Cocktail Cabinet: Maraschino Cherries
Buzzfeed recently posted this animated GIF sequence that chronicles the path a maraschino cherry follows from tree to bottle. You’ve probably seen (and likely consumed many) of these artificially-dyed cocktail garnishes before, as they are still ubiquitous in bars and restaurants across the country.
Beyond being chemically-altered, what Buzzfeed doesn’t tell you is that while these cherries might hold their own in your average Shirley Temple, they contribute nothing positive to cocktails. In fact, they have the potential to completely ruin a well-constructed drink.
Imagine a carefully considered Manhattan, for example. Deep oaky whiskey and lush sweet vermouth have been stirred together to achieve a velvety consistency. The liquids are so right for each other they practically sing in perfect harmony. Then add a tangy, plastic-like neon cherry. The entire experience goes from elegant to cheap in one swift little garnish.
Luckily, there are alternatives.
The Buzzfeed article suggests making your own cherries, which I have played around with before at home, using a variety of combinations of brandy, baking spices, and other random ingredients. Local blogger Jennie Chen culled a recipe from Bill Norris, the Beverage Director at the Alamo Drafthouse, from way back in the day when he worked at Fino (Jennie was also kind enough to hook me up with some from her stash for the photos you see attached to the story here). In the recipe, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon sweeten and enrich the cherries, which are soaked in maraschino liqueur and brandy. The results are thick, fleshy preserved cherries with ample personality and depth.
Most cocktail bars around Austin use Luxardo Maraschino cherries, which are absolutely delectable. The syrup they float within is thick and sweet, and the fruits themselves swell with soft juice. These cherries can be bought in some liquor stores around town and online as well. Luxardo brand cherries are relatively expensive, but once you get hooked, you’ll likely never go back. If you really get into these, you can source giant quantities of Luxardo Cherries on Amazon so you won’t ever run out.
Others take to the internet to source quality options. When I put out a call for suggestions on facebook, Madelyn Kay, former bartender at places like Drink.Well, the Fox Tavern and Peche says Amarena Fabbri cherries are the brand of choice at Haddingtons. Chris Bostick (who’s opening a Rainey Street cocktail bar sometime later this year), suggests Les Parisiennes Cherries in Brandy, because they “retain a nice sour note without being too syrupy.” Dallas bartender Anthony Polo offered up Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries.
When searching for quality cherries at the store, the rule of thumb to follow is avoid bottles of tacky-looking neon red ones. Real cocktail cherries should have a dark borderline-maroon hue. The syrup should look relatively thick.
If you source quality cherries, the effort will be rewarded tenfold in your future cocktails.