The first time I tried cherry liqueur, I thought it tasted like cough syrup. For years, I avoided anything made with the stuff because I don't want my cocktails to remind me of sick children. Then one day I ordered a Singapore Sling without really knowing what was in it. When I found out that cherry liqueur played a big part in making this drink so good, I realized that maybe I had stereotyped all cherry liqueurs because of one that was particularly bad (and probably cheap).
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Lately it seems like I keep hearing about shrubs. I'm not talking about the bushes that line your front yard—this is way better. The shrub that I'm referencing is a vinegary syrup used as a way preserve fruit made with three ingredients: fruit, sugar, and vinegar.
Pucker up, it's sour cherry season! These elusive cherries can usually be found for a weeks in late June and early July at farm stands and farmers' markets—if you see them, grab a box. These tart, almost transparent cherries make great desserts, preserves, and of course, cocktails.
Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing up until Prohibition, bar owners and commercial producers began to tinker with the basic recipe of cherries in maraschino. Other boozes were substituted; easier-to-find (and cheaper) cherries were swapped in. The process of eliminating the liqueur from the recipe began well before Prohibition, probably as a cost-saving measure, but once the Great Experiment started, the use of liqueur was doomed, and the DayGlo orbs took over. But cocktail cherries are easy to make at home, and you might find that it's fun to tinker with the recipe, adjusting it to your tastes and needs.
I stopped in last week with William Nazar, the Service Director and Assistant Sommelier to see what was going on behind the bar at Blue Hill Stone Barns. As luck would have it, he was just finishing up his newest cocktail, the Sour Cherry Americano, and was happy to share the recipe.