Luxardo has emerged as the garnish gold standard for maraschino cherries in boozy stirred drinks, and jars of the Italian company’s maraschino cherries can be found at many a cocktail lounge and in the refrigerators of those fond of stirring up a Manhattan at home. The term “maraschino,” which originally took its roots from the variety of the fruit used, now refers to the production process itself. The process originated with the Marasca cherry, native to Croatia, which when crushed and distilled into a liqueur or preserved in syrup became known as maraschino. The only thing these cherries have in common with the bright-red artificially flavored fruit that gets plopped onto a sundae, or perhaps into your Whiskey Sour if it’s made in a way that has now fallen out of fashion, is the name.
But those high-quality Luxardo maraschino cherries aren’t your only cocktail cherry option. From tart and tiny amarenas to large, darkly hued balatons, these are seven alternatives ready to perk up your drink.
Copper & Kings Old Fashioned Cocktail Cherries ($15 for an 11-oz. jar)
The Louisville distillery is known for its award-winning and experimental brandies, so it’s only fitting that its boozy cherries are steeped in the grape-based spirit. Founder Joe Heron says he selected Bordeaux cherries for their large size, “meatiness,” firm texture and naturally sweet flavor. The fruit is marinated in pure pot-distilled brandy, pasteurized and jarred with the stems on. Preservative-free, they need to be refrigerated and used within six weeks.
Egbert’s Premium Cocktail Cherries ($15 for a 10.5-oz. jar)
These cocktail cherries are made with a mix of light, sweet medium-size species from Michigan and Oregon, including Emperor Francis, Napoleon and Royal Ann, depending on the harvest. They’re pitted, cooked and steeped in a mixture of sweet and sour cherry juices and a little sugar, which creates a syrup with just the right viscosity to not sink to the bottom of the glass. “On top of the already great-tasting base, we layer in bitters to provide a warm fall spiciness that makes our cherries unique,” a flavor that evokes baking spices, says Lee Egbert, the founder of Dashfire, the Minnesota company that makes the cherries. “They’re designed for brown-spirit cocktails, but a lot of Tiki folks are shifting away from the (dayglo) colored cherries to these,” he says.
Fabbri Amarena Cherries ($25 for a 21-oz. jar)
The blue-and-white ceramic jar in which these cherries are packaged is nearly as memorable as the cherries inside. Italian company Fabbri uses amarena cherries, a small, sour dark-colored variety native to Bologna and Modena, and slow-cooks them using a century-old process and recipe that imparts a soft texture and rich, complex flavor that’s sweet at the onset with a tart finish.
Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Bourbon Cocktail Cherries ($25 for a 16-oz. jar)
The artisanal cocktail company uses Bordeaux cherries from Oregon due to their larger size, harder texture and the fact that they retain their stems, says Taylor Huber, the company’s president and co-founder. “We like a bigger cherry with some bite to it that has that slight bourbon flavor and stem for ease of use,” he says. They’re brined in a mixture of sugar, water and bourbon, packed by hand without artificial preservatives and pasteurized to retain freshness.
Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries ($9 for a 13.5-oz. jar)
The Maine gourmet food brand sells several varieties of jarred cherries. This expression is made with the bing variety, a Pacific Northwest native. “These red heart-shaped fruits are juicy and sweet with a touch of acidity, giving them a light tartness that makes them perfectly balanced,” says Tillen Farms employee Margaux Maertens. Large and firm, they maintain their shape, texture and flavor when preserved. These get their dark color from vegetable and fruit sources like blueberry, apple and hibiscus.
Traverse City Whiskey Co. Premium Cocktail Cherries ($20 for a 21-oz. jar)
Traverse City in Michigan got its nickname of the Cherry Capital of the World because it’s responsible for 40% of the tart cherry production in the U.S. Traverse City, the whiskey company, uses locally sourced balaton cherries for its cocktail garnishes. The large, plump, firm cherries, dark burgundy in color, “are delivered in five-gallon pails containing a natural syrup base that acts as a buffer to protect the fruit from smashing together,” says Chris Fredrickson, the company’s co-founder. The cherries are heated and mixed with a near-boiling mixture of the syrup and the company’s bourbon, which imparts an almost woodsy flavor.
Woodford Reserve Bourbon Cherries ($17 for a 13.5-oz. jar)
For these cocktail toppers produced by Bourbon Barrel Foods and available from the Kentucky distillery, firm, sweet Bordeaux cherries are sourced from Oregon Cherry Growers, a grower-owned cooperative in Salem. They’re flavored with Woodford Reserve bourbon and packaged with the stems attached in a syrup that can be used in cocktails in place of simple syrup.