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Spirits: Cherry, baby

The Greta Garbo. (Cherry Heering)

This year's National Cherry Blossom Festival is winding down, meaning all of those cherry-inspired cocktails that pop up on local menus will soon disappear. I don't shed much of a tear, since most are gimmicky drinks anyway. The problem, of course, with the rush to cherry-themed cocktails is that we've still got a few months before it's peak cherry season. Until then, however, there are a number of cherry liqueurs you can use until fresh cherries arrive in the market.

My favorite is maraschino liqueur, particularly the Luxardo brand, which comes in distinctive straw-covered bottles. Maraschino liqueur — as I often point out in my column — is NOT the juice from "maraschino cherries." In fact, those artificial, fluorescent things you find in the supermarket have absolutely nothing to do with maraschino liqueur. (In fact, you really should make your own preserved cherries when the season begins.)

Recipe Included

Real maraschino is distilled from a special variety of sour cherries called Marasca Luxardo that are grown near the Luxardo distillery near Padua, Italy. The cherries are infused with distillate and aged for three years in Finnish ash, which adds no color to the clear liqueur. Recently, Luxardo brought true maraschino cherries, soaked in the liqueur, back to the market, and you can order them from a number of outlets online.

Most recipes call for only a bit of maraschino, but there are a number of spring cocktails that call for it:

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One is the Prado — a take on the margarita that replaces triple sec with maraschino liqueur, and adds egg white. Also, try the market-fresh Arboretum.

Beyond maraschino, there is also the cherry eau de vie kirschwasser (or kirsch), a favorite in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In fact, anyone who's made a traditional Swiss fondue probably has a bottle of kirsch sitting around. Though it's usually served as an after-dinner digestif, I've lately been using it more in cocktails. For instance, just a bit of kirsch in gin-based Acacia makes a lovely, complex alternative to a martini. And kirsch even takes center stage in an interesting, pink drink called the Pretty in Porto.

Finally, no discussion of cherry liqueurs would be finished without mentioning Cherry Heering, created in Denmark in 1818. It is used in the traditional Singapore Sling, and is a main ingredient in what is likely the finest Scotch cocktail of all time, the Blood and Sand.

Lately, I've been enjoying a drink called the Greta Garbo, created by Eryn Reece, who bartends at Ryehouse and Mayahuel in New York. She poured it for me a couple weeks ago in Washington during a bartender meetup at PS 7's. The Greta Garbo is a variation of the Blood and Sand, calling for tequila and mezcal instead of scotch. For the bitters, you can use Angostura, but Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters really work well.

-- Jason Wilson
(Follow me on Twitter.)

Greta Garbo
1 serving

This variation on the classic Blood and Sand, calls for tequila and mezcal instead of scotch. Cherry Heering is a dark-red cherry liqueur that was invented in Denmark in 1818. For the bitters, you can use Angostura, but Fee Brothers' Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters really work well here.

From Eryn Reece, bartender at Mayahuel and Ryehouse in New York.

1 ounce reposado tequila
3/4 ounce Cherry Heering
1/2 ounce mezcal, preferably Del Maguey
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 ounce agave nectar
2 dashes aromatic bitters (see headnote)

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the tequila, Cherry Heering, mezcal, lime juice, agave nectar and bitters. Shake well for 30 seconds, then strain into cocktail (martini) glass.

Per serving: 170 calories, 0 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  April 9, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Spirits  | Tags: Jason Wilson, Spirits, cherry  
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