The Best Cherry Liqueur Roundup: 12 Bottles Tasted, 1 Winner

The Best Cherry Liqueur Roundup: 12 Bottles Tasted, 1 Winner

Aside from the orange, the cherry seems to be the fruit that ends up in spirits more than adnything else. Credit that not just with the popularity of cherry as a flavoring agent, but also, perhaps, with the fact that cherries seem to grow everywhere: The U.S., all across Europe, Russia, and even the middle East. As a result, cherry liqueur is also made just about everywhere. Of the 12 products in this cherry liqueur roundup, 7 different countries are represented.

First, some caveats: Cherry liqueurs come in numerous styles. We’ve covered maraschino — a clear liqueur that’s distilled from cherry pulp and pits, then sweetened — in the past, and surely someday we’ll write about kirsch, which is an unsweetened, clear brandy made from Morello cherries. Today we’re looking more narrowly at traditional cherry liqueur, which is commonly a distillate of grain neutral spirits, blended with cherry juice, sugar, and other flavoring agents like spices. In other words, these traditional — and always dark red — liqueurs aren’t made from distilled cherries; they’re just used to flavor some other neutral spirit.

Complicating matters is the fact that there are different types of cherries out there in the world — some sweet, some sour. Both are used to make liqueurs, which run the spectrum between those two spots on the flavor wheel. In our tastings below, we shall endeavor to break down where each one lands.

What do you do with cherry liqueur? Two of the most famous cocktails for the stuff include the Singapore Sling and the Blood & Sand — and I tried my top contenders in the latter, as well as the Remember the Maine, which is a bit more subtle when it comes to the use of the liqueur. Otherwise, all liqueurs were tasted neat and with added water.

Singapore Sling (Raffles Hotel version)
1 oz gin
0.5 oz cherry liqueur
0.25 oz Cointreau
0.25 oz Benedictine
4 oz pineapple juice
0.5 oz lime juice
1/3 oz grenadine
1 dash bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a tall highball glass. Garnish with lemon and maraschino cherry. (Note that there are infinite, and very different, variations on this cocktail.)

Blood & Sand
3/4 oz. Scotch
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
3/4 oz. cherry liqueur
3/4 oz. orange juice

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Here’s our top picks, from favorite to least. It’s a super tough call, but Luxardo just barely edges out Heering and Maraska for the win.

Luxardo Sangue Morlacco Cherry Liqueur – Italy. Made from Marasca cherries — the name translates as “cherry blood.” Crimson red, with a bright cherry nose that leans, just a bit, towards raspberry. Even brighter fruit is evident on the palate, which loosens things up with a touch of strawberry and a note of chocolate. Overall sweet but with a lightly sour edge that gives the finish some needed cleansing character, this is a rock-solid and very balanced expression of cherry in liqueur form. In cocktails, a nutty character comes into focus, which adds some nuance. Love the dripless spout on the bottle, too, which keeps things from becoming impossibly sticky. 60 proof. A / $30 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]

Heering Cherry Liqueur – The Netherlands (originally made in Denmark). Formerly known as Peter Heering, then Cherry Heering, now just Heering. This is the OG cherry liqueur and the only one you’ll ever see called for by name in an old school cocktail recipe, though it’s now owned by DeKuyper, hence its (somewhat heretical) relocation of production to The Netherlands. It’s still made from Danish cherries, though. Dense, burgundy color and syrupy consistency. Intense cherry nose, with strong overtones of almonds and some orange peel. There’s ample sweetness on the nose, but the palate is rather sour and bittersweet, with a strong reprise of almond on the finish. Well-rounded, and arguably my favorite when used in a cocktail, its various elements coming into clearer focus. 48 proof. A- / $33 [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]

Maraska Wishniak Cherry Liqueur – Croatia. Made from local Marasca cherries. Slightly brighter color than most of these liqueurs, with sweet, fresh cherry notes on the nose and a hint of almond. Sweet but not overblown on the palate — cherry, sure, but also a lighter strawberry note is evident. The nuttiness on the nose isn’t as powerful on the palate, which features some brighter acidity to keep the sugar from getting out of hand. A touch of chocolate and some mint on the finish. Quite a versatile liqueur (and the highest abv liqueur in the roundup), though not overwhelmingly complex. 62 proof. A- / $25 

Merlet Soeurs Cerises Cherry Liqueur – France. Made from a blend of cherry types, plus a small amount of cherry distillate and Cognac. (Note that it is no longer referred to as a “Cherry Brandy Liqueur,” though.) Intensely burgundy in color, the liqueur is both sharp and sweet on the nose, pairing dark black cherry notes with a raspberry element. There’s a nice balance of sweet and sour on the palate, which reveals a slightly floral edge and a Portlike note as it develops in the glass. In a cocktail, the liqueur’s darker fruit notes become more pronounced, almost cassis-like, to the point where it can substitute easily for creme de cassis. Intense fruit continues well into the lengthy finish. 48 proof. A- / $23 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]

Patique Cherry Liqueur – Petaluma, California. Made from California cherries, variety unstated. Brick red, almost brown, there’s an almost Port-like aroma here that nods strongly at oxidized wine, filtered through intense cherry juice. Upon tasting, my immediate connection was to sweet vermouth, and given the 19% abv, the lowest abv in the lineup, there’s maybe something to that. The cherry character here is initially big and inviting, but it’s tempered by notes of tea leaf, cola, and some spice, all of which evoke that vermouth element further and take the experience in a different direction, with a distinctly earthy, spicy finish. Unlike most of the liqueurs in this roundup, Patique drinks better solo than in cocktails, working best as a cherry-scented spin on an aperitif rather than a supporting player in a more complex ensemble. 38 proof. A- / $35 (375ml) 

Rothman & Winter Orchard Cherry Fruit Liqueur – Austria. Made from sour Weichsel cherries and, uniquely, made with eau de vie (brandy) from the same fruit. Bright red, sweet, cherry-filled nose, almost candylike in aroma — with darker cherry notes coming into focus with time in glass. On the nose, it’s extremely straightforward and refreshing. The palate reveals much of the same character, an unabashed expression of maraschino cherry that’s touched moderately with almond. Water brings out that latter element more clearly, giving the liqueur a biscotti-like quality to it that is a bit unusual. Clean finish, with hints of florals; those flowery notes are far more pronounced in a cocktail. 48 proof. B+ / $25 [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]

G.E. Massenez Creme de Griotte – France. Made from Morello cherries. Sweet and syrupy and a burgundy-purple in color, this is a no-nonsense, very low-alcohol liqueur that tastes as much of cherries as it does of raspberries and currants, with a touch of chocolate swirled into the mix. The finish at least hints more clearly at a slightly sour cherry element, but it’s subtle — and wrapped up in a slurry of red- and black-berry sweetness. 40 proof. B+ / $20

Schladerer Edelkirsch Liqueur – Germany. Made from Black Forest cherries. Schladerer is best known for making kirschwasser; here its cherry distillate is blended with fresh cherry juice to make a more traditional liqueur. Probably the most unique liqueur in this lineup, the garnet red liqueur offers a curious nose of mixed fruits, plus a strong floral bent that evokes irises, followed by mint and young eau de vie. More fruit-forward on the palate, the liqueur’s cherry notes are muddled with elements of raspberry — then ample, potpourri florals coming into strong focus. For better or worse (and this will surely be a matter of taste), this liqueur’s perfumed, flowery elements are clearly visible in cocktails, even in small doses, so plan accordingly. 56 proof. B+ / $36

New Liberty Sour Cherry Liqueur – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Made from Montmorency cherries. Rather brown in color, like a tawny Port. A little boozy on the nose, and a touch earthy. Cherry aromas are present but indistinct, coming across more like a mulled wine. The palate shifts gears, offering a moderately sweet (and not at all sour), somewhat unique black cherry character, slightly chocolatey and infused with notes of tea leaf and a soothing baking spice character. Gingerbread on the finish. Less overtly cherry-heavy than most of the liqueurs in this roundup, but perhaps more interesting as a mixer. 60 proof. B+ / $25 (375ml)

Tattersall Sour Cherry Liqueur – Minneapolis, Minnesota. Made from Montmorency cherries. The “sour” on the label is no joke. Heavily sour even on the nose, with overtones of earth and dusky spice elements, strong on the cloves. The palate keeps that sour through-line going, a mouth-puckering experience that layers notes of greenery and earth atop that bitter-sour core. The finish finally yields to show just a hint of sweetness, but the experience is overwhelming on its own. As a coloring agent and touch of sourness in a cocktail, it works better. 60 proof. B / $33 [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]

Hotel Tango Cherry Liqueur – Indianapolis, Indiana. Made from Montmorency cherries. This moderately dark burgundy liqueur is intensely sticky, so I assumed it would be full of sugar. The experience doesn’t bear that out: A clean, sour cherry element on the nose leads the way to an intensely sour palate that features almost no sweetness at all. That lightly bitter and wildly sour character hangs on for what seems like forever, making this is one of the purest expressions of raw cherry juice that I found in this roundup, with virtually no diversions from the through-line. It’s quite off-putting on its own but works better, at least in small proportions, in cocktails. 56 proof. B- / $30 

… plus …

Maraska Cherry Wine – I’m putting this add-on here because, well, where else am I going to cover it, and because it makes for a pretty good alternative to cherry liqueur if you want something lower in alcohol or a bit less sweet. Maraska’s cherry wine, made from Croatian Marasca cherries, comes across exactly as described, a pure expression of cherry juice with minimal diversion. A note of dark chocolate, a light touch of mint, and vanilla on the finish evoke some liqueur-like elements, although the thin, almost watery body keeps any cloying qualities in check. 14% abv. B+ / $15 

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