Cherry cola is amazing. Cherry Coke, on the other hand, is a disgusting tease. For a split second there's some cherry flavor, but then it's replaced by a chemical finish that reminds you that no cherries were harmed while making that beverage. I've done some experimenting with adding cherry syrup to store-bought cola, which was good. But making my own cola and cherrying it up was even better.
My homemade cherry cola taste like actual cherries, and the cola part of the equation is made from ingredients I can pronounce that are available at the grocery store.
What's Available to Buy?
The availability of commercial cherry cola seems to vary greatly by region, but there are quite a few choices. My favorite cherry cola is Fentiman's, which has a great kick and strong cherry and herbal flavor. Of course, there's Cherry Coke, Wild Cherry Pepsi, and Cherry RC Cola. These brands have a familiar flavor, even if the cherry part of the equation tastes artificial. I've heard good things about cherry cola from Faygo, Dr. Brown's, Caruso's, and Sprecher but haven't seen them in stores near me.
Commercial cherry cola usually tastes like it was manufactured in a lab, and many people are loyal to Coke or Pepsi exactly because of the unique artificial taste. But if you want a complex natural cola with the flavor of fresh cherries, you may have to do quite a bit of hunting—unless you make your own. With simple ingredients, you can create your own cola with hints of citrus, herbal, spice, and floral notes, plus real cherry flavor. It won't taste like Coke or Pepsi, and that's the point. Think of my recipe as a jumping-off point for creating your ideal cherry cola.
Cola recipes are trade secrets, so we don't know exactly what it is we're drinking when we sip on a Coke or Pepsi. I was inspired by Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain's natural cola recipe as a starting point. Anise and vanilla give this soda its "cola" flavoring. So if you want to amp up the "cola-ness" in your version, you could put in even more of those two ingredients. The tart zing comes from citric acid. You can skip it in favor of some lemon or lime juice, however that will alter the flavor significantly and won't have the same pop. I skipped the caramel coloring, so this soda is a cherry-colored as well as cherry flavored. (If you made this cola without the cherries, it would be a pale gold color.) I recommend sampling the cola syrup before adding in the cherries and almond extract. That way you can tweak the flavor profile if your cola preferences are different than mine.
There are more ways to enjoy DIY cherry cola than just pouring it over some ice and sipping away. You can add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a cherry cola float or add a little half-and-half for a creamy soda.
Sub your homemade cherry cola in for plain old Coke for a cherry Cuba Libre. With a little experimentation, you can use DIY cherry cola in all sorts of cooking—from Coca-Cola Cake to Cherry-Coke-Glazed Country Ham. The most intriguing possibility, to me, anyway, is Fried Coke. Let us know how that goes if you try it.