Cocktail Cherry Tasting

We’re big fans of comprehensive tastings, whether they be for Vermouth, Old Tom Gin, Ginger Beer or the ubiquitous Fruit Cups, so, given the recent increased interest in homemade ingredients (including garnishes), I thought that it was about time to try a range of cherry garnishes. I sourced around half a dozen varieties, ranging from standard to gourmet American cherries.

Clockwise from top: Visciole del Cardinale, Opies Original, Filthy Maraschino

Clockwise from top: Visciole del Cardinale, Opies Original, Filthy Maraschino

We’re big fans of comprehensive tastings, whether they be for Vermouth, Old Tom Gin, Ginger Beer or the ubiquitous Fruit Cups, so, given the recent increased interest in homemade ingredients (including garnishes), I thought that it was about time to try a range of cherry garnishes. I sourced around half a dozen varieties, ranging from standard to gourmet American cherries.

In addition to trying each of the cherries on their own, we also tried them in a Manhattan.

#1) Opies Original (Maraschino Flavour)

These are one of the most common varieties of cocktail cherries made by B-Opies who were founded in 1880. They also make cocktail cherries coloured: Green (creme de menthe), Blue (blue curacao), Orange (curacao) and other garnishes. Ingredients*

Taster#1 (5) – Marzipan, then sharp and sour.
Taster#2 (5) – Marzipan to start, then very sweet.
Taster#3 (4) – Not great – too sweet and cloying.
Taster#4 (5) – Quite sweet, like cherry cola, with vanilla and almond. Has a reasonable texture.

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#2) Filthy Maraschino
Made by the American premium cocktail garnish company Filthy Food they are described as being “shockingly scarlet” and containing less than 1% of flavorings, coloring and preservatives.

Taster#1 (6) – A bit on the soft side; vanilla and heavy on the confectionery flavours.
Taster#2 (3) – Awful smell, soft fruity texture, too sweet
Taster#3 (4) – Lots of vanilla, bit of almond, quite artificial
Taster#4 (4) – Very bright colour, over-powering marzipan

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#3) Visciole del Cardinale

Hailing from Italy, Visciole del Cardinale are sour cherries in a thick pure sugar syrup, that’s it as such there are no colouring or flavourings. These cherries are also used for Visciolata del Cardinale and Acquavite del Cardinale. We tried the unpitted although pitted (no stones) are now available.

Taster#1 (8) – Slightly sour, strong cherry flavour with a hint of cough syrup, very tasty.
Taster#2 (8) – Genuine flavour, not too sweet, really like the pop of the texture
Taster#3 (7) – Good flavour tasty but the stones are a bit annoying
Taster#4 (7) – Juicy and miles away from the first two – lovely

Available in small jars (314gr.net) and large jars (1135gr.net)both pitted and unpitted. Available form Speciality Drinks for £26.95 for 1135gr.net.

#4) Opies Black Cherries with Kirsch

It is worth noting that these are probably designed to go in puddings (such as Black Forest Gateau) rather than cocktails but we thought we’d give them a go.

Taster#1 (4) – Too soft and soggy. The taste is not bad and it’s not too sweet.
Taster#2 (7) – The Kirsch goes well with the cherries. Flavour good texture soggy texture awful.
Taster#3 (7) – I really like these although the syrup is a bit strong.
Taster#4 (6) – Sogginess of the cherries really lets them down – good flavour.

#5) Filthy Black

Made by the American premium cocktail garnish company Filthy Food they are made from Italian Amarena cherry, slow cooked in copper pots. They also make a fine array of other garnishes such as olives including some stuffed with blue cheese. Their flagship product is an olive stuffed with a mini pickle which looks quite interesting.

Taster#1 (7) – Glacé cherry texture, with a nice flavour, not too sweet, tangy finish
Taste #2 (7) – Good taste and texture with a nice pop when you bite into it
Taster#3 (7) – Seems very much like a genuine cherry – that’s good.
Taster#4 (7) – A step above your average cherry with a slightly dark bitter taste

#6) Luxardo Maraschino Black Cherries

From Luzardo the Italian firm who also make a famous Maraschino Liqueur. They are made from cherries candied with Marasca syrup (what their liqueur is made out of). The contents of jar is stated as being a 50/50 split between  Marasca cherries and syrup. No thickening agents or preservatives are used.

Taster#1 (7) – A gluey texture and a taste of fruitcake and dark raisins; quite nice.
Taster#2 (7) – Tastes like a combination of cherry and raisins.
Taster#3 (7) – Quite a dark flavour. but pleasant.
Taster#4 (8) – Really like these, great texture, great flavour, yum!

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries are available for £7.49 for 400g from The Whisky Exchange.

How did they do in a Manhattan?

#1) Opies Original
This has slightly acidic notes, but you quickly get used to them after a couple of sips. The garnish and the cocktail seem to have very separate flavours that never integrate properly, with the cherry being marzipan heavy and the Manhattan tasting very much like an ungarnished Manhattan.

#2) Filthy Maraschino
Quite dry, with distinctive notes of the whiskey that work well with the strong vanilla of the cherries. This is quite sweet, almost dessert-like, although there’s a slightly cloying flavour afterward.

#3) Visciole del Cardinale
These are a lovely colour and produce a pleasantly dry cocktail; I’d probably add a little extra syrup next time I try this. The cherry most definitely takes centre stage when you come to eat it, though (beyond the fact that the stones get in the way!), with a strong, natural flavour.

#4) Opies Black Cherries with Kirsch
Not very attractive to look at and it takes a little while for the cherry’s flavour to really come through. The cherry also quickly disintegrates in the mouth, with a somewhat slushy texture. Unfortunately, although I’m sure some would like the texture of these, the whiskey seems to clash a tad with the Kirsch.

#5) Filthy Black
Sticky and sweet. The syrup from the cherry sticks to your teeth, and the general flavour coats your entire mouth with an artificial sweetness that then turns a bit acidic.

#6) Luxardo Maraschino Black Cherries
Good – the cherry adds a little sweetness and a hint of treacle and fruitcake. It both looks rather sophisticated in the glass and adds a subtle, but interesting twist to the drink. In addition, the syrup is heavy and pools at the bottom of the glass, meaning that you get a delicious, sweet  treat at the end of your drink.

* Ingredients:
1) Opies Cocktail Cherries – Cherries, Sugar, Water, Citric Acid, Flavouring, Colour E127, Preservative E220.
2) Filthy Red – TBC
3) Visciole del Cardinale – Cherries, Sugar
4) Opies Black Cherries with Kirsch – Cherries, Sugar, Kirsch
5) Filthy Black – Wild cherries, sugar, glucose syrup, filtered water, wild cherry juice, acidifant acid, natural flavourings, colour anthocyanins extracted from plants.
6) Luxardo – Marasca cherries, sugar Marasca cherry juice, glucose, citric acid, natural colour, Maraschino, flavours.

Liqueur Library #6 – DeKuyper XO Cherry Brandy

A few weeks back, I reviewed DeKuyper XO Apricot Brandy, which was rather excellent. Today, I’m lucky enough to be able to focus on that product’s forerunner; namely, DeKuyper’s XO Cherry Brandy.

Cherry Brandy is a cherry liqueur and should not be confused with Kirsch, the cherry-flavoured Eau de Vie. Production methods may vary, but, traditionally, Cherry Brandy was made by macerating cherry fruit in brandy and then adding sugar. Despite the name, Cherry Brandy does not have to contain brandy as its base alcohol, but the finer examples do tend to.

DeKuyper XO Cherry Brandy uses Maraska cherries and a hint of almond, which are blended with 12 Year Old Grande Champagne XO Cognac. It is bottled at 28% ABV.

1) On it own
Colour: Deep, rich cherry red.
Nose: A very rich nose – almost zesty – with plenty of ripe, dark cherry, almond, vanilla.
Taste: Very smooth and fruity with a complex, long flavour. Again, there’s plenty of cherry, along with hints of marzipan. Great texture: rich and fruity, the flavour almost bursts in your mouth.

2) Mary Rose Cocktail
[20ml Port, 15ml Gin; 15ml Cherry Brandy – STIR]
A rich and very fruity cocktail with the finer flavour of the cherry brandy coming through nicely towards the end. Cherry and port are good partners, both being rich flavourful. This is definitely a top-notch after-dinner drink.

3) Cherry Julep
[30ml Gin, 20ml Cherry Brandy, 10ml Sloe Gin, 25ml Lemon Juice. 1tsp sugar – Add to a Julep cup filled with crushed ice]
Very crisp and strong, but refreshing. Although there’s no whiskey in here, this does remind me of a Mint Julep. Lots of cherry and easy to drink. Pretty leafy Gin notes work well with zing berry and leafy sloe. Lemon juice adds a good overall balance to the drink.

4) Admiral Cocktail
[30ml Gin, 20ml Cherry Brandy, 15ml Lime Juice – SHAKE]
A simple, yet tasty drink, full of strong cherry notes, whilst remaining clean and crisp. Easy to drink and very nice, with a finish of almond and marzipan.

5) Cherry Ginger Frappe
[20ml Cherry Brandy, 10ml Ginger Liqueur, 5ml Kirsch]
Probably the best way to enjoy this cherry brandy in a cocktail! If you’re a fan of cherries, you will love this! Jammy cherry notes are strong throughout and the ginger adds a pleasant spiciness. The Kirsch ensures that the finish is just dry enough to make you long for another sip!

6) Scotch Holiday Sour
[30ml Scotch Whisky, 15ml Cherry Brandy, 20ml Lemon Juice, 5ml Italian Vermouth – egg white, Lemon Wedge – SHAKE]
Spicy vanilla on the nose, which was creamy and fruity (rich red fruits: raspberry, cherry and cranberry). To taste, it was rich and fruity, with lots of cherry notes, before fading into a more sour, dry finish with hints of almond. The whisky also adds a lovely warmth to the finish.

7) Stratosphere Cocktail
[20ml White Rum, 10ml Brandy, 5ml Cherry Brandy, 10ml Lemon Juice, 1tsp sugar – STIR]
A tropical cocktail with a tart twang at the end. There is a slightly sweet warmth from the brandy, which, along with the cherry, balances out the citrus notes well. Very clean and fresh.

8) Ruby Cocktail
[35ml Sloe Gin, 10ml Italian Vermouth, 5ml Cherry Brandy, 1 dash of bitters – SHAKE]
A dark, fruity cocktail; rich, almost chocolatey, like a Black Forest Gateaux. The sloe and cherry flavours are both complex and jammy, working well together. The red vermouth adds additional complexity, giving the drink a third dimension. Very good, indeed.

9) Six Cylinder
[20ml Gin, 20ml Cherry Brandy, 20ml Campari, 20ml Dubonet, 10ml Dry Vermouth, 10ml Sweet Vermouth – SHAKE]
This tastes like a cherry Negroni with extra dryness and herbal complexity from the dry vermouth and Dubonet. I imagine this to be what a Negroni would taste like if it was made using cherry vermouth. A lot of ingredients, but very tasty.

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10) Desert Header
[30ml Gin, 15ml Cherry Brandy, 5ml Orange Juice – SHAKE & top-up with ginger beer]
A really rather refreshing drink; unlike most of the other cocktails, the cherry isn’t overly prominent, but adds a lovely finish to the drink. There’s also a good dose of ginger. Good for summertime, this is easy to drink and has a refreshing, but sweet finish.

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Yellow/Aged Gin Tasting – 8 Varieties Compared

At the end of last year, I posted a short introduction to Yellow Gin; this was a prelude to an event that took place this week: a Yellow Gin tasting.

Yellow Gin is the collective term for aged, matured or rested gin, i.e. any gin that has had contact with wood in order to modify its character. These terms will be used interchangeably in this article.

Aged gin is not something new; it’s almost as old as gin itself. In the early days of London Dry Gin, the spirit was not shipped in bottles or stainless steel tanks, but in wooden casks. Now most gin would have been drunk so quickly that the wood would have had little impact, but, of an occasion, some batches would be left for longer than others, giving the wood time to affect the gin. In particular, any gin being shipped a great distance in barrels would be affected in this way.

At some point, someone realised that this serendipitous approach to ageing imparted some pleasant and desirable characteristics on gin and so brands such as Booth’s began to deliberately “mature” their gin by storing it in casks for 6-12 weeks. In doing so, they created a more sophisticated product that they could charge more for.

Since the demise of Booth’s Gin, few others have bothered to set up this interaction between the spirit and wood, with the exception of Seagram’s, who have always rested or matured their gin for 3-4 weeks.

Things began to change in 2008 with the release of Citadelle Reserve, an gin that had been aged for 6 months. Since then, over 20 varieties of Yellow Gin have appeared on the market. These range from Hayman’s 1850, which is “cask rested” for 3-4 weeks, to Alembics 13yr Old Gin, which is “aged” for 11 years in whisky barrels and finished off in a Caribbean Rum Cask for two years.

A lot of innovation comes from the USA, where a lot of the stand-alone small distilleries make whisky as well as gin and so are used to the aging process. That said, the majority of Yellow Gins are only aged for less than 18 months. The general consensus from producers is that, after this time, the character of the gin – its juniper – is overwhelmed by that of the wood.

In part, we intended to see if this was genuinely the case during our tasting.

The Tasting

1) Seagram’s Extra Dry

This is the first of two gins in this tasting from the Canadian Brand, Seagram’s. Both are made in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA. Seagram’s Original was introduced in 1939 and is mellowed for 3 months in charred white oak whiskey (ex-bourbon) barrels. It is bottled at 40%ABV.

Colour: very light straw yellow
Nose: Quite light, juniper with coriander and citrus.
Taste: Quite smooth, with juniper, coriander and a touch of orange. Quite similar to a normal London Dry Gin with a slight mellow note of cream/vanilla/oak but it seems like the wood has more of an effect on the texture than the flavour.

Some of the panel didn’t think they Would have recognised the wood interaction if they hadn’t been told.

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2) Seagram’s Distiller’s Reserve

This was introduced in 2006 and is bottled at 51%ABV. It’s a blend of the best gins from Seagram’s Extra Dry, post-mellowing and bottled at cask-strength.

Colour: very light straw yellow
Nose: the nose seems less intense than the original with some juniper and citrus
Taste: Firstly the texture is quite different, viscous, silky and smooth. Most of the panel agreed that this was unusually smooth for a gin at 51%ABV. As well as juniper there was sweet liquorice and floral and citrus flavours.

Although other Seagram’s are aged for the same period of time the oak notes were far more pronounced in this version.

The oaky flavour became even more pronounced when a drop of water was added to both of the Seagrams Gins.

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3) Citadelle Reserve 2008 & 2010

Launched in 2008, this was the first in a new wave of Yellow Gins to come to market. The vintage released in the first year (2008) was a straightforward aging of the original 19-botanical gin. The gin is aged in French white oak, ex-Grand Champagne cognac casks; the exact length of the aging varies, as it is not bottled until it is deemed to be ready. Typically, the length of time lies between 5 and 9 months.

The botanical mix of the original gin for the 2009 vintage was tweaked to increase the floral notes of the spirit and likewise with the 2010 but this was in favour of more floral notes.

ii) 2008 Vintage
Colour: straw yellow – like Lillet Blanc
Nose: thick, floral anise and juniper, with some sweetness
Taste: oak and vanilla came through; this almost seemed halfway between whisky and gin. Very nice indeed

ii) 2010 Vintage
Colour: As above
Nose: perfumed, juniper and lemongrass
Taste: juniper and then some more floral notes, lavender violet and some rose, much more perfumed with high notes than in the 2008. Very discernible difference.

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4) Hayman’s 1850

This was created by the Hayman’s Family, who also make a variety of other gins, including Old Tom and London Dry.

Bottled at 40%ABV, Hayman’s 1850 harks back to the style of gin produced before William Gladstone (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) the Single Bottle Act of 1861 legislation was passed when gin was stored and transported in barrels.

As such Hayman’s 1850 is “rested” in barrels for 3-4 weeks.

Colour: clear with a very pale straw yellow
Nose: Juniper, with some spice and a hint of floral notes.
Taste: Juniper, floral, a little bite of citrus and a smooth, mellow finish with a hint of creamy vanilla. Quite smooth and subtle.

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5) Few Barrel-Aged Gin

Bottled at 65.4%ABV, this has been aged for 4 months in New American Oak.

Colour: light amber orange.
Nose: sweet wood and mint – bourbon

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Taste: dark sugar and treacle, minty wood, liquorice too. Good doses of sweet spice and gingerbread and ginger cake were mentioned by some panellists. Others picked up on aspects of candied peel. All round a charming product still reminiscent of some gin character but with the impact of the wood being definitely felt.

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This was enjoyed by all of the panel with the overall feeling that the balance between gin & wood flavours was just about right.

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6) Myrtle Gin

A very unique product, this is produced for the Spirit of the Coquet and is the result of a Scottish Gin, aged for 10 years, and infused with Northumberland Myrtle. It is bottled at 47%ABV

Colour: deep amber-brown, rather like apple juice.
Nose: Initially wood and whisky, then some smokiness (akin to the smoke of smoked salmon) then some vanilla notes and a floral herbal mix.
Taste: Full flavour at the start, woody followed with leafy herbal notes and a growing peaty character towards the end with a dry juniper finish that last for quite a long time.

Overall the panel agreed this was rather whisky like, with the big whisky fan of the group being particularly praiseworthy. One member really likes gin, is not much of a fan of Scotch, but very much liked the Myrtle Gin. Most agreed that it was complex and intriguing although one member dislike the smoky peatiness.

7) Alambics 13yr Old Caribbean Gin

Bottled at 65.6%ABV, this is created in Scotland for a German company using a “well-established” gin. It is distilled, matured and bottled in Scotland, but each run is of just 272 bottles. Uniquely, prior to bottling, it is aged for 11 years in old whisky barrels and then finished for two years in ex-Caribbean Rum casks.

Colour: medium amber
Nose: oak, vanilla, treacle with juniper at the very end
Taste: smooth to start with a slightly almost sticky texture, coriander, citrus with a slight burnt orange biscuityness. Growing strength with a pine/juniper dryness coming at the end and once you’ve swallowed. Long finish.

With a drop of water more of the woody rum elements come out. All the panel agreed that this was surprisingly little burn for a cask strength product.

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8) Ransom

Bottled at 44%ABV, this is made by Ransom Spirits of Oregon, USA. It is described as a historic recreation of the type of gin that was in fashion in mid-1800s America and the recipe was developed in collaboration with David Wondrich.

Colour: medium orange-brown
Nose: Pine, sap, a hint of cedarwood and cardamon.

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Taste: There was a little smooth silkiness at the start, followed by sappy, piney juniper, some vanilla and oak. There were herbal hints, too, and a little tingle towards the end. The wood comes through again, very much like freshly cut wood, rather natural and forest-like.

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Some Reflections

Broadly, the Yellow Gins we tried could be placed into three groups:

#1) Light Wood – In these, the effect of the wood is much lighter and, in some cases, tricky to pick out.

Examples include: Seagram’s Original, Citadelle Reserve and Hayman’s 1850.

#2) Medium Wood – There’s more of a balance between the flavours of the gin and the wood, with each playing almost equal parts in the character of the finished product.

Examples include: Seagram’s Distiller’s Reserve, Few Aged Gin and (possibly) Ransom.

#3) Heavy Wood – This category is heavily impacted by the wood, to the point where some of the gin character is lost. In some cases, it may not be instantly recognisable as gin.

Examples include: Myrtle Gin 10yr Old and Alambic’s 13yr Old Caribbean Cask.

After our tasting, discussion turned to how we would make our “perfect” Yellow Gin. The general consensus was to go with a gin with a pretty classic botanical mix: anything with up to about 8 traditional botanicals, such as: juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, orange, lemon, liquorice, or almond. We thought that a heavy botanical mix, with a good juniper hit, would be needed to ensure the gin was not lost by the woody notes.

The Results

Unusually, the panel members struggled to pick an overall favourite of the bunch, so everyone picked, in no particular order, their top three. Each choice received a point and the final scores were:

#1 – Few Barrel-Aged Gin
#2 – Myrtle Gin
#3 – Alambics 13yr Old 

But that’s not it; there will be a follow up article feature a rather unusual smoked gin coming soon.

For a list of aged gin that we have not yet tried click here.

A special thanks goes out to: Adam S, Adam P, Paul, Roz, Chris, Few Spirits, Aaron, Matthew, James, Jared, Olivier, Sam, Clayton, Billy, Emma, Sara and of course Zack & his team at Graphic.