This month, VinePair is exploring how drinks pros are taking on old trends with modern innovations. In Old Skills, New Tricks, we examine contemporary approaches to classic cocktails and clever techniques behind the bar — plus convention-breaking practices in wine, beer, whiskey, and more.
Luxardo cherries and Maraschino cherries are both technically Maraschino cherries, but there is quite a difference between the two. The former is considered artisanal and high-end, perfect for a craft cocktail garnish; while the latter is bright red and ideal for topping an ice cream sundae. How can two cherries that are technically the same be so different? Let me explain:
Luxardo cherries are the OG Maraschino cherry, made from the Marasca cherry by the Luxardo family since 1905. Founded in 1821, Luxardo first became famous for its cherry liqueur, and then probably even more famous for the cherries, which are simply pitted cherries that are canned in a syrup made by mixing the cherries’ juice with sugar. These are the high-end cherries you now see dotting craft cocktails across the country.
What we’ve come to know as Maraschino cherries, on the other hand, are the result of Prohibition and a lab. Ernest Wiegand, a scientist at the Oregon Agricultural College, was looking for a way to mimic the flavor of the Italian cherries that had been imported along with Luxardo’s liqueur. He did so by mixing sweet American Royal Anne cherries with brine and calcium salts. He then dyed the cherries bright red, because the brine they soaked in bleached them of their natural color, and added almond flavoring to create a cherry that was fluorescent, juicier, and much, much sweeter than the Luxardo original. They were also much cheaper.
So, if you’re going to make a high-quality cocktail at home, always look for Luxardo, and save the fluorescent red Maraschino cherries for your next sundae party.