A Lot of History for a Tiny Cherry...
written by steve fette
The cocktail cherry is a heavy dose of nostalgia for me. I can still remember going to my grandfather’s house as a kid. When it was cocktail hour, which seemed to change every time, he would man his station at a small wet-bar and begin preparing the first round of drinks. Each time he saw me peering up to see what was going on he would hand me my own “cocktail” of Orange Juice, Fresca, and grenadine. And then he would garnish it with a red maraschino cherry. And boy did I LOVE that cherry! But these cherries are the furthest thing from authentic. Little did I know there was another cherry before the radioactive-red abomination that adorned desserts and cocktails. If you are a Manhattan-drinker then you know that I am referring to the ‘Luxardo Original Maraschino Cherries.’
Luxardo Maraschino Cherries were created in the 1880s by Luxardo in what is now Zadar, Croatia. Inspired by their Maraschino Liqueur (debuted in 1821) Luxardo began using additional Marasca cherries. They begin by taking some of the juice pressed from the Marsca cherries and blending it with sugar to make a syrup. This syrup then goes through a proprietary pasteurization process. Each jar is then filled with new Marasca cherries (seeded and destemmed) and the cherry syrup- 50/50! Yes the word ‘maraschino’ comes from the Italian Marasca sour cherry. With no thickeners, artificial coloring, or preservatives these cherries are gluten-free, GMO-free, Kosher certified, vegan friendly.
So, if these cherries were big back in the day then what happened to them? Why are they popular once again? Well this style of sour cherry was popular between 1860-1900 when it was dethroned by the olive. The Depression followed which made these cherries even more expensive. As a result, the alternative Queen Anne or Rainier cherry was used. Furthermore, Prohibition made it impossible to even obtain the Italian product, so the cheaper cherry was used. Lastly the new, cheaper ‘Queen Anne’ maraschino cherry uses artificial thickeners, coloring, and preservatives- a process that was hugely popular mid-20th century.
It was not until 2004 when Audrey Saunders, owner of the famous Pegu Club in NYC, received a few jars to play with. Couple that with the cocktail renaissance that started in the late-90s there is no wonder why the ‘Luxardo Original Maraschino Cherry’ is now the standard for any bar. So before you make/order your next Manhattan, Last Word, Martinez, or Whiskey Sour be sure to pick up a jar of Luxardo cherries. Personally, I've dabbled with the Luxardo-loving cocktail recipes below in my home bar. Cheers to the Sour Cherry!