The surprising connection between Spanish sherry and the British and Irish

The southwest of Spain may be known as the sherry capital of the world, but it in fact has a surprising connection to England, Scotland and Ireland.

The surprising connection between Spanish sherry and the British and Irish
Revellers drink typical "rebujito" (Sherry with lemon soda) during a local fiesta. During the 18th and 19th century, Jerez de la Frontera attracted many bourgeois foreigners and their families, including Britons and Irish, who helped develop the sherry industry into what it is today. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

Spain’s sherry triangle sits in the southwest of the country in the province of Cádiz and lies between the cities and towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.

It’s a Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) region, meaning that only the white fortified wine grown and made here can be called sherry.

Sherry is predominantly made from the white palamino grapes and the region’s chalky albariza soil full of limestone, it’s hot summers, mild winters and high humidity make it perfect to cultivate them.

Jerez de la Frontera is the capital of this wine region and its streets are lined with sherry tabancos fronted by old sherry barrels and locals sipping glasses of fino.

However, sherry wouldn’t be the celebrated sherry drink it is today in this part of Spain without the legacy set up by the British and the Irish some 250 years ago.

1865 drawing of sherry barrels stacked up inside the González and Byass winery, in Jerez de la Frontera “. Image: The Universal Museum/Public Domain

In Jerez, you’ll see signs hidden signs of the British everywhere, from the sherry posters, the names on the walls of the cellars, to the labels on the bottles and even the names of some of the types of sherry such as cream and pale cream.

Wine has been produced in the southwest of Spain since Roman times, but it wasn’t until later that sherry was produced. It was first imported to the UK in the 13th and 14th centuries and become known by the English name sherry, instead of the Spanish name – jerez.

Sherry sales saw growth in the UK after the marriage of Catherine of Aragon with King Henry VIII.

It is said that she often complained saying: “The King, my husband, keeps the best wines from the Canary Islands and Jerez for himself”.

Shakespeare’s Falstaff and his affection for Sherry “sack” also did much to spread the reputation of the drink. Painting´: Eduard von Grützner

From 1587 onwards, sherry became particularly popular in Great Britain, when Sir Francis Drake supplied taverns around the country with several thousand sherry casks he brought back when he captured the port of Cádiz.

Sir Frances Drake brought sherry back from Cádiz. Photo: Ann Longmore-Etheridge / Flickr

But it wasn’t until the 1700s that British merchants actually started investing in the sherry trade and opening up their own bodegas in Spain.

One of these was Scot James Duff, whose sherry business was developed by his nephew William Gordon and then taken over by their friend Thomas Osborne. Their business became the well-known sherry brand Duff-Gordon, which was later renamed, Osborne.

Osborne sherry has become famous around the world due its iconic logo of a Spanish bull, seen on bull-shaped billboards across Spain. Photo: Volker Schoen / Pixabay

Today, they are one of the biggest sherry producers in Spain and the Bodegas de Mora Osborne are one of the most famous in El Puerto de Santa María, which can be visited on a tour.

Another was William Garvey, a rich Irish farmer. It is said that he came to Cádiz to buy merino sheep, but instead ended up establishing himself as a wine merchant, first in Sanlúcar and later in Jerez. In 1824 his son Patrick took over the company and set up the Bodegas San Patricio. Today, these bodegas, located in Jerez de la Frontera are some of the biggest in the region.

The Tío Pepe wine factory in Cádiz. The famous sherry producers also have British links, as their holding company – González Byass – carries the name of Robert Blake Byass, a renowned English wine merchant. Photo: María Renée Batlle Castillo/Flickr

More and more British followed suit with Sir Alexander Williams and Arthur Humbert creating their own bodegas in 1877 and Spaniard Manuel María González partnering with Englishman Robert Blake Byass in 1835 to create one of the most well-known sherry bodegas today – González Byass.

Today, even though most of the sherry producers are Spanish, many can trace their family origins back to the British, from Sandeman and Harveys to Terry.

So next time you’re sipping a manzanilla or fino sherry in a tabanco in Jerez, you might want to raise a glass to the British and Irish ancestors who made it possible. 

Member comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading about the connection of UK & Irish with the sherry industry. Most interesting.

    I would also add that because the Irish were Catholics there were a lot of intermarriages with the Spanish.
    I never knew Jerez meant sherry – you learn something new every day

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EXPLAINED: The new alcohol rules for tourists in Spain’s Balearic Islands

Mallorca and Ibiza are well known to many as booze tourism destinations but after new legislation was introduced in 2020, it's only now that the crackdown on excessive drinking by holidaymakers is being enforced.

EXPLAINED: The new alcohol rules for tourists in Spain's Balearic Islands

The Balearic Islands, made up of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, are well known not only for their beautiful coastal resorts but also their booze tourism spots.

Long famous for cheap drinks, pub crawls, and booze cruises, tourists from across Europe have descended on the islands for cheap drunken fun for decades.

Yet new rules cracking down on excessive drinking and disorderly behaviour on the islands are making that harder, with authorities attempting to change the Balearics’ image and model of tourism.

The rule changes came into effect in January 2020 but owing to the total shutdown of international travel and tourism during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, its impacts are only being felt now.

On the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, the crackdowns are focused on the popular tourist areas of Magaluf, El Arenal and Sant Antoni that are synonymous with drunken revelry and boozy getaways.

The new rules

  • Legislation means that 2-for-1, happy hour, and free bar offers are now banned. Advertising of these kinds of cheap boozy deals are also prohibited in the hotspots.

  • The sale of alcohol in shops has been scaled back as they are now forced to close between 9:30 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.

  • The rule changes ban the granting of new licenses for booze cruise style ‘party boats’ and the limiting of alcoholic beverages to six per day in all-inclusive hotels.

  • The infamous tourist practice of ‘balconing’ – when drunken tourists launch themselves from balconies into swimming pools – has also been banned and will, according to the official government bulletin released in 2020, “expel with immediate effect” those partaking in the popular and often lethal activity. 

  • Restaurants and bars that serve food are also limited in how much alcohol they can serve, in addition to all-inclusive resorts. The new rules state the maximum per lunch or dinner is three alcoholic beverages. 

READ MORE: Spanish islands crackdown on booze tourism model

  • A favourite of many British tourists, pubcrawls, have also been banned, with fines handed out to establishments advertising their bars or restaurants as part of boozy routes through the islands. According to the official bulletin, “the advertising, organisation, sale and realisation of the so-called routes (pub crawling) is prohibited, where the objective is the tour of different venues in which drinks of alcoholic beverages are included continuously and on the same day.”

Establishments that don’t follow the rules will face hefty fines, according to the legislation. The government texts outlines fines of between €1,000 and €600,000, plus the possibility of shutting down offending establishments for up to three years.

Tourists queue to take part in a boat party on Figueretes Beach in Ibiza. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

Feeling the effects

Many tourists arriving in the Mediterranean islands in 2022 are unaware of the new changes.

Easyjet is warning all its potential customers flying to Sant Antoni of the new crackdown, and the British press is also publishing stories of disgruntled tourists unhappy they can’t go on pubcrawls and are limited in how many drinks they can order in hotels and restaurants. 

The Balearic government say it is the first legislation in Europe to ban the sale and advertising of alcohol in specific tourist areas. Yet because the island’s economy – much like the Spanish economy more broadly, of which tourism makes up a sizeable 13% chunk of GDP – is so dependent on tourists, and welcomes over 13 million of them every year, it will have to strike a balance between the revenue that comes from booze tourism and realising its aims of ‘sustainable tourism’.

English holidaymakers in Magaluf having drinks while watching Euro 2020. The holiday spot is popular among young European revellers, most of them British. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

READ MORE: 13 mistakes in Spain tourists are bound to make

It is unclear if other tourist hotspots in Spain, such as the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol, will follow similar models and try to shift away from being the default destination for cheap, boozy getaways. The changes in the Balearics come amid broader debate in Spain about the role and model of tourism, and how it aligns with the Spanish economy as it heads into the first non-COVID summer season and tries to recover from the pandemic. 

Freed from COVID-19 restrictions it may be, the Spanish tourism sector – or more specifically, the tourists coming to enjoy it – now face newer, self-imposed restrictions aimed at rebranding its imagine and moving away from its long-held booze tourism model.