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Recipe for Excellent Cocktail Cherries

This came up in another thread, and another hound used my recipe and loved it.

Short story this recipe, which I developed myself, results in the best cocktail cherry I have ever had by a very long stretch, including Luxardo and Fabbri brands... It results in a firm, sweet, slightly spicy cherry that stands up to just about any cocktail.

Cocktail Cherry Recipe:
- Blanch unpitted cherries (I use them with the pit in) in very Salty boiling water for 4 minutes (this keeps them firm)
- Rinse and soak for a few minutes in cool water to get rid of salt
- Place cherries in large jar

Add healthy amounts of the following: star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice, anise seed, fennel seed
- Make some REALLY concentrated red hibiscus tea (this is to help the cherries keep their color) and add 1/2 cup to the bottle
- If you can find some good cherry juice, or are crazy enough to make some fresh yourself, add a cup to the jar
- Fill the rest of the jar with vodka or cheap brandy
- Add sugar to taste
- Wait at least a month

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    1. I usually pit the cherries beforehand (though I leave the pits and stems in for flavor) -- just wondering whether you think blanching in salted water would still work when doing it this way, and if so, if you'd blanch then pit or the other way around.

      I usually use lemon juice in mine, but don't do anything else to help the cherries keep their color, and I'm always pretty satisfied with how they look.

      BTW, how cheap do folks usually go with the brandy, and does anyone have specific recommendations for a brandy that's cheap but still good quality? I usually use a better quality brandy, just because that's what we have around anyway, but I'm sure it is a waste of good brandy.

      5 Replies
      1. re: will47

        Hmmmm, good questions. Wonder if blanching pitted cherries would effect them in a negative way. Lemon juice sounds like a good suggestion.

        I add so much spice, cherry juice etc. that you really can't taste the brandy per se. But certainly something like this Spanish Presidente would be more than acceptable:


        Or this:


        1. re: will47

          maybe some Averna or Amaro Nonino instead of brandy?

          1. re: will47

            Evil. Pure genius. I would think would need the brandy too for the alcohol, although there's something nicely wrong about Averna and some nastly overproof spirit like W&N rum. Makes me smile just thinking about all those spices and amaro and rum funk.

            Nonino is a little dear for this, no?

            1. re: EvergreenDan

              Honestly there is so much going on in these spice wise already I would not add rum (too funky) or any amaro. Make em, try em, they are already pushing over doing it, adding rum or amaro would be over kill.

            2. re: will47

              I pit mine and discard the pits. I don't blanch and they look purple/grey after curing, which doesn't bother me. Maybe a little acid would help.

              I'd posted earlier about the brandy (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/588147). I still like the Torres and use it.

              My plan for cherry season this year is to add a bit more simple syrup (my previous efforts came out alcohol hot) and maybe some acid.

            3. do you use sour cherries? thanks

              1 Reply
              1. re: geminigirl

                I used bing, going to try sour this year.

              2. any ideas on how to do this with dried cherries? I found some nice large plump dried cherries at Trader Joes the other day....?

                7 Replies
                1. re: fenway68

                  Hmmmmm, how bout soaking them in Marachino liquer or some other cherry liquer and then adding spices.

                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    was thinking of that, but then..
                    1. no syrup
                    2. the alcohol might leach color from the cherries..

                    would your method work, sans the brine, if i made a half : 1 simple that i infused with spices, so that the extra water might plump the cherries, or make a 1:1 simple infusion, add cherries and then use the booze to help plump??

                    i think i will try this, hope i will have good news to report.

                    My first attempt with real cherries was Jacues Pepin's method i found. they were god awful.

                    I want to dupe the Luxardos as best i can.

                    1. re: fenway68

                      Mine are NOT like the Luxardo ones which I find WAY too sticky and preserved fruit-iish. Mine have way more fruit character.

                      You might just soak them in the bare minimum of water to plump up, retain the water and then proceed with the recipe above. I've made them two or three times now and I mix it up ever time. Found some REALLY good cherry jam at a Russian market and I used that instead of the cherry juice this time. YUM.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        if i can find good cherries come summer i will be sure to try your recipe, however, i happen to like the sticky perserved fruit-ish character of the Luxardo..just my taste, although wouldnt turn down a plump fresh plump boozy cherry either...

                        hoping someone can steer me to a method to replicate luxardo's sticky goodness, possibly even using the dried fruit i have on hand..guess i must experiment..supposed to snow tommorow...project?

                        1. re: StriperGuy

                          would the liquid from this be good in cocktails? Specifically, as a sub for luxardo in an aviation?

                          1. re: Pei

                            No Luxardo Maraschino is VERY different, cherry pit flavor, quite excellent.

                            Luxardo Triple Sec and Amaretto are my absolute favorites as well.

                        2. re: fenway68

                          I have made several batches using dried bing cherries, which I've soaked in maraschino liqueur, cognac, and bourbon, alone and combined (see below). In my opinion your concerns are not really warranted.

                          With regard to syrup, you'll get plenty of syrupy, cherry-flavored goodness after they soak for a while. And I re-use the syrup (topping up with a bit more booze) on consecutive batches, thereby creating an increasingly intense cherry extract. Very nice stuff.

                          With regard to color, you're absolutely correct that the alcohol leaches color from the cherries, but they're still quite red after the process. Given that the cherries are dried you won't get a glowing beautiful shade of red, but rather a dark, almost maroon red. After a long time they will eventually turn kind of gray, but that takes at least six to nine months in my experience, and hopefully you will have used the cherries by then. And if not, no big deal. They're just dried cherries soaked in booze. Plus you should really only have this problem on the first batch, if you re-use the soaking liquid as I like to do.

                          A more pressing concern is texture. Depending on the brand it can take anywhere from a month to three months for the cherries to transform from chewy to something you'd want to put into a drink, so a bit of patience is required. Dried cherries will never return to the plump state of a fresh cherry, and various people have stated that they don't like the results of rehydration, but I'm personally a fan.

                          By the way, with regard to soaking liquid: I did only a single bourbon batch; results were pretty good, but a bit limiting in terms of how the cherries could be used. Pure maraschino came out too sweet for my taste. Cognac works very nicely, but needs a bit of something to make it more interesting. Best for my taste buds: 3/4 cognac, 1/4 maraschino.

                          And one other aside: once you have your cherries, immediately make Jamie Boudreau's excellent Black Monk cocktail -- by far the best use I've found for them to date:


                    2. I've been meaning for some time to report on my success with this.

                      I made two batches of cherries last summer using StriperGuy's recipe as a basis. I used Wild Turkey Rye (101 proof) and "healthy" amounts of spices. One batch I blanched the cherries, the other not. I pitted them.

                      I'd be interested in hearing more specifics about how your recipe has developed. My cherries came out too boozey and too strongly spiced, particularly in the licorice dimension (with three spices contributing to this).

                      I've been slowly using them up. I added a bunch of sour cherry syrup to cut the boozy taste, and I removed the spices as soon as I realized the problem, but they are still too spicy. (The only sugar in them is from the syrup). They are pleasant in a Manhattan, but a bit much to eat at the end.

                      I could not find hibiscus tea, so I used dehydrated flowers (which I think are actually candied). Didn't add much red color.

                      Next cherry season, I'll try again.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: EvergreenDan

                        Hmmmmm, mine are really yummy right out of the jar. I also bought some killer cherry jam from Baza here in Boston those added some really intense cherry flavor to my last batch.

                        Sorry yours were too spicy...

                      2. I just finished prepping two batches of cocktail cherries today, borrowing some ideas from this thread. I used sour "pie" cherries in each (not sure of the variety but they are medium-small sized and bright red, on the delicate side).

                        In the larger batch, I made a concentrated tisane of hibiscus flowers, then added about 1/3 c. demerera sugar, a few cloves, a piece of cracked nutmeg, about 12-15 cracked cherry pits, a small piece of cinnamon, 2 slices of ginger, a piece of star anise, a small piece of vanilla bean, and a couple of strips of orange peel. Added the unpitted cherries and covered with some $12 brandy and a little Barbancourt 3-star rum.

                        For the second, smaller batch, I filled an empty Bonne Maman jar with half a split vanilla bean, 2-3 drops of real almond extract, a few cherry pits, a few tablespoons of sliced almonds, demerera sugar, and added the cherries covered in brandy.

                        I'll be interested to see how they turn out---waiting will be hard!

                        Edit: after reading this and a few other recipes, I added some lemon juice to each batch, too.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ChristinaMason

                          Num num, please report back once they have steeped a bit.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            I got impatient (surprise) and tried one of each. The almond vanilla-almond cherries are very good already, while the spiced ones need to let the flavors develop and the brandy to mellow (those had less sugar, proportionally, than the vanilla ones). I think both batches are going to be really tasty after aging.

                            My husband tasted the vanilla-almond ones and suggested we buy more cherries to make a few more batches before cherry season ends. I want to try these with Bing and the mottled yellow-red (mild tasting) cherries, too.

                            1. re: ChristinaMason


                              Yah last time I did them I made like a two year supply. A year later they still taste amazing.

                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                Checking in again. The cherries have only improved with time. I think I actually prefer the spiced cherries, now that they've had time for the flavors to meld and the alcohol to cool down. They are more versatile for cocktails compared to vanilla-almond, which are sweeter and delicious for eating out of hand, but I hesitate to use something so sweet and aromatic in cocktails where I want to showcase the liquor. I am really happy I made these and am slowly working my way through both batches. Thanks, StriperGuy, for the inspiration---IMNSHO, these beat any cocktail cherries I've tried from local (D.C.) mixologists.

                        2. I know this is an old thread, but I didn't want to start a new one. I remember reading this a while back, but never got around to making my own cocktail cherries. Well, I happened to pick up some sour / tart cherries and decided to try my luck. These were not super firm, but tasted great while fresh. I started to pit them and then thought, hmmm, maybe the salt water blanch will firm them up. Well, that was a mistake with such soft cherries. About 1 min in and the skins started to peel off. I quickly drained and cooled then and decided, screw it, toss them in the booze, sugar, spice mixture and see what happens.

                          They are sitting in the jars now and I'll see how they are in a few weeks. We happened to have some regular firm red cherries in the fridge, so I tossed 4-5 in one of the jars that had room to compare. I should have known that these were too soft, but based on other reports of using the sour cherries, I decided to give it a whirl. Also, the red cherries were all enormous and I like a smaller cherry in a cocktail. Hopefully the taste will be good. I don't care too much about the look.

                          Striper, you are a local, where do you find the cherries you use? Are they the very large red cherries I see at Russos and other markets or do you find smaller ones? Thanks!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Ali G

                            I've just used standard bing cherries, huge, firm, sweet, buy em whever I can find em cheap.

                            I think if I was using sour cherries I would make sure they were on the greener side of ripe, and would blanch them for 10 seconds, TOPS if at all. Might experiment a little.

                          2. Coming upon this thread late, using pure spirits, or spirits and just sugar, doesn't allow for full development of the cherries. The spirits need to be a lower proof, so cut with water or juice, and add sugar. The lower proof and sugar help to create a better balance in the final product. 1:1 spirits and syrup/juice & sugar to lower proof to around 20-30% works well.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: JMF

                              But doesn't the act of the cherries and sugar syrup (much less some extra cherry juice) becoming part of the solution lower the proof? You have exchange of liquids from within the cherries as it all mellows out. Pack a jar full of cherries and measure how much booze you can cram in the nooks left and it doesn't amount to much at all, which then probably is closer to equal to the amount of liquid that could be obtained from said cherries in jar. On an older post about making cocktail cherries (Striper will know this) there was a few links spread about, one of which was very scientific about obtaining perfect non-mushy cherries, having to do with equalizing conditions (also with the help of a certain chemical) outside of the cherry as to prevent osmosis of sugars, or some boulder dash that of course I can't explain properly but have a faint grasping of that someone else will come along and correct. :P I'm not sure how much of that was necessary, but its all fairly interesting for just a jar of cocktail cherries!

                              Here, I have procured said link! http://www.artofdrink.com/blog/marasc...

                              1. re: LittleTeapott

                                That's an interesting read. I have 3 jars in my fridge now loosely following Striper's recipe .I left out some of the spice since I was looking for something a bit more mellow. Two jars contain the tart cherries I picked up which I think were too soft for this process. The third has the remaining Bing cherries I had kicking around (sorry kids, Dad needs them for Manhattans). I also found some dried cherries that I tossed into each jar as an experiment to see how they would do.

                                I found that straight booze strips the color from the cherries. I didn't make the tea or add cherry juice, so that probably takes care of the color bleaching out. Mine is more of a simple syrup, but not a 1:1 like JMF suggested. I'm more booze heavy, but of course, I didn't take notes so I don't recall the measurements.

                                What I found was that about a week in the liquid the cherries still tasted very boozy. However, after 2-3 weeks something magical happened. The liquid took on the cherry flavor, the booze mellowed, and the cherries are awesome! I might have to keep myself from drinking the syrup. The dried cherries and the Bings are delicious, but very different size and texture. I just added more of the dried to the drink to compensate. I'll tast one of the sour cherries later to see how those held up. I can see this becoming something I make every summer now so I'm stocked for winter.