Thirsty Thursday: Cherry Basil Blitz
I love to go into large liquor stores and find some strange alcohol I’ve never had. I am particularly partial to bitter liqueurs made with herbs, flowers, and fruit like Campari, Lillet, Cinzano and others. They all tend to have these antique-y looking labels and anytime I see one I don’t recognize, I stop and check it out. During a recent trip, I stumbled across Luxardo Maraschino liqueur all the way down on the bottom shelf. It’s made with Marasca cherries and the crushed cherry pits are left in for flavor as well. The pits give this clear syrupy sweet liqueur a pleasant bitterness. It has a nice herbaceous component too. It’s definitely not like the flavor you get from the florescent red jarred Maraschino cherries; it’s more sophisticated than that. I like it… wouldn’t drink it on its own (too sweet for me) but I think it will find a home in many drinks around here. I convinced Tom to use it in his Manhattan and named it a ‘Ms. Manhattan’. He approved.
I had some fresh cherries lingering in the fridge so I cut them up and muddled them to boost the cherry flavor and cursed myself again for not owning a cherry pitter. (It’s really not bad since you only have to pit a few, but still.) After tasting the Maraschino liqueur by itself, I thought it could use something to brighten it a bit. I went outside and fetched some purple basil and some thyme to taste with it. The basil won.
The first time I try a new alcohol, I try to keep it simple to give the flavors a chance to come through and “teach” my palate what else it might play well with later. Here, I followed the same rule: some cherries to enhance, some basil to compliment, and some bubbles for fizz.
Why the ‘Blitz’? Football season is here! Tonight is the first game of the 2010 Rutgers (my alma mater) Football season. We’re season ticket holders and I leave almost every game hoarse. By the time this gets posted, I’ll be tailgating in our usual spot, with our usual crew, eating something greasy, drinking something far less sophisticated, and wearing my Scarlet Ray Rice jersey.
The Cherry Basil Blitz gets a gorgeous ruby scarlet hue from the muddled cherries. It’s quite tasty and you might find yourself at the bottom of your glass rather quickly. Watch out for the blitz!
Cherry Basil Blitz
¼ cup pitted cherries, plus extra for garnish
3 – 4 basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
1½ ounce Luxardo Maraschino cherry liqueur
Tonic or seltzer (your preference*)
Fill a high ball glass with ice; set aside. Put the cherries and the basil in the bottom of an empty cocktail shaker. Using a muddler (or the top of a wooden spoon), smash the cherries and basil together, taking care to really press on the basil to release its oils. Add in the cherry liqueur and the ice from your glass. Shake vigorously for 1 – 2 minutes. Add more ice to your glass and strain the cherry-basil-liqueur mix over the ice. Top off the drink with tonic or seltzer. Top with some quartered cherries and a chiffonade of basil for garnish. Enjoy!
*The quinine in tonic will give the drink another bit of bitter. To keep it on the sweeter side, use plain seltzer or even some unsweetened cherry seltzer if you’re feeling extra fancy.