount, while Pedro Ximenez requires little if any.
4 oz./120 mL of sherry
1 tbsp. simple syrup (to taste)
2-3 orange slices
Glass: Wine Goblet
Garnish: Local, Seasonal Fruit
Add crushed ice into the wine goblet. In a mixing tin, muddle the oranges, then add the simple syrup, sherry, and more ice. Stir until the ingredients are combined, then strain into the goblet. Stir the ice and cocktail until an icy crust starts to form on the glass. Then add some orange slices and fruit. If you want to be even more authentic, drink it through a straw.
The sherry is the wild card. I chose an oloroso, which has some aging to it that mellows out the dryness, but stops just short of being sweet at all. The full tablespoon of simple was appreciated. Next time I may go with a curacao to enhance the orange flavor. It is amazingly cold and refreshing. The straw helps enjoying it, since you are not worried about the glass slipping out of your hand. And if sherry is not appealing to you, the beauty of this cocktail is that any liquor will do. I think more experimentation is going to be needed.