There is no bad time to drink whiskey. Statistically, however, we tend to consume cocktails made with brown spirits more as temperatures cool. According to Google Trends, searches for “Old Fashioned cocktail” and “Manhattan cocktail” soar from November to February annually.
The category is vast. Certain jarred cherries are made from heritage or cult varieties, such as Italy’s renowned Maraschinos, while others are a melange of locally grown or factory fruit. They are packed in fruit liqueur, syrup, and, in some cases, straight bourbon.
Whether you’re fixing yourself a classic cocktail, or simply dropping fruit into seltzer for an adultified Shirley Temple (no seriously, try it), these are our top five cocktail cherries, ranked.
All prices are according to Amazon.com, unless otherwise noted.
The sweetest option we tasted are these affordable, widely accessible cherries from Trader Joe’s. The flavor is less subtle than other types, making them better suited to cocktails than straight snacking. Still, Amarena cherries have a richer flavor than most fire-engine-red, mass-produced jarred fruit, and we found they retain their shape and texture even within our booziest creations. Price: $13.57 for 16 ounces.
These pitted cherries have their stems, giving them a more rustic look than most jarred options. Because they are packed in sugared bourbon, as opposed to fruit syrup, their color is browner, their skin softer, and they taste considerably boozier. The texture might strike some as less satisfying because the alcoholic maceration softens the contrast between the skin and fruit flesh, but the bourbon-packed punch is undeniable. Price on company website: $16 for 16 ounces.
“They’re delicious, but they’re intense, so one at the bottom is enough,” Matt Jennings, a James Beard Award-nominated chef and Manhattan drinker, once said of his preferred cocktail cherry. We agree. Made with hand-harvested Oblacinska Morello fruit, Griottines have a rich, dark flavor, more akin to cherry liqueur than fresh fruit, and a candied texture. We recommend these as drinking cherries, better for a cocktail garnish than a snack. Price: $20.95 for 11 ounces.
Made from Michigan’s renowned Traverse City fruit, these cherries struck our tasters as the American cousins of Italy’s Maraschino. They are slightly sweeter than other varieties, but retain a nuanced flavor profile and lovely textural contrast. We would certainly snack on these on their own, maybe next to a slice of Stilton or Morbier. Price: $19.95 for 21 ounces.
An industry favorite, Maraschino cherries from Italy’s 1821, family-owned Luxardo label have an excellent texture and a satisfying “pop,” like a fresh grape. The lush fruit inside has rich, elegant flavor and measured sweetness. Yes, these are more expensive than supermarket varieties, but sometimes you get what you pay for. You could easily serve these versatile cherries as an accompaniment to a cheese board, but they absolutely hold their own in a spirit-forward drink. And if you were to pop a few straight while mixing up drinks, well, there is absolutely no shame in that. Price: $20.99 for 14 ounces.