The perfect port cocktail to weather any storm

By / Wine + Drinks / June 24th, 2016 / 12

Any port in a storm, someone once said.

And the wisdom of this philosophy becomes abundantly clear when the temperatures start to dip and we spot that first little flurry, since there’s no better way to warm up than with a nice glass of port wine.

No wonder it’s a staple at the holiday table in the United Kingdom, a country so closely associated with the rich, sweet, fruit-forward fortified wine that it’s almost possible to forget that port was born in Portugal, not England. Especially since half the brands have distinctly Anglo names — Taylor’s, Graham’s and Croft, to list a few.

Some even claim British sailors were responsible for the invention of port, a story that, like so much alcohol lore, isn’t really true. That said, the fortified wine’s rise to greatness does have a UK connection. Mainly because France and England were on the outs for much of the 1600s and 1700s and British oenophiles had to look further afield for a source of good imported wine. Portugal was happy to step up to the plate. To increase the shelf life of the wine for its long journey north, shippers began fortifying it with distilled spirits. Some of those expediters were British entrepreneurs, which is why some of the better-known port houses still have English names.

Here in North America, bartenders failed to recognize port’s potential as a cocktail ingredient until only recently, when it was revived by the new generation of adventurous drinksters always on the hunt for hidden gems. It’s catching on fast, thanks to port’s luxurious mouthfeel, which imparts a layer of smoothness to a mixed drink, as well as a subtle cherry-wine flavour. A little research led cocktailers to discover a long, rich, pre-Prohibition tradition of port cocktails and punches. One such punch, the Smoking Bishop, even makes an appearance in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Still, it can be intimidating to try imagining how best to use this ingredient. For that, then, we turned to Calgary’s port authority, David Bain of Model Milk, a cocktail bar that offers port in both cocktails and flights.

“There is definitely a resurgence of fortified wine,” says Bain. “It started with the vermouth explosion, then sherry cocktails were everywhere. Port’s part of all of that.”

In terms of its use as a cocktail ingredient, Bain recommends moderation. For his “Doll is Mine” cocktail he cuts the port with pisco and Cynar to make sure it isn’t too cloying.

The perfect port cocktail to weather any storm.


Doll is Mine

1 oz pisco

1 oz tawny port

1/2 oz Cynar

1/2 oz ginger liqueur

1 whole egg

1 dash of Angostura bitters


Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 60 seconds. Remove ice and shake a second time, also for 60 seconds. This is called a “reverse dry shake,” a technique that helps to create a lot of foam. Strain into chilled rocks glass and garnish with a dash or two more bitters.


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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