The Best Cocktail Cherries

If you’re making a classic cocktail like an old-fashioned or Manhattan at home, you will want to use the best cocktail cherries you can find. Here are 11+ premium cocktail cherries to try.

cocktail cherries in a jar

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Cocktails and cherries go together like a horse and carriage.

Manhattan and old-fashioned aficionados know and love these syrupy sweet, ruby-red gems are delicious in a whiskey cocktail.

But if you’re thinking about the bright red cherry atop an ice cream sundae or Shirley Temple drink, we’re not discussing the same thing.

Those are maraschino cherries, which are artificially-colored and sweetened cherries. Cocktail cherries are more sophisticated, flavorful and darker in color. Let’s get to know this ultimate cocktail garnish.

More cocktail resources: Best Bitters • Best Ginger BeersClear Ice Makers

a cocktail cherry and an old-fashioned cocktail on a black and white plaid coaster

What are cocktail cherries?

Also known as preserved cherries, cocktail cherries are preserved in sugar syrup and/or alcohol, sometimes with spices added for flavor.

Bourbon and brandy are the most common choices for preserving cherries, but they can be made with other spirits like amaro and rum.

If you wind up with a surplus of summer cherries, you can use them to make your own cocktail cherries with your favorite whiskey, brandy or liqueur and even add flavors like a real cinnamon stick or orange slices. (Hot tip: You’ll want to order a cherry pitter!)

You can also use leftover cherries to make cherry simple syrup or cherry bounce.

Why you should use the best cocktail cherries in your drinks

  • Serious home bartenders should use the best ingredients they can afford to make restaurant-quality drinks at home.
  • The darker, natural color of brandied cherries is much more appealing than the bright neon red of maraschino cherries.
  • High-quality cherries can bring more flavor to your drinks from the spices and alcohol they’re made with.

Cocktail cherries aren’t just for cocktails. Feel free to place a cocktail cherry on top of your favorite desserts, like cakes, ice cream sundaes and more. You can even spoon some of the rich syrup over top. 

And don’t feel bad if you want to eat them straight out of the jar! 

a jar of maraschino cherries

Maraschino cherries vs. cocktail cherries

While both are made from cherry fruits, there are a few differences between maraschino cherries and cocktail cherries.

Maraschino cherries are bleached, dyed red, soaked in sugar and packed in syrup (sometimes even corn syrup) with added almond flavoring. Thanks to artificial coloring, their color is bright red — this is probably what you think of when you think of a cherry on top of a boozy milkshake or brownie sundae.

But while the colorful maraschino cherries can be used in cocktails, such as the whiskey sour, they differ from cocktail cherries, which are neither bleached nor dyed. They are preserved in alcohol, retain their dark color and aren’t quite as sweet — they have a much more natural flavor.

Here’s where it gets confusing: The term “maraschino cherry” can also refer to a variety of cherry grown in Italy known as the Marasca cherry. The artisanal brand of Luxardo cherries are made from Marasca cherries.

Luxardo cherries are the original maraschino cherry — made since 1905. Luxardo is also famous for its Luxardo maraschino liqueur, a cherry liqueur used cocktails like the Hemingway daiquiri.

Any type of cherry can be used to make cocktail cherries, including the Amareno cherry, Morello cherry and Bing cherries. 

a hand lifting a cocktail cherry out of a jar with a copper spoon
1
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Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Bourbon Cocktail Cherries
Jack Rudy cherries are made with Kentucky bourbon and tart cherries from Oregon. Since they are made with bourbon, they pair exceptionally well with whiskey cocktails.
(The Jack Rudy cherries are my personal favorite and I usually keep a jar of these on hand.)
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2
Luxardo Gourmet Cocktail Maraschino Cherries
These are not your usual neon maraschino cherries. These are sour Marasca cherries that are candied fresh and steeped in syrup made of cherry juice and sugar. If you are ordering a drink with a cherry at an upscale bar, you can expect it to be a Luxardo cherry.
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3
Filthy Black Amarena Cocktail Cherries
These wild Italian Amareno cherries were nominated for an award at Tales of the Cocktail. They are slow-cooked in copper pots, and provide a rich, complex flavor with a sweet and tart flavor.
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4
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Woodford Reserve Bourbon Cherries
Made from natural ingredients and Oregon cherries, these cocktail cherries bring a brightness of flavor along with hints of Woodford Reserve bourbon.
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5
Tillen Farms Fire & Spiced Maraschino Cherries
Tillen Farms sells cherries steeped in syrup with a spicy blend of natural cinnamon and chili extract. This one would be delicious in cocktails like the old-fashioned.
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6
Dashfire Bitters Brandied Cherries
One of the best brands of cocktail bitters, Dashfire, produces brandied cherries that are seasoned with their old-fashioned aromatic bitters and have a hint of warm, fall spice. A brandied cherry is a delight, offering a different flavor than a bourbon cherry.
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Fabbri Amarena Cherries in Syrup
These Italian cherries have been made with the same authentic recipe since 1915, and are used in upscale bars all over the world. They are famous for their blue-and-white opaline jar.
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8
Filthy Red Maraschino Cocktail Cherries
If you must buy the bright red maraschino cherries, the Filthy brand delivers good quality. Made with Michigan cherries, these are non-GMO and vegan. They are especially great for tiki and rum cocktails.
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9
igourmet.com
Landsburg Pitted Morello Cherries in Syrup
From Germany, these sweet cherries are preserved in a sweet syrup. They are Morello cherries, which are sour cherries, giving these a fruity punch of flavor.
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Griottines Wild Cherries in Kirsch
This French brand produces luxurious Oblachinska cherries that are soaked in brandy and Kirsch, a fruit brandy made from sour cherries. Add a spoonful of the cherry brandy mixture to a drink to give it even more cherry flavor.
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11
Hotel Starlino Maraschino Cherries
Hotel Starlino's maraschino cherries from Naples, Italy are similar to the ones by Luxardo, but with a different recipe. Made from Marasca cherries, they don't carry any artificial flavors or colors.
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Homemade cocktail cherries are just the thing your bar needs. From old-fashioneds to manhattans, these boozy fruits beat out the neon maraschino cherries for the best cocktail garnish. (via feastandwest.com)

How to store cocktail cherries

Like jams and jellies, these preserved cherries can last a while before they go bad. That’s because they are preserved in a sweet syrup or alcohol, which gives them a longer shelf life than fresh cherries.

Unopened jars of cocktail cherries can be stored in the pantry. Follow the “best by” date on the label.

Opened jars — especially cherries preserved in syrup — should be stored in the fridge for food safety and used up within a year (or the “use by” date on the label). Most jars’ labels will suggest you refrigerate after opening.

Liqueur-soaked cherries like Luxardo can keep for longer and may be stored at room temperature, but to err on the side of safety, it’s best to keep them in the fridge.

If your cherries are stuck together or bring a dollop of syrup with them when you pull them out, let a few sit at room temperature for a little while before using them so the syrup can warm up and melt off.

A clear soda cocktail sits in front of a gold bowl of whole cherries and a bowl of orange slices.

Tips for using cocktail cherries

  • ​Use a slotted spoon or cocktail pick to help you remove cherries from the jar. 
  • Store unopened bottles in the pantry and opened bottles in the fridge. 
  • If you are using cherries in syrup (versus liqueur), the syrup can thicken up in the fridge. Let a few sit out at room temperature for a few minutes to let the syrup warm up and drip off. 
  • Look for “stemmed” on the label if you want the cherries to have stems. 
  • Be on the lookout for pits. While cocktail cherries are usually pitted, it’s possible a cherry pit was missed. 
A whiskey cocktail in a stemmed glass is garnished with a cherry and orange peel.

Drinks using cocktail cherries

While cocktail cherries are most often associated with whiskey cocktails like the Manhattan or the old-fashioned, many drinks made with other spirits are perfect for a cherry garnish.

FAQ

What kind of cherries to use in cocktails?

Cocktail cherries are preferred over maraschino cherries in cocktails such as the old-fashioned and the Manhattan. Cocktail cherries are natural cherries steeped in syrup or liqueur. Maraschino cherries are bleached and dyed with artificial flavoring. Luxardo cherries are a popular brand of gourmet cherries used by upscale restaurants and bars.

What kind of alcohol is in homemade cocktail cherries?

You can use any kind of alcohol in homemade cocktail cherries. Brandy and bourbon are common and classic choices, but you can make them with amaro, vodka, rum or tequila.

What is the difference between cocktail cherries and maraschino cherries?

Maraschino cherries are bleached and dyed with artificial flavoring. Cocktail cherries are natural cherries steeped in syrup or liqueur. Luxardo cherries are a brand known for making the original maraschino cherries, which are more like the dark-colored cocktail cherries of today. Both Luxardo cherries and the bright red maraschino cherries are derived from the Marasca cherry, an Italian sweet cherry.

What are the dark cherries in cocktails called?

The dark cherries in cocktails are typically called cocktail cherries. Sometimes they are referred to as brandied cherries or bourbon cherries, if they are steeped in brandy or bourbon, respectively.

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