How to Make Cocktail Cherries

A white bowl full of cocktail cherries, a lemon peel, cinnamon stick, and cloves.

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.

Two Manhattan Cocktails place behind a bowl of cherries.

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.

A Manhattan cocktail in a gold rimmed coupe glass garnished with three cherries on a stick.

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.

A clear glass bowl full of sour cherries.

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.

A jar full of ready to be canned cocktail cherries topped with a lemon peel.

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.

A Manhattan cocktail in a gold rimmed coupe glass garnished with three cherries on a stick.

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.

Two Manhattan Cocktails place behind a bowl of cherries.

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.

A white bowl full of cocktail cherries, a lemon peel, cinnamon stick, and cloves.

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. 

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. 

Pinterest image of a bowl of cocktail cherries with cinnamon, lemon peel, and cloves. Cocktail cherries in a jar.
Yield: 6 half pint (250 ml) jars

Cocktail Cherries

Two Manhattan Cocktails place behind a bowl of cherries.

Homemade Cocktail Cherries are a delightful and easy-to-make treat. Use them for garnishing cocktails, serve them on ice cream or baked into a cake, They also make a great gift for cocktail loving friends and family.

Prep Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs (907 g) sour cherries; pitted (or sweet cherries) 
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • 1 cup brandy or bourbon
  • 1 lemon; juiced & peeled into 6 strips
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 whole cloves

Instructions

Canning Preparation

    1. Wash and sterilize jars by placing them upside down in a tray of water and leaving them in a 225 F oven for at least 10 minutes.
    2. Wash and place jar lids, rings, funnel and measuring cup in a large saucepan and cover with hot water. Bring to a slight boil, keep warm.

Preparing the Cherries

  1. Meanwhile, place the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks, lemon peel, and cloves in a large saucepan. Heat to allow sugar to dissolve. Add small amounts of additional water if needed.
  2. Add the cherries to the syrup and allow to simmer for one minute.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in Luxardo and Brandy/Bourbon. Turn heat back on and heat until just about simmering. Do not allow to boil.

Canning the Cherries

    1. Once you are ready to jar the Cherries, take two hot jars out of the oven. Using a measuring cup and funnel, fill them and top up with a bit of syrup. Leave about 1 cm of head space.
    2. Tap the jars on the counter top to remove any air bubbles and add more syrup if needed. Quickly top with a lid and fasten the ring just slightly, not too tightly.
    3. Let the jars to cool undisturbed for 8-12 hours. Check each jar to see if it has sealed. If not, store them in the refrigerator.
    4. Allow the jars to sit in a dark, cool spot for two weeks. Enjoy!



Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 103Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 0gSugar: 20gProtein: 0g

Nutritional calculation was provided by Nutritionix and is an estimation only. For special diets or medical issues please use your preferred calculator.

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52 comments

  1. Angela Wilson

    Hi Bernice, do you reuse the leftover liquor for anything one the cherries are gone?

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      I don’t really reuse it as such but I do repurpose it. The juice is great IN a cocktail and poured over ice cream!

  2. Jess

    Hello,

    I just purchased some cherries from St. Jacob’s Market in Ontario (A huge Mennonite Outdoor/Indoor Market) and I now have little red, slightly soft sour cherries, black, slightly soft sour cherries (ideal for black forest cake) and regular sweet cherries from a Chinese grocer that are slight bland in flavour though firm in feel. I was wondering if you could elaborate on the ideal types of brandy to use in this recipe and whether or not your recipes takes into account the softness of the cherries re: cooking them. This is the first time I’ve managed to collect fresh sour cherries. Additionally, re: sterilization, do the jars of finished product require additional heating (I’ve always used the double boiling method)? Thanks

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Hi Jess. It’s very difficult to get sour cherries that aren’t soft. As soon as they come off the tree they start to soften. This is why they are only in the syrup for a minute…then placed in the hot jars. Next the boiled syrup is added to the jars (after the alcohol is added). If everything stays hot and you work quickly, you will hear the familiar pop as the jars seal. For this recipe, I do not recommend double boiling here because 1) the cherries will turn to mush 2) With the jars sterilized, the hot cherries and syrup added, and the hot jar lids PLUS the alcohol, the cherries are just fine as long as the jars seal. IF they don’t, I recommend placing them in the fridge. I originally tried to can them with the alcohol…and they all opened up and ciphered out because the alcohol evaporates as the water boils. These are boozy as heck.
      Also, I don’t really specify what kind of brandy because it’s up to your budget. I used a moderately priced brandy, not too expensive but also not bottom of the barrel with harsh flavours. I actually asked at my local liquor store and they were extremely helpful in that regard. Hope this helps!

  3. LESLIE M KRONE

    I love making my own cherries. I’m curious though about your canning method. You don’t need to water bath them?

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Hi Leslie. As long as everything is hot (just under boiling) when you fill the jars they will seal on their own. These are pretty boozy, so I don’t recommend a hot water bath. If any jars don’t seal, I keep them in the fridge.

  4. Moop Brown

    I really appreciate how detailed and descriptive this recipe is and the fact that frozen cherries can be used for it as well.

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      I try my best to give accurate, trustworthy recipes. Hope you do try it!

  5. Loreto and Nicoletta

    What a grwat pist. We don’t do to many cocktails but would like to do more. I have to say didn’t really like the maraschino cherries the ones that look so red and are super sweet. Your look so appealing, that deep color, the plumpness. Just beautiful and I can imagine the flavor they add to s nice cocktail! Well done, I learned so much!❤👍🙏😛😍

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Oh for sure…I cannot stand maraschino cherries either, homemade is always better!

  6. Kate

    What a wonderful article! This looks so refreshing and delicious , I can’t wait to make my own cocktail cherries at home.

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      I hope you do, they are worth it!

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