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Cherry Lie

June 17, 2009

Here is another thing that needs a new name.  Maybe it can be called the “hot fudge sundae cherry” or the “Shirley Temple cherry.”  But Maraschino cherry has got to go.

I know it has its supporters.

That impossibly red, artificially flavored, syrup-soaked monstrosity that only resembles an actual cherry in that it has a stem, which implies that at one point this was something derived from nature, not a lab in New Jersey.

Ok.  That’s not entirely true.  The two major players in the bright red edible orb market are in Oregon and California.  So maybe they are not made in a New Jersey lab, but you wouldn’t be surprised, would you?

Honestly, I cannot figure out exactly which bothers me more: that people see fit to include this abomination in cocktails in the first place or that it corrupts the good name of the once famous, if now forgotten, Italian liqueur.

If you are taking the time to build a well-crafted cocktail, and you believe a cherry garnish is required, let me assure you there are better options.

There are some splendid brandied cherries from France that you can find at better spirits shops.  And they are delicious, but they are not inexpensive.  You can also make your own, which isn’t nearly as difficult as it may sound.

I have used both jarred sour cherries and dried sour cherries for this garnish.  And you can soak either of them in whatever spirit you like.  And that is all there is to it.  Soak covered in the refrigerator at least a few days.  The difficult part is choosing the spirit in which to soak them: Cognac, Armagnac, whiskey, rum or even Maraschino.

Maraschino?

Yes, I know it may be confusing, but Maraschino is actually a real thing.  And yes, before Prohibition it was what the eponymous cherries were soaked in.  But today, this storied Italian liqueur has nothing to do with the bar garnish that sits in between the olives and pickled onions.  Luxardo has a marketing problem – a serious effing marketing problem.

Luxardo is the company that distills this liqueur from the marasca sour cherry and its pits.  Maraschino is a sweet liqueur with a flavor that is described as almond-like that comes from the ground cherry pits.  And no, it is not red.  Rather it’s clear even after being aged two years in Finnish ash-wood vats.  Really there is nothing very cherry-ish about it.

Still, it’s an indispensable ingredient in many classic cocktails, but is used by the spoonful.  So even if you are an avid drinker a $30 bottle will last you a long long long time.

One such cocktail is the Martinez, which some reckon to be the precursor to the Martini.  And it is the drink the learned bartender at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco made for me when I walked in years ago asking to try a drink that used the liqueur.

There are a bunch of recipes for this cocktail, for a few reasons.  A lot of cocktail history from the last part of the 19th century is muddy.  And the different recipes reflect the different stages of evolution of the Martinez into the modern Martini.  The one I prefer is a bit dryer and reflects a later point in the drink’s evolution away from the sweetened Old Tom gin.

Here are my preferred proportions (yours may be slightly different):
2 oz.     London dry gin
1 oz.     Dry French vermouth
1 t.     Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 dash     Orange bitters

Stir over a mountain of ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Present unadorned in its icy silky glory.  It’s a touch sweeter than the classic Martini, and a nice change of pace if you are looking for something a bit less austere.

So skip the jarred flaming red cherries in your drink.  If you insist on using them to decorate your ice cream sundaes or Shirley Temples, I am not going to stop you.  And I may be willing to make an exception on the cocktails if you can mange to not look like an ass while you use your tongue to tie the stem in a knot.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. bhalliburton permalink
    June 17, 2009 12:20 pm

    Maraschino cherries are delicious! I could eat them by themselves!

  2. June 17, 2009 2:50 pm

    i don’t know which is worce, the sticky overly sweet juice or the fact that the maraschino cherry does not, in fact, TASTE like a cherry. blech

  3. Tonia permalink
    June 18, 2009 12:52 pm

    Almond and cherry is the best combo. Mmmmmm. This liquer sounds like something I would like! Yum.

  4. Tonia permalink
    June 18, 2009 12:52 pm

    Liqueur. Typo.

  5. Jennifer permalink
    June 18, 2009 2:27 pm

    Maraschino cherries have always grossed me out. I remember being a kid and picking them off my sundae in disgust and the waitress rolled her eyes at me. She did stop putting them on my sundae from then on.

  6. June 18, 2009 10:24 pm

    But, but… I love jarred fakey maraschino cherries…

    This old dog may embrace this change… but just barely ;)

  7. Shawn permalink
    June 19, 2009 10:45 am

    I’m completely in agreement on how terrible those fake cherries are. On a positive note, the last time I was at DP’s they were using real maraschino cherries in their cocktails. I’m hoping that some other local establishments will follow suit.

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