This is the second in a two-part series on cocktail cherries. For the first blog post on why you should avoid generic Maraschino cherries and some good alternatives you can purchase, click here
Now that we’ve established how important a good cherry is to a cocktail recipe, it’s time to make our own. For this, Joel and I created four different cocktail cherry recipes and, through some trial and error, discovered some tricks to making good cherries that will work regardless of the recipe you use.
- Use frozen cherries. Nearly every Little Rock bartender we spoke to about this post recommended using Private Selection Handpicked Dark Sweet Cherries from Kroger. The cherries are big and meaty, and since they’re already pitted, there’s a lot less mess involved. If you have access to a supply of very fresh cherries and don’t mind removing the pits on your own, you are more than welcome to give that a try. But for a no-fuss alternative that still maintains good quality, these Kroger frozen cherries will get the job done.
- Timing is important. Specifically, the amount of time the cherries will spend macerating in the syrup you use matters. Do you need these cherries for a cocktail party tomorrow night? Use more alcohol and less water. Are you planning on keeping these cherries for a month or longer? Increase your water content and reduce the liquor used. We found after 10 days that the cherries were fully saturated, and the recipes that were most successful had the highest water content.
- Don’t forget the sugar. In two recipes, we used no sugar. These were by far the least successful batches we made. The cherries need sugar to balance out the flavors they are absorbing. Otherwise, you end up with a fruit that tastes like a more bitter version of the liquor you used. In the case of the cherries we made with straight brandy, the final product tasted like cough syrup. Certainly not what you want in your cocktail. Your final elixir that you pour over the cherries should be decidedly sweet.
- Play with spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla bean are common spices you can find in cocktail cherry recipes, but there’s nothing stopping you from working in some clove, star anise, cardamom, or even some candied ginger. Our favorite recipes all used multiple spices to provide some depth to the final product. Experiment and find what works for you.
- Use liquor. As we saw in the first blog post, it’s very difficult to make a balanced cherry in a virgin syrup. Spirits can give the cherry more depth and create a natural play with the cocktail. Our experiment found brandy accentuated the flavor of the cherry very successfully, but bourbon is another obvious choice. You could also use amaretto, amaro, or even rum. Playing with the type of spirit you use is just another way to make these cherries your own.
Keeping these tips in mind, here is a basic cocktail cherry recipe you can use as is or as a foundation for your own experiments:
Cocktail Cherries recipe (makes 2 pints)
- 1 pound bag Private Selection frozen cherries (Kroger brand)
- Four half-pint jars with seals and lids
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup brandy
4 Recipes; 4 Old Fashioneds
- Divide cherries equally among the four jars.
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine sugar and water, whisking occasionally to combine.
- Once simmering, reduce to low heat and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add cinnamon, lemon juice, vanilla, and nutmeg.
- Let simmer for 2-3 more minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Remove cinnamon stick and stir in brandy.
- Pour cooled mixture over cherries.
- Seal, date and label each jar. Due to the alcohol content, cherries can theoretically be stored for a month or longer, but are best enjoyed within 3-7 days.
Have any cocktail cherry recipes of your own? Maybe you have some other ideas for spice and liquor combinations that would be interesting. We’d love to hear from you in the comments.