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Three cherry cocktails

There have been a lot of cherry-flavored cocktails popping up around town, and it occurs to me that there is no really classic cherry drink. Sure, we drop maraschino cherries into everything from a Manhattan to fruity tropical cocktails, but unless you also add in some of of the sugary, near-neon liquid that the cherries come packed in, the garnish doesn’t typically contribute that much to the taste. At least, not to the extent that somebody would say a Manhattan is a cherry cocktail. And that’s how it’s supposed to work — garnishes aren’t supposed to overwhelm and define a cocktail, or we’d be calling the classic martini “that olive-flavored drink.”

I suspect cherry is a bit hard to work with. Several of the cherry cocktails I have had lately use cherry puree, and it’s not often a cocktail recipe requires you to get out the food processor and mash up some fruit. Additionally, cherry puree is often heavy and thick, and runs a real risk of separating in a mixed drink, so that you end up with alcohol on top, cherry on the bottom, which sounds like a terrific title for a summer teen movie, but wouldn’t make for much of a cocktail.

The Red Horizon cocktail at Mission American Kitchen
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
The Red Horizon cocktail at Mission American Kitchen

Mission American Kitchen, in the IDS Center, dispenses with all that by using Red Stag Bourbon in a cocktail called Red Horizon. Red Stag is a product of Jim Beam, a four-year-old bourbon infused with black cherry. Mission adds to this something called Cherry Heering, a sort of a spiced cherry liqueur from Denmark that’s supposed to be used in a few well-known cocktails, such as the Blood and Sand and the Singapore Sling, but often is swapped out for maraschino cherries, which is too bad. Worse still, sometimes people will get the bright idea to use Maraschino liqueur, which is made from the pits of the Marasca cherry and tastes more like almond than anything else. Mission gets it right by using Heering, and then they top it off with orange bitters, making it a proper cocktail. Without three ingredients, as Peggy Olson of “Mad Men” says, you don’t have a cocktail, you have an emergency. The Red Horizon is the cherriest of all the cherry cocktails I have drunk, so if you’ve ever eaten cherries and thought, well, these are great, but why won’t they make me drunk, there is now a solution. 

Speaking of almonds, the DK restaurant at the Chambers Hotel has a cherry cocktail called Amaretto di Cherry. Amaretto is an almond flavored liqueur, although sometimes it is made with apricot pits; I’m starting to think that all fruit pits taste like almond. DK uses Disaronno Amaretto, which makes a point of the fact that they use no almonds at all in their almond-flavored liqueur, although they do use burnt sugar and 17 herbs and fruits, which strikes me as being similar to one of those tricks vegetarians play where they hand you a hamburger and only afterward tell you that it’s actually made from 45 different vegetable proteins. Apparently, the right combination of ingredients can make anything taste like anything else.

DK combines amaretto with cherry puree, fresh lemon and lime, and soda, and the results are less cherry flavored than Mission’s offering, but fruity and cooling. Especially during the summer, it’s nice to have a cocktail that is topped off with soda. Sometimes you want to take a long draw of a refreshing, cold liquid, but if you guzzle, say, an old fashioned, you may have a drinking problem. People used to make themselves highballs all the time, which is a tall glass with a shot of liquor and topped off with a mixer, usually soda. So if you needed a refreshing drink, instead of satiating yourself with water, you could have a scotch and soda. Yes, it’s an emergency, but sometimes you need to rehydrate and water alone just seems so tedious.

Bourbon and Cherries at Gather
Photo by Coco Mault
Bourbon and Cherries at Gather

DK is owned by D’Amico, who have also recently opened a restaurant at the Walker Art Center called Gather, which also offers a cherry cocktail, called, simply, Bourbon and Cherries. I suspect whoever created the Amaretto di Cherry also had a hand in this, as it is substantially similar — a base liquor combined with lemon and lime and cherry puree. The liquor here is bourbon, as the name suggests — Jim Beam, to be specific. Unlike the amaretto cocktail, this drink is not topped off with soda water, which gives the drink a different quality. It’s heavier and really tastes of bourbon, and the cherry puree also feels heavier in it; it’s a cocktail meant to be drunk slowly, and savored. It’s also the least cherry flavored of the three cocktails I have listed; the cherries inform the drink, shall we say, without dominating it.

I don’t usually use this column to point people to events I am involved in, but there are two this weekend that are such fun that I can’t resist; I would recommend them anyway. The first is a play called “A Gift for Planet BX63” from Off-Leash Area. The company created this family performance several years ago by crafting a plot and then staging the whole thing using nonsense dialogue; toward the end of the process they called me in and asked me to write some actual dialogue for the play, which I did, in rhymed couplets. 

It was the first of several plays I did with Off-Leash, and remains the collaboration I most enjoy, in large part because the story they came up with, and the exceptional staging of the play. Theater cofounder Jennifer Ilse plays a young girl raised on a small, distant planet, and Ilse, whose background is in dance, created a fascinating series of movements representing near-total freedom from gravity. She inhabits a small box, and scampers around its walls and ceiling with pure weightlessness. Her life is interrupted by a traveling salesman, played by the theater’s other founder, Paul Herwig, and tragedy follows. The play was first produced in a garage owned by the two in 2007, and this is the second year they have brought it back by touring area garages, which they rebuild on the fly into theater spaces. So this weekend the show will be in Brooklyn Park in a garage belonging to two people named Paula and Aaron, and on to a new garage every weekend until October.

I will also be guest judging the Drinkin Spelling Bee at Club 331 on Saturday, the second time I have done this, and will be joined by my girlfriend and bandmate Coco and fellow arts journalist Jay Gabler. For those unfamiliar, the game is just like a regular spelling bee, and the words increase in difficulty from round to round. But people also get to drink between rounds, and, by the time the last round comes about, participants are sometimes a bit hammered and also unexpectedly good spellers, which is a rare combination.

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