Quick trivia question: What’s one of the most common cocktail garnishes of all time? If you said “a cherry,” you win this round!
So many classic and modern cocktails use a cherry as the final touch, but not all cherries are created the same. If you’re still buying the slimy, red-dye soaked cherries of your grocery store aisle, it’s time to level up.
5 Best Cocktail Cherries To Transform Your Cocktails
We’ve put together a list of the best cocktail cherries, so quit ruining that Old Fashioned and take a look.
|Product Image||Product Name||Description||Check Price|
|Luxardo Maraschino Cherries||Dark red cherries with no stems||Check Price|
|Jack Rudy Bourbon Cocktail Cherries||Large, deep red cherries with stems||Check Price|
|Bourbon Barrel Foods Woodford Reserve Cherries||Medium-sized, deep ruby red cherries with long stems||Check Price|
|Amarena Toschi Italian Black Cherries||Dark, almost black cherries with no stems||Check Price|
|Fabbri Amarena Cherries||Dark red, almost black, stemless cherries||Check Price|
Cocktail cherries come in a variety of options depending on your drink of choice.
Maraschino cherries are a cocktail classic. There are plenty of varieties (link to best Maraschino cherries article), but for this list, we’ll go with our top favorite.
Maraschino cherries have a bad reputation thanks to grocery stores. Do you picture a stoplight red, sickeningly sweet cherry in your great aunt Linda’s fruit salad? Let’s get that image out of your head once and for all.
Luxardo made some of the first Maraschino cherries in the world, and they’re still churning out the same quality today. The company uses Marasca syrup to candy the fruit, the same syrup used to distill its in-house Maraschino.
There are no thickeners or preservatives, and the color is natural. The percentage of syrup to fruit is 50% each. You get a dense cherry with a sweetly tart flavor, much more complex than cheap store Maraschinos.
- Visual: dark red cherries with no stems.
- Ingredients: cherries, sugar, marasca, glucose and citric acid, and natural colors with Maraschino flavoring.
Bourbon Soaked Cherries
Bourbon is a sweeter type of whiskey made (famously) in the southern United States among other places. It produces a sweetly tart infused cherry.
Jack Rudy uses a bourbon infusion for cherries that are delightfully boozy but less sweet than the Luxardos. If your drink is already on the sweeter side, or you don’t want to overpower the drink, these are an excellent choice.
The texture is similar to maraschino cherries, but they have a light whiskey flavor. They’re bigger than your typical Maraschino as well. They’re great in a classic Manhattan and really bring out the taste of the cocktail.
- Visual: large, deep red cherries with stems
- Ingredients: cherries, water, bourbon, and citric acid with vegetable and fruit concentrates for color.
Woodford Reserve Cherries use natural ingredients to create a brighter tasting cherry with more subtle bourbon flavor. They’re excellent in classic cocktails, and the syrup is good over ice cream.
They aren’t cloyingly sweet. They have a dense but appealing texture, no crystallization or rubbery feeling. They aren’t overly large, so two is usually the perfect size for your lowball. Even using two, the jar lasts a while.
Woodford Reserve bourbon is a small batch whiskey company with a complex flavor. If you’ve only tried a large bourbon company’s cherries, you might be pleasantly surprised by the taste of these. They can take some time to ship because the company isn’t huge, but we think they’re worth it.
- Visual: medium-sized, deep ruby red cherries with long stems
- Ingredients: cherries, water, sugar, and Woodford Reserve with fruit and vegetable concentrate for color. Citric and malic acid for natural preservation plus other natural flavors.
Candied Sour Cherries
Sour cherries are wild cherries with a tart flavor. Candying them produces a sweet and sour taste excellent for classic cocktails.
We’d almost buy these cherries just for the jar. They use wild Amarena cherries, a really tart cherry from Italy. They’re picked in July and candied in syrup for a satisfying, sweetly tart taste.
The syrup of this brand is very thick, and refrigeration may cause some crystallization. If you use cocktail recipes that call for simple syrup, you may be able to use the syrup from these cherries instead (pro tip: it’s delicious!)
They’re a bright, tart flavor with thick syrup. The size of each cherry is average, but you get plenty in the jar.
- Visual: dark, almost black cherries with no stems
- Ingredients: sour black cherries, sugar, water, glucose syrup, sour cherry juice with citric acid and other flavors. Plant-based coloring.
Another product with another beautiful jar. These tart Amarena cherries are candied with syrup made from their own fruit. They’re excellent in cocktails but also in desserts, champagnes, and even just in seltzer. They come from one of Italy’s most prized culinary areas, Emilia-Romagna.
They have a softer texture than some candied cherries, similar to the velvet of a ripe peach. The jar is smaller than some on the list, so you won’t get as many cherries. However, the flavor of the cherry is robust, so you should only need one for your cocktail. You can use the syrup to add a little extra flavor to cocktails that require simple syrup.
- Visual: dark red, almost black, stemless cherries.
- Ingredients: sugar, Amarena cherries, glucose syrup, water, Amarena cherry juice, and citric acid with natural fruit and vegetable based color plus other natural flavors.
Why Should I Spend More For Cocktail Cherries?
You can keep buying the cheap, grocery store Maraschino cherries, but the flavor and texture of these are night and day.
Cheap Maraschinos use red dye 40 to achieve the neon red coloring. This dye has been associated with some health problems, but more practically, the cherry is going to stain your drink and give it a cloyingly sweet taste.
The cherries on our list may be more expensive, but you’re getting natural fruit and vegetable-based colorings. Plus, the integrity and complexity of the flavors are closer to what you’d get when classic cocktails were first invented. The cherries accentuate the flavors of your cocktail without overpowering them.
You can also use the syrup of our top picks to flavor other things. They make a suitable replacement for simple syrups on some of the cocktails. They’re good on ice cream or other desserts. You can even add the syrup to plain seltzer water for an Italian style soda. Cheap Maraschino cherries? You only get a sweetness that sets your teeth on edge.
Go with better ingredients. Your cocktails will shine.
Natural Maraschino cherries and other cocktail cherries add complexity to your bar that should satisfy both your and your guests’ tastes. Having a few different varieties of cocktail cherry ensures that you have the right one for each drink and for the preferences of your guests.
One of the best ways to know which cherry is your personal choice is just to try them all. We know. Twist your arm. You can try different varieties to see how they transform your favorite cocktails and desserts and you’ll be the next backyard bartending sensation in no time. Happy experimenting!
Do you prefer a sweet or tart cherry? Would you be willing to try them in other things like desserts or seltzer? Let us know your favorite way to use your cocktail cherries in the comments below!