Undoubtedly the most storied of cherry liqueurs, Cherry Heering is also among the longest-lived; invented in 1818, it’s remained the category’s calling card for nearly two centuries—and for good reason. Having gained a reputation for quality early on, the liqueur has, in recent decades, earned a strong following among bartenders who regularly ask for it by name, not only in classic recipes like the Singapore Sling and the Blood and Sand, but in new ones, too.
Originally created by Danish merchant Peter Heering, the recipe for his namesake liqueur has changed very little since its invention. Historically produced by macerating crushed Stevns cherries (a particularly aromatic strain native to Denmark) in neutral spirit alongside a blend of spices, Heering is perhaps best known for its uniquely complex flavor profile and rich texture, much of which is imparted during the aging process; prior to bottling, the liqueur sees oak for a minimum of three years, and up to five.
So popular was Heering in the first few decades of its existence that it became a successful worldwide brand—not to mention a favorite of European royalty. A supplier to the Royal Danish Court beginning in 1876, it would make its way to both the Imperial Russian Court and that of the Prince of Wales, in 1878. In 1901, the King of England followed suit, and, to this day, Cherry Heering remains a purveyor to Queen Elizabeth II.
In cocktails, Heering has played a historically critical role, though notably, its centrality to certain iconic recipes has been based more in retroactive decision-making. Though Heering is now widely accepted as an integral component in the Blood and Sand cocktail, for example, the first reference to the drink in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book did not specify brands—nor did similarly dated Singapore Sling recipes, which called simply for “cherry brandy.”
The brand name was formally aligned with both drinks sometime later, and was chiefly a comment on quality. As Dale DeGroff notes in an addendum to his The Essential Cocktail, “There are some products whose best brand is not a matter of dispute, and cherry liqueur is one of them. . . There’s no substitute for this world-class, wonderfully dry, versatile liqueur; if [Cherry Heering’s] not available, don’t make a Blood and Sand.”
When Heering is called for, opinions differ on precisely how much to add in both new and classic drinks. At Fort Defiance in Red Hook, head bartender and owner St. John Frizell adds a full ounce of the liqueur to his Singapore Sling—double the amount specified in many historical recipes.
“That really makes that drink,” explains Frizell. “[Cherry Heering] provides this profound depth of flavor that is hard to get from any other ingredient.” Equally unexpected is his original Koffie Van Brunt, a hot, rum-based drink that showcases Heering alongside espresso. Topped with a cream float, the cherry liqueur lends a deep, complex sweetness to this unorthodox twist on an Irish Coffee.
Bartender Caitlin Pfeiffer, meanwhile, highlights Heering alongside both sweet and savory flavors, calling on falernum and manzanilla sherry in her rye whiskey-based Cooper’s Regard. “[The drink] is about demonstrating how Cherry Heering can bring about its own bold flavor,” she explains, “while simultaneously enhancing the spice notes of [the] other ingredients.”
Brian Miller adopts a similar approach in his nuanced variation on the Bensonhurst (itself a variation on the Manhattan), building on a rye base by adding incremental measures of Cherry Heering, maraschino, dry vermouth and quinquina wine. Dubbed the Emotional Rescue by Donna’s Karen Fu, the drink calls for just half a teaspoon of Cherry Heering.
“A small amount goes a long way to achieve balance,” explains Fu, who asserts that, unlike other liqueurs, Cherry Heering on its own isn’t necessarily pleasant, let alone palatable. Nonetheless, she gives it a coveted spot on the backbar.
“Cherry Heering is a liqueur that may surprisingly remain as a classic mainstay in the ever-growing cherry category,” says Fu. “[It] bridges the gap of old and new guard in the spirit world; we continue to come back to it.”