Tag Archives: cherries

Cocktail Cherries Compared

cocktail cherries

I’m pretty staunch about using quality, natural ingredients, and as a result, it seems I’m always in search of the “perfect cocktail cherry.” I’ve even made my own brandy cherries here on the blog. A group of us tasted 7 different types of cocktail cherries and compared them in price, flavor, and cocktail usefulness. Here’s what we thought (cherries are pictured above from left to right):

Rainier Reserve.

  • Visual: yellow cherries with stems.
  • Ingredients: cherries, water, sugar, citric acid, natural flavors, beta carotene.
  • Cost per cherry: 13¢
  • The first of 4 cherries from Tillen Farms, Rainier Reserve are particularly interesting because of their color. A bright yellow cherry looks really cool in tiki drinks, and these have an tropical-like flavor to match. The cherry flavor in these is pretty subdued, and they’re not overly sweet.

Bada Bing.

  • Visual: rich crimson cherries with stems.
  • Ingredients: cherries, water, sugar, vegetable/fruit concentrate (color), malic acid, citric acid, natural flavor.
  • Cost per cherry: 13¢
  • Also a Tillen Farm cherry, Bada Bing were the largest of the bunch. Tasters said they taste the most like cherries off the tree, and have just the right balance of sweetness and good looks to make them great cocktail cherries.

Pink Blush.

  • Visual: pink cherries with stems.
  • Ingredients: cherries, water, sugar, citric acid, vegetable/fruit concentrate (color), natural flavor.
  • Cost per cherry: 13¢
  • Tasters were surprised that these cherries actually taste pink, almost like cotton candy. These are the sweetest in the Tillen Farms line, and like the Rainier Reserve cherries, they’re best use is for their visual impact as your cocktail garnish. An added bonus is that Oregon Cherry Growers donate 5% from the sale of Pink Blush towards breast cancer.

Merry Maraschino.

  • Visual: red cherries with stems.
  • Ingredients: cherries, water, sugar, vegetable/fruit concentrate (color), natural flavor.
  • Cost per cherry: 13¢
  • Tasters found Tillen’s Maraschino cherries really juicy and thought they tasted almost like apples or candy…or apple candy. Of the list, these cherries are the most natural, most red cherries with stems, so they’d be a good choice in a home bar.

Luxardo Maraschino.

  • Visual: dark red cherries, almost black, without stems.
  • Ingredients: cherries, sugar, marasca cherry juice, glucose, citric acid, natural color, maraschino flavor.
  • Cost per cherry: 29¢
  • Luxardo is the true craft cocktail cherry. These are actually marasca cherries, grown around the Luxardo distillery in Italy. These are uniquely packaged in syrup that, instead of sugar and water, is actually sugar and cherry juice. These have tons of flavor and are dark and rich. Tasters felt like these worked best in cocktails like Old Fashioneds, as they were a little intense as a snack.

Ole Smoky Moonshine.

  • Visual: bright red cherries without stems.
  • Ingredients: cherries, 100-proof moonshine.
  • Cost per cherry: 22¢
  • This one is unique because you’re really buying a mason jar full of cherries and getting some cherry moonshine, too. These cherries are not sweetened, so tasters found them comparatively abrasive. These were the most crisp and red of the bunch, so they work well in cocktails, but most often people did not eat them when they were finished with their drink.

Grocery Store Maraschino.

  • Visual: bright red cherries with stems.
  • Ingredients: cherries, water, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, red 40, sulfur dioxide
  • Cost per cherry:
  • I included these simply for comparison purposes, though these are the most easy-to-find of the lot. Visually, these are very appealing, but there’s not many natural ingredients. Since I avoid HFCS, I don’t use these cherries. They’re crisp, sticky and sweet like candy, but the flavor ends up being very un-cherry-like.

cocktail cherries

Click here to get the Simple Cocktails Guide to Cherries as a downloadable PDF.

Homemade Cocktail Cherries

I have an aversion to high fructose corn syrup. I began avoiding it 4 years ago and lost a bunch of weight as a result.  One of the final hurdles for my HFCS-avoidance is maraschino cherries.  The jars of cherries at the store contain pitted cherries, red dye, and HFCS.  I’ve been looking for alternatives, and found a simple recipe to make your own.

Homemade Cocktail Cherries


  • Trader Joe’s Dried Bing Cherries (these are pitted too).
  • Brandy of your choosing.  I used Pierre Duchene, which is $8 at Trader Joe’s.
  • A container.

Combine them so that the cherries are completely submerged, and leave some room because they’ll swell quite a bit.

brandy cherries submerged

Ew….but leave them in there for 2 days minimum, and here’s what you get:

brandy cherries plumped

Wow! I had to top it off again with brandy as they really swelled up on me.  Now the result is a firm cherry, not sweet at all (I’m considering using a little sugar in the jar next time).  I’ve used them in Old Fashioneds and they come out great!