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an amateur’s exploration of wine and spirits
Comparison: Cherry Liqueurs

Recently I’ve come across a number of cocktail recipes calling for various forms of cherry liqueur, from Maraschino to cherry brandy. Given certain economic constraints on my alcohol budget, my first question was whether or not these different liqueurs were fairly interchangeable… after all, why buy three bottles when one will suffice? Since I wasn’t planning to drink any of this straight, I couldn’t imagine that there could be much difference. Unfortunately, as per usual, I was wrong; a quick search revealed that kirsch and maraschino, for example, are barely related in taste. So, naturally, instead of buying just one bottle, I went ahead and bought three so that I could figure out how they are all different…
Before getting into the taste test, let’s explore the liqueurs a little bit. I chose to compare kirschwasser (kirsch/cherry brandy), Heering (cherry liqueur), and maraschino. Kirschwasser, which means cherry water in German, is made from double-distilling whole sour cherries (including the pits) to produce a clear, bitter liquor. According to Wikipedia the drink has subtle flavors of cherry and bitter almond. In contrast, cherry liqueurs like Heering are much sweeter and taste primarily of cherry. Maraschino is perhaps the most distinctive of cherry liqueurs; it is distilled from marasca cherries, includes honey, and is matured in wooden vats for at least two years. Like kirsch, maraschino is bitter from the inclusion of cherry pits. Let’s see how my notes compare:
Color:
Kirsch (Schwarzwalder Kirschwasser): Clear.
Heering Cherry Liqueur: Brownish red, mahogany.
Luxardo Maraschino: Clear.
Smell:
Kirsch: The alcohol comes up strongly at first, but with more air gives way to cherry pit and a woody or vegetal smell. It gets fruitier with time.
Heering: Much less alcohol than the kirsch (24% vs 42%), and also much sweeter. I smell cherry fruit and port-like raisins. The port smells make me think this may be a bit viscous.
Maraschino This smells much funkier than the other two, and I don’t really get much cherry out of it. It does smell sweeter than the kirsch.
Taste:
Kirsch: As I was expecting, the alcohol really came through in the taste. However, it also had a pleasant dark, bitter cherry taste to it.
Heering: This was both sweet and viscous, and had a very clear red cherry taste.
Maraschino: The maraschino did not taste at all like the other two; it was much more herbal (kind of like bitters), with just a hint of cherry. It was sweeter than the kirsch but not as sweet as the Heering.

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