Exploring What Cherries Add to Drinks

Two glasses of cherry juice surrounded by fresh cherries

Cherries have been an accent, garnish, and enjoyable addition to all types of food and drink for centuries. With their stark red appearance and notable taste, cherries often enhance the taste of the foods and drinks they are added to. However, with many varieties of cherries to choose from, you may find yourself wondering which ones you should be adding to your drinks.

The first question is whether you want sweet cherries or tart cherries. Sweet cherries are easier to find, but tart cherries have historically seen much more use as garnishes and additions to drinks. Consider Italy, where tart cherries thrive. Italy is where cocktail cherries first gained traction. To best understand this, you need to know a little bit of history about Italian cherries first. Columbia Distributing takes a look at the marriage between cherries and drinks and the history behind this perfect combo.

The Italian Roots of Tart Cherries

The first recipes that involved using cherries for liqueurs and cocktails originated in Italy during the 1800s. In 1821, marasca cherries were used in the founding recipe of Luxardo, inspired by the liqueurs found in Dalmatia during the medieval period, which may have used cherries as well. Marasca cherries are a specific variant of the much larger family of morello cherries. The marasca cherry plant is also used in the production of maraschino liqueurs.

Other well-known varieties include Fabbri and Toschi. Both use amarena cherries, which are another variety of the sour cherry plant local to the two Italian cities of Bologna and Modena. This variety of cherry was developed by Gennaro Fabbri in 1869 after his wife began working in a general store near a wild cherry orchard. She would pick the cherries and cook them in sugar. Fabbri was impressed enough by the result that he began commercial production of cherry products in 1905 once he had perfected the variant of cherry that would soon become associated with his name.

With roots historically favoring the use of the tart variety, there is plenty of reason to consider using tart cherries for drinks and garnishes.

The Role of Sweet Cherries in Cocktails

In the United States, people typically tend to prefer sweeter cherries. Common varieties of cherries include the Royal Ann and Rainier. One of the main reasons why tart cherries, especially liqueurs, didn’t take off as much was because of the Prohibition movement. With the focus being directed toward sweeter sodas and admonishing alcoholic beverages as well as bright, eye-catching colors, you can begin to see how the beloved liqueur-soaked cherries of Italy would become the artificially sweet maraschino cherries that are seen in stores today.

As times changed, people came to accept tart cherries and what they can bring to cocktails. The prevalence of sweet cherries remains in the blood of many people even if tart cherries are historically preferred.

Cherries for Your Cocktails

The exact type of cherry you should choose depends entirely on what you have access to, what your budget is, and what flavor profile you are looking for. For example, if you are in the mood for a sweeter cherry to go with your drink, you may want to consider Rainier cherries. Royal Ann cherries – sometimes referred to as Napoleon cherries – are another option with French roots and a long history of their own. However, the most readily available sweet cherry is a variant known as Bing. Bing cherries are the most prevalent type of cherry found in North America.

For fresh tart cherries, history shows that amarena and marasca cherries are some of the most well-liked. Because they are native to Italy, it may be difficult to find them in the United States. When garnishing, you should also consider whether you want amarelle-type cherries or morello-type cherries. Amarelle types have a yellow color to the fruit, and their juices are clear, while morello types are darker and have red juice, much more like your standard cherries. English morello is one of the more common morello-type cherries. Montmorency, which is commonly used for cherry pies and is considerably common because of it, is a popular amarelle-type.

Find the Perfect Drink for Your Cherries

When you are ready to choose the type of cherry you want to add to your drink, your next step will be to find the perfect drink. Some people may find the perfect holiday occasion or event to make beautiful cherry cocktails while others may simply want to try these cherries in the comfort of their own home. In terms of what drinks people commonly like to add cherries to, rum is one of the most popular with brandies being a close second. Some people appreciate cherries in whiskey, although it can be hard to taste the cherry. If you are curious about which cherries go well with which drinks, and to explore both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, contact the experts at Columbia Distributing.