Posted on September 1, 2011
The true cherry. For those readers in Oregon, the old world has you beat this time. Your Maraschino are imitations of something much more precious. Something made without corn syrup and artificial colors. Even the “natural Maraschino” you produce are not true to the name. I have stumbled upon genuine Marasca cherries, in Luxardo liqueur. As black as an olive, as sweet as they ought to be (not overly), and so rich with the flavor of something in its second form– the sweet-tart flame of its past life flickering across our tongues. The texture is also like an olive– firm but quickly devoured. That is, after sipping my new favorite cocktail, The Montserrat. Like a martini, but lost in the Chihuahuan desert, or the Alps, I am not sure which. A crepuscular cordial, perfect for after dinner.
The liqueur the cherries rest in before ending up in my drink is made from sour marasche cherries, and rare in that it is a distilled liqueur. It is sweet, and flavorful, but nothing like the fruit liqueurs that go into all those fru-fru drinks. No bitter after taste of artificial flavors.
Where, you may ask, can we find The Montserrat? Well friends, my new favorite spot in downtown, Ocho Lounge. Where can we find the Luxardo cherry? Italy perhaps. Or some internet shop. Or behind the bar here. But probably not many other places. I was told that as of six months ago, there was only one distributor in the U.S. for these cherries.
As I watched the bartender carefully spoon the cherry into the drink, made from Sotol Anejo, St. Germaine, Vermouth and bitters, I couldn’t help but interrupt his careful process and ask what it was sinking to the bottom of the glass. And this was after I had already eaten one. So foreign the real preserved cherry is to our palates! This is a serious cocktail, mainly for its complex flavors and intensity (no juice, only alcohol), but also on the sweeter side of drinks. Although NOT fru-fru.
This narrow but spacious and airy bar, housed in a sort of green house between the riverwalk and the historic but now retro Hotel Havana (of which it is joined), is swanky but relaxed. You could have a grown-up birthday party (even wearing a tutu), or a hot date. Or even just go alone and read poetry while sitting on a velvet couch, and no matter how hard you tried not to, you would look cool. I didn’t think people did that kind of thing here in San Antonio, but maybe we just needed this place to start.
The first time I was here late on a Friday night, the bartender was very busy. But even though I waited an hour before going back for my second Montserrat, he remembered my drink. Then when I quizzed him on the cherries, he gave me a shot of the Luxardo liqueur. That was when I vowed to return with my camera. As well as my favorite cherry-eater, Tlacuache. In fact, I wanted to surprise him with the cherry discovery, and so I just told him I wanted to take him for a cocktail that he might like. He replied soberly, “I like cocktails with maraschino cherries.” (As if I didn’t know this from making him Old Fashioneds all winter long.) Now he would like to know how to get more Luxardo cherries.
You can have a lot of other fancy-pants (or tutus) drinks here, all of them with a snazzy mixture of premium artisan liqueurs, fresh fruit, good service. All this while gazing down upon the quiet and most serene part of the riverwalk.
I think anyone who tends bar with that view all night, making such beautiful drinks, is probably a bit spoiled, as service industry jobs go. The Montserrat is a perfect symbol for their claim to having been inspired by the union of old and new worlds. Old world wins for cherries, new world for Sotol Anejo. Bon vivants in South Texas, life is sweet.