Editor’s Note: This product was provided to us as a review sample by Eastside Distilling. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
“Doing things a little differently” should be the slogan for Eastside Distilling of Portland, Oregon. They hold a unique distinction as the first and only publicly traded craft distillery and this year introduced a Maraschino Cherry Whiskey using Luxardo Cherry Liqueur. Founded in 2008, Portland’s Eastside Distilling is tucked away on Portland’s famed Distillery Row.
Luxardo of Padova, Italy, creates their cherry liqueur with the skins, pits, leaves, and stems of the summer Marasca cherry, which imparts a robust and complex flavor. The cherries are left in a larchwood vat for up to three years before being distilled in copper pot stills. The distillate is diluted with water and sugar to bring the ABV down to 32% and bottled as the ‘original’ Maraschino liqueur. The resulting liquor is the same family recipe that has been in practice for over 200 years.
The Luxardo brand began in 1821 with Girolamo Luxardo in Zadar, a city in modern-day Croatia that was part of Venice at the time. After World War II, the distillery was moved to Torreglia in Veneto, and grew into one of the most important distilleries in the entire country. Remarkably the company continues to be held by the original founding family. Over the centuries they have expanded their operation; and to many the company “Luxardo” needs no introduction. Like Beam-Suntory, they have holdings around the globe in nearly every varietal of liquor.
On the opposite side of the Earth, Eastside Distilling was founded in 2008 in Portland, Oregon. As a brand they are developing their own portfolio which now includes Burnside Bourbon, Hue-Hue Coffee Rum, Portland Potato Vodka, and Azunia Tequila. Eastside already has a flavored whiskey, a marionberry whiskey which uses local Willamette Valley fruit. In 2021 the bottle received a much-needed facelift, but at its core the product remains the popular 60-proof blend of Eastside whiskey and marionberries.
In a press release for the Maraschino Cherry Whiskey, Eastside Head Distiller Jason Ericson said, “combining Old World Liqueur with select casks of New World American whiskey creates a unique and approachable product that’s the perfect addition to any bar, and is sure to entice consumers new to the world of whiskey. This unique fruited whiskey is guaranteed to transport the senses to the Italian Riviera.”
Two things make this whiskey different. The first, Eastside is marketing this to consumers not as a straight whiskey with cherry flavoring, but more as a cocktail base or mixer. Typically I see these types of drinks being sold as whiskey(+)–think Fireball. A brand takes some whiskey and pumps it full of syrups or other additives and attempts to sell it as a legitimate whiskey product. Here though, Luxardo and Eastside make a tactical change and market this towards the growing cocktail crowd over the straight whiskey or spring breaker crowds.
The second interesting aspect of this product is the use of Luxardo cherry liqueur. This is the flagship product of the Luxardo brand, and the family doesn’t appear to be in the business of tarnishing that reputation. Which makes the fact Eastside Distilling is not only using the product, but in bold letters identifies the Luxardo liqueur in the bottle more impressive. Eastside had to receive exclusive permission from Luxardo to make this cherry whiskey liqueur.
For me, this meant a different approach to review. If you are looking at purchasing a bottle, it’s important to understand you’re not buying a whiskey. You’re buying a complex blended beverage that is intended for use more like Campari or a vermouth than a traditional whiskey. With that in mind, we turn to the glass.
Whiskey Review: Eastside Distilling Maraschino Cherry Whiskey
Vital Stats: Eastside Distilling. 30% ABV or 60 proof. A blend of Luxardo cherry liqueur and American whiskey. MSRP: $39.95, Portland, Oregon.
Appearance: Deep red, amber. The golden hue of whiskey is softened by the cherry red. The legs are even and thick in the glass.
Nose: Extremely sweet, with some cherry tartness. I struggle to find any whiskey overtones. There are very mild wisps of wood, and hints of cereal grain.
Palate: A cherry bomb to start, but despite this there is no syrup texture. It has a mild oily feel over the tongue and a smooth mouth feel. The whiskey shows up over the mid-palate with light honey and wood char, complementing the cherry liqueur nicely without directly competing. Overall, this hits with a lot of cherry and very subtle whiskey.
What fun! If you’re looking for a whiskey to drink straight, this is going to be very disappointing. However, if you want to make a robust Manhattan, a cherry whiskey sour, or even a Deshler, this will make an instant difference. The Luxardo liqueur is very powerful and the whiskey fades into the background but maintains excellent balance.
I admit I tried this neat at room temperature, which I would not recommend. In fairness to its intended purpose though I made a Deshler, and it was incredible. I substituted 1oz rye whiskey for 1oz cherry whiskey, and it made an immediate positive impact. Ultimately this is a specialty beverage, and when used in cocktails you won’t be disappointed. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone looking to add flair to a standard cocktail or dress up a dessert.
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Charles Steele is a Portland area attorney, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. His legal education affords him an analytical approach to understanding whiskey and other aged spirits. Traditionally a legal writer, freelancing for The Whiskey Wash will prove a unique opportunity to flex his writing skills. Although he...