The bar stunk like rotting beer and spoiling fruit… Years ago we outlawed smoking in bars and now, unfortunately, we can smell them. The routine of the bar is well established and deeply ingrained. Chemically flavored, artificially-colored booze; limes, pre-cut at the beginning of a shift and spoiling on the bar by the the cherries, and, oh god, the cherries. Neon red, pickled, hard and sickeningly sweet. The cherries exist as an industrialized icon of Americana, glorified on rockabilly girls, tattoos, and ice cream sundaes. They are childhood, they are summer, and they add to the stink and failings of the bars in America.
In the last ten years, the craft cocktail movement has been a glimmer of hope, a re-discovery of classic recipes and, thanks to pioneers like Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz, classic ingredients. Also emphasized are fresh, natural, and often house-made ingredients, like syrups and cherries. Because craft cocktail bars (some better than others) exist as the exception and not the rule, usually the best cocktails I have, I have at home. Most bars are stuck in the eighties or the fifties or whatever.
So, lacking a perfect cherry for top-notch Manhattan, I figured I should try my hand at a classic luxury garnish and make real Maraschino cherries. After all, the perfect Manhattan calls for a perfect cherry and I want a bloody perfect Manhattan. I read a number of recipes, articles and Wikipedia in search of the way to produce my cherry. In the end I decided I don’t care if my cherry is red or pretty or if it has a firm texture. I want my cherry to be something close to historically accurate and made with simple quality ingredients. I don’t really want chemistry or pickles, I want something special that will enhance strong drink. The point of this exercise and, in my opinion, the point of the whole craft cocktail movement, is to care about every ingredient, no matter how small.
For my first attempt I went with Recipe #1.
I found that nice large northwestern cherries were on sale at Henry’s Market. I have no access to Maraska Cherries, not yet. Big, beautiful, tart northwestern cherries would have to serve. A quick YouTube search provided the pitting advice. This was important because this method left the stems on. And I got to build a tool! I found that some pits popped right out and others were stubborn. I think using the tip of a knife to cut an X in the bottom of each cherry increased my quantity of intact pitted cherries.
After pitting, the rest was easy. I popped the cherries into mason jars, dumped in a teaspoon of organic sugar and filled the jars to the top with Maraska Maraschino liqueur. The recipe linked above covers the details and instructions, but I also cracked open a few cherry pits and tossed in the resulting nut meat. A few weeks from now I will try these in a Manhattan and on some ice cream and I will see if it feels like summer. I think even if these don’t turn out perfect I will, at the very least, have two jars worth of cherry-garnished cocktails to drink and feel like there is a sense of history in my glass.