What's one of the finest things in life? Sitting on a patio in the summer with a bottle of Manzanilla sherry, Sean Sullivan and I both agree. The bartender is explaining the concept of the new Straight Law bar to me over the phone, and frankly making me very thirsty. Taberna de Haro chef and owner Deborah Hansen leaned on Sullivan and fellow Drink bar vet Will Thompson for help conceptualizing and launching the offshoot of her long-running Spanish restaurant in Brookline a couple months back.
While Taberna de Haro has been in operation for over fifteen years, it expanded into a second room about two years ago. The idea was to turn it into a Spanish-style bar, but bringing Sullivan and Thompson in has reinvigorated the concept.
“Will gave me a call and said, 'Do you want to do a gin and sherry bar in Brookline?'' Sullivan said. “I thought he said Brooklyn, because it definitely sounds like something that would be in Brooklyn. From the jump, it sounded a little too good to be true.”
Hansen has long been accumulating an abundance of sherries and Spanish wines, and had already amassed a big collection of gins, so the foundation for a shift into a more cocktail-centric concept was already in place. They stumbled across an old sherry and gin cocktail called Straight Law from which they took the name.
“It's good for us that sherry is kind of a thing right now,” Sullivan said of the fortified wine that's been making inroads onto cocktail menus in recent years. “It's certainly not a fad for her,” he says of Hansen. “She's been amassing this sherry program for 16 years. She has something like 45-60 bottles at any given time, it's more expansive than anywhere I've ever seen.”
Aside from its natural pairing ability with the Spanish food on the menu, Sullivan says more guests might appreciate sherry's lower alcohol potential. “It's a fortified wine, but low octane enough that you can be out, eating a meal, and you can have sherry, and you're not on your ass afterwards.”
Among the sherry cocktails he recommends to newcomers at the bar include the titular cocktail, which is 2:1 manzanilla – a fino, or dry, lightly savory style – with gin. Although it's a dry martini style cocktail, it's “not necessarily spirit forward. It's bracing and briny and bright.” On the other end of the spectrum you might try the Artist Special. A riff on an old Parisian whiskey cocktail, it takes Spanish brandy as a base with Palo Cortado – somewhere between an amontillado and an oloroso sherry – lemon and grenadine. “It's a stirred citrus cocktail, which is a little odd, and the end result is tart, but a little sweet, kind of fruity and grapey,” Sullivan said. “I thought it would be more of like an industry hit, but it's been a pretty resounding success. Any time you can get someone a little outside of what their normal comfort zone is, it's super cool.”