Maraschino, Hold the Cherry

This one’s promoted from the comments on the Aviation. Noting the liqueur used to sweeten that drink, emily20008 asked a good question:

What is maraschino liqueur? Don’t tell me it’s that sugary syrup they soak those evil red cherries in...

Everyone’s familiar with those neon-red orbs that perch atop sundaes and dwell in the depths of Manhattans. While I’m now kinda freaked out by the chemicals and processes that turn a natural piece of fruit into a freakish, preserved-for-eternity caricature of itself, I’ll admit to an inordinate fondness for them back in the day when my mom had to drive me to swim lessons and I considered Dr Pepper the ne plus ultra of liquid refreshment.

But is there a link between these gaudy globules and the engaging, esoteric liqueur that acts as a defining ingredient in so many classic cocktails? The answer, of course, is "kind of."

Maraschino liqueur has a bittersweet flavor that comes from Marasca cherries—grown in Northern Italy and Croatia—that have been crushed (pits and all) and soaked in neutral spirits. Redistilled and aged, the spirit is then sweetened and bottled. Several brands are available throughout the country; Luxardo, from Italy, and Maraska, from Croatia, are both excellent choices.

This crystal-clear liqueur, which has a nutty, ethereal flavor that tastes almost nothing like a cherry, is a staple in many cocktails originating in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and was even a common ingredient in early versions of the Manhattan. As an alcoholic liquid, maraschino also worked wonderfully as a preservative—especially for the flavorful cherries that gave the liqueur its distinctive flavor, and that served as colorful garnish for many of these drinks.

Bingo: maraschino cherries.

But how did we get to the fearsome red spheres? Blame the Prohibitionists. In the attempt to eliminate all traces of liquor from day-to-day life, temperance advocates stamped out true maraschino cherries, leaving in their place the garnet globes that, through the wonders of food science, look bright and tasty but unfortunately never are.

So when you see a drink recipe that calls for "maraschino," fear not—there'll be no trace of the sickly sweet flavor from what emily20008 calls "those evil red cherries." Though the Dr Pepper swilling child inside me will always find something disappointing in that.