Homemade Cocktail Cherries are a delightful and easy-to-make treat. Use them for garnishing cocktails, serve them on ice cream sundaes or bake them into a cake. They also make a great gift for cocktail loving friends and family.
Around here, cocktail hour is a ritual. I love playing around with different flavours and mixing up both classic and re-imagined cocktails. While I am thrilled with a properly made Old Fashioned, I also love experimenting with smoke, shown here in this Smoked Saskatoon Rye Whisky Flip Cocktail and fire like in this Friday Flame Tiki Cocktail.
Cocktail Cherries for the Connoisseur
Have you ever made yourself the perfect Manhattan cocktail, then had to hunt around for an acceptable garnish? Don’t settle for store bought Maraschino cherries; the red dye makes them taste like a chemical experiment gone horribly wrong.
The good news is that Cocktail Cherries are simple to make and contain loads of real cherry flavour. They are a bit boozy on their own so be warned…they are incredibly addictive straight out of the jar!
The OG Maraschino Cherry: Luxardo Cocktail Cherries
When searching for a garnish for your cocktail, consider the difference between Maraschino Cherries from grocery stores and premium Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. There really is no comparison.
One is bright, sickly sweet, and pumped full of chemicals. The other is made in Italy using locally grown Marasca cherries and a liqueur that takes four years to make. The original Luxardo family recipe has been used for over 200 years!
Which Cherries Make the Best Cocktail Cherries?
I’ve made several batches of cocktail cherries using both sweet and sour cherries. I like mine with a bit of a sour edge to them but sweet varieties such as Bing or Lapin work nicely too. Keep in mind that the sweeter varieties will be slightly larger than sour varieties.
Sour cherry varieties such as Morello, Montmorency, Amarena, and Marasca work well for cocktail cherries if you can find them. Here on the prairies, both Evans and Nanking varities are perfect for preserving.
Using Frozen Cherries to Make Cocktail Cherries
Since fresh cherries (both sweet and sour) freeze really well, freezing is a great way to preserve them for later use. Just place the pitted cherries in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and carefully place in the freezer.
Once frozen, transfer the cherries to a freezer bag and store for up to a year. Simply thaw and use as directed in the recipe below.
Note: Some stores may carry frozen pitted sour cherries. If you find them, snap them up because pitting tiny sour cherries is a fiddly and time consuming activity. You have better things to do, like drink cocktails!
Roasted Cocktail Cherries
To add a bit of tartness to sweet red cherries, I sometimes roast them with a bit of balsamic vinegar before preserving them in alcohol. This extra step adds a whole other flavour dimension!
To roast sweet cherries, pre-heat the oven to 450 F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place 4-6 cups pitted cherries on the parchment and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until they become softened.
Enjoy the roasted cherries on ice cream, crostini, or preserve as cocktail cherries.
Which Alcohol Should I Use?
Classic Luxardo premium Cocktail Cherries are preserved in fermented Marasca cherry juice liqueur. However, changing up the booze used in this recipe is a great way to preserve the cherries to suit your own taste preferences.
For this recipe I used Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and Brandy but Bourbon and Kirsch also work well. Other ‘brown’ alcohols such as Scotch, Tequila, Rye, Rum or Anejo Tequila also offer interesting flavour options.
Preserving Cherries for Cocktails
Making your own cocktail cherries couldn’t be easier. Break the process down into three steps (more detailed instructions are located in the recipe card). Begin by inspecting, washing, and sterilizing the jars, lids, and rings. Keep them hot.
Next, make the syrup by assembling the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks, lemon peel, and cloves together in a saucepan. Heat the mixture until boiling then remove it from the heat and add the alcohol. Keep it hot, but do not allow the syrup to boil again.
Using a jar funnel, fill the hot jars with cherries then pour in hot syrup, leaving 1 cm head space. Wipe the rim before placing a hot lid on the jar and tightening the ring.
Allow to cool and listen for the characteristic lid ‘pop’ which means the jars have sealed. Do not disturb for 12 hours.
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How to Store Cocktail Cherries
Store sealed jars of cocktail cherries in a cool, dark basement for up to a year (if you find a jar that hasn’t sealed, it will be fine in the fridge). Once opened, store for up to a year in a refrigerator. Do not consume if the cherries have any visible mold, ‘off’ smell, or effervescence. When in doubt, throw it out.