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Quite a number of drinks call for a cocktail cherry garnish. Not just Manhattans and old-fashioneds, but also pina coladas, whiskey sours, and even the noble Shirley Temple. While many of us grew up with the almost-neon red maraschino version, there are a number of more natural options available today. Although, depending on what type of drink you’re making, you might want to consider a different cherry. Get ready to branch out your garnish selection.
Here are the best cocktail cherries.
Luxardo Original Maraschino Cherries
Luxardo is the gold standard for cocktail cherries—the one against which all others are judged. The brand takes the fruit from 30,000 proprietary marasca cherry trees on the Euganean Hills in the Veneto region of Italy and candies them directly after harvesting, which results in a beautiful, dark, all-natural color and flavor.
The Luxardo texture is meaty and the fruit is soaked in rich syrup that makes a perfect subtle sweetener for those who prefer less sugar in their old-fashioned. While they are certainly a bit pricier than the brightly colored ones we grew up with, these cherries work in nearly every cocktail and are well worth the money.
Traverse City Whiskey Co. Premium Cocktail Cherries
These Balaton cherries from Traverse City Whiskey Co. are grown and jarred in northern Michigan. After a leisurely bath in the company’s whiskey gives the fruit notes of smoke and char, they're slow-cooked in large copper pots. The finished result has an all-natural dark color and is packed in a syrup that includes no thickening agents or preservatives. They will last two years on the shelf and are certified kosher.
Fabbri Amarena Cherries in Syrup
For those who like their cherries on the tarter side, try Fabbri Amarena Cherries. From the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, the fruit is wild, and underneath the sweet cherry-juice-bolstered syrup in which they're candied lies a pleasant bitterness to help balance a cocktail that's already waltzing on the sweeter side, like a pina colada. They're smaller, lighter, and less toothy than Luxardo, but still pack plenty of flavor.
Woodford Reserve Bourbon Cherries
While these cherries are not produced by the iconic bourbon maker, they are flavored with Woodford Reserve to provide extra depth to any drink. Bourbon Barrel Foods' fruit is hand-harvested in Oregon and jarred with the stem on in Kentucky using all-natural ingredients. The dark and supple syrup makes a nice drizzle atop a whiskey sour after the fruit sinks to the bottom.
New York City's Darron Foy, head bartender at The Flatiron Room, prefers a cocktail cherry featuring a lighter syrup. He doesn't like it too thick, as it "changes the 'feel' of the cocktail,” he says. “Manhattans are an alcohol-forward sipping cocktail and the thickness of the syrup can change that.” For a pina colada, Foy recommends sticking to a darker cherry to offset the sweetness of the cocktail.
Distilleries Peureux Griottines Brandy Soaked Cherries
These beauties are French morello cherries jarred in boozy 30-proof syrup. The fruit macerates in liqueur for six months and is finished in cherry brandy. While the syrup is less sweet, the flavor is a bit more intense thanks to the additional booze, which makes these cherries a good choice for buttressing sweeter drinks. They're on the pricier side, but Griottines are a great way to breathe new life into an old-fashioned.
Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries
For those who like the stem on their cocktail fruit, Bada Bing Cherries from Tilden Farms are a solid addition to any home bar. Typically larger than maraschinos, Bing cherries are sharply sweet and flavorful. These are non-GMO certified, and the company doesn’t use artificial preservatives, dyes, or corn sugar, so the sweetness is natural and balanced.
OXO Good Grips Cherry and Olive Pitter
In the summer, fresh cherries make an awesome addition to any cocktail. Perfectly ripe fruit lends a natural crisp sweetness to a seasonal refreshment or even atop ice cream. For those who are ready to elevate their bar game or just experiment a bit, you can make your own cocktail cherries. The process takes a bit of patience and a cherry pitter, but the results will give you a sense of deep satisfaction and your drinks an extremely personal touch.
This one from OXO is easy to use. Just stick your cherry in the rounded holder and push down to punch the seed out. The sturdy die-cast construction removes pits with ease and the non-slip handles are super comfortable. A splatter shield protects you and your surroundings from a juicy mess, too. Remove it for simple cleaning. This product accommodates both small and large cherries, and will even work on olives.
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Nicholas McClelland is a fanatic for whiskeys from all over the world, gaga for golf, a passionate gearhead, and a slightly obsessive parent. Before he started covering fun things like booze, sports, and style, he was an award-winning picture editor and photojournalist.