Drinks like a whiskey sour or pina colada always come with one of those little bright red maraschino cocktail cherries that are more representative of the childhood favorite of a Shirly Temple mocktail than they are a sophisticated drink. We’re here to tell you that cherries for cocktails can actually be a wonderful accompaniment that levels up your drink — at least when you use the right one.
We’ve tasted a bunch of the world’s favorite cocktail fruit and come up with a list of the best. We’re sure you’ll find your new favorite cocktail cherry on this list.
- The Evolution of Cocktail Cherries
- Italian Cherries
- American Cherries
- Dark and Black Cherries
- Rex Gourmet Italian Maraschino Cherries
- Hotel Starlino Maraschino Cherries
- Fabbri Amarena Wild Cherries in Syrup
- Luxardo Original Gourmet Cocktail Maraschino Cherries
- Woodford Reserve Bourbon Cherries
- Filthy Black Amarena Cherries
- Evan Williams Bourbon Black Cherries
- Collins Bordeaux Stemmed Cherries
- Peninsula Premium Cocktail Cherries
- Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries
- Traverse City Whiskey Co Premium Cocktail Cherries
Types Of Cherries For Drinks
Not all cocktail cherries are created equal. You might already know this to be true if you’ve ever enjoyed a drink with a cocktail cherry that wasn’t the standard maraschino cherry that’s found in the ice cream topping section at the grocery store. There are several cocktail cherry varieties, each with its own characteristics, texture, and flavor.
The Evolution of Cocktail Cherries
Maraschino cherries are synonymous with cocktail cherries, but “maraschino” is a broader term that defines how jarred cherries are preserved.
A maraschino cherry is one that has been preserved either in alcohol or a brine solution. It’s not uncommon for lighter-colored cherries to be used in this process since added red food coloring is often part of the equation. This is what gives them such a bright, artificial color. If you’re sensitive to red food coloring or just trying to avoid it, you’ll be happy to know that there are jarred cherries that don’t use it at all.
The original maraschino cherries were preserved in alcohol, with cherries that were preserved in a brine labeled as “marasca.” These sweet treats originated in Europe, but they eventually made it to the United States, and prohibition changed how the cherries were preserved.
In our opinion, some of the most flavorful preserved cherries come from Italy. Traditionally, they use cherries that are a bit smaller and tart more than they are sweet. The benefit to this is that the tartness stands up against the sweetness of the liquid or liquor, so you end up with a really nice, flavorful cherry that’s balanced.
These cherries also tend to have a bit of a firmer mouth feel when you bite into them.
We have some wonderful American cherries on this list, but it seems important to point out that when someone mentions that standard American maraschino cherry, they’re usually referring to the very bright red, very sweet, and very common garnish. The ones we’ve mentioned here are of a higher quality than what is offered in the grocery store.
Dark and Black Cherries
What sets these apart is that they’re sweeter and richer in cherry flavor. They’re also usually larger than Italian cherries. These are great for cocktails where the cherry is actually an important component of the drink, such as in a classic old fashioned.
Best Italian Cherries For Cocktails
Rex Gourmet Italian Maraschino Cherries
Rex Gourmet Italian Cherries are grown and handpicked from the cherry trees in the mountains of Naples, Italy. Each fresh cherry is picked during the summer when the fruit is at its peak of ripeness and sweetness. These cherries tend to lean more toward the sweeter side and offer a rich, real cherry flavor.
Rex uses grape color extract to add some depth of color and citric acid to help preserve the fruit. These cherries offer a nice, firm bite and will hold up well in a slow-sipping cocktail.
Hotel Starlino Maraschino Cherries
Hotel Starlino cherries are a wonderful accompaniment for your home bar, especially if you’re looking for a very flavorful cherry that isn’t loaded with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, or artificial food colorings. What you’ll find in this jar of cherries is just pure, natural deliciousness.
These cherries go especially well with brandy or a nice, cherry-scented bourbon on the rocks.
Fabbri Amarena Wild Cherries in Syrup
Fabbri Amarena cherries are a cocktail tradition; with their iconic white and blue jar that makes a beautiful statement for any bar, Fabbri uses wild Amarena cherries that walk the line perfectly between tart and sweet. Fabbri Amarena cherries have been cocktail and dessert staples around the world for more than a hundred years.
Fruit juice and vegetable juice are used to add depth of color to the syrup, so these are free of added food dyes.
Luxardo Original Gourmet Cocktail Maraschino Cherries
In the category of the best Italian cherries for the perfect cocktail, we’ve saved the truly best for last. Luxardo Original Maraschino cherries are the gold standard, and while they cost more than others on our list, they’re definitely worth the splurge.
Luxardo Maraschino cherries offer a flavor profile that is rich and decadent. Marasca cherries are used, and while these are sour cherries, the candying process and rich syrup made of real cherry juice create balance and incredible flavor.
Luxardo cherries have a soft texture, but they aren’t “mushy” by any means. They’re a bigger cherry than other Italian brands, so they make a wonderful statement as a cocktail garnish in any type of drink.
Black Cherries For A Cocktail
Woodford Reserve Bourbon Cherries
Woodford Reserve Bourbon Cherries offer a wonderful, complex flavor that’s full of fruit with a few lingering notes of bourbon in the background. With the cherries preserved in a thin syrup of water, sugar, and Woodford Reserve bourbon, these are perfect for any bourbon cocktail, even one as simple as bourbon and coke.
Filthy Black Amarena Cherries
Filthy is a brand that we’re already fond of, and they offer several types of cocktail olives and onions that we’ve enjoyed. It comes as no surprise that their Black Amarena Cherries knock it out of the park, too.
When creating maraschino cherries, Filthy uses a process where the cocktail cherries are slow-cooked in copper pots. This creates a flavor that is sweet at the start but finishes just a bit tart.
Evan Williams Bourbon Black Cherries
For fans of bourbon cherries, these Evan Williams Bourbon Cocktail Cherries offer everything you’re looking for. These are sweet cherries that are infused with Evan Williams bourbon.
These are pitted cherries that still have their stems, and the liquid is perfect for splashing into your drinks or even using as a dessert topping because it’s not an overly thick syrup.
If you want the taste without the bourbon, Stonewall Kitchen makes a Fire & Spiced cherry that makes a nice substitution.
Collins Bordeaux Stemmed Cherries
Collins Bordeaux Cherries are the best cocktail cherries if you’re looking for the perfect host gift for the next cocktail party you’re invited to. The deep color is fantastic, and the flavor is nice and sweet. These will look and taste great in any classic cocktail.
Peninsula Premium Cocktail Cherries
Peninsula Premium Cocktail Cherries are a nice, fruit-forward cherry that adds luscious flavor to cocktails and desserts. These Michigan cherries come from the Northwest region of the state, which is known for its fabulous cherry-growing regions.
Peninsula Premium doesn’t use the typical cherry variety. Instead, they use Emperor Francis, Napoleon, and Gold cherry varieties for a distinct flavor and texture.
Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries
Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries use (you guessed it!) bing cherries, which offer a completely different texture and flavor profile. Bing cherries are a bit larger, and they present first with sweetness before any hint of tartness shows up. These are especially yummy in piña coladas.
Traverse City Whiskey Co Premium Cocktail Cherries
Another brand of famed Michigan cherries, these ones come from the Traverse City region and are soaked in a whiskey bath for extra flavor and lusciousness. These are sweet, with just a bit of smokiness to them that’s hard to detect unless you know it’s there. Set out a bowl of these for snacking while enjoying your cocktail.
Making Your Own Cocktail Cherries
Sometimes, the best cocktail cherry is one you make yourself, and thankfully, they’re quite easy to make. There are loads of recipes on the internet, and they mostly involve soaking the cherries in some type of juice or liqueur, like cherry brandy, cherry liqueur, whiskey, bourbon, or whatever your chosen spirit may be.
Add a little lemon juice or orange juice, along with maybe some spices like a cinnamon stick or star anise pod for extra flavor. The best part is you know that your cherries will have all-natural ingredients. On average, cocktail cherries have a shelf life of about a year in the refrigerator.
The best cocktail cherries are delicious enough to enjoy in any drink, but they also stand on their own as a sweet snack. Italian cherries are generally smaller and a bit tarter, while black cherries are larger and sweeter. Keep a jar of each on hand so you have the right cherry when the mood strikes.