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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Add the cherries to the syrup and allow to simmer for one minute.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Allow the jars to sit in a dark, cool spot for two weeks. Enjoy!
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.
My cherries are turning kinda purple in color and look a little winkled. They have been in the jars for 3 days. Is this normal?
Yes. It’s normal.
I made these for the first time with sour cherries given to me from an local urban farm. I think I either missed some details or they weren’t written. I believe I cooked them in the sugar and alcohol sauce too long as they are pretty mushy and I added too much liquid into the jars, instead of just packing in the cherries and adding liquid on top. The recipe doesn’t state how many jars or their sizes and pint jars are too large in my opinion, I used a combination of pint and jam jars (8 oz) and the jam jars are much better. I would love to try this recipe again as I think a couple of “tweaks” would make all the difference. Thanks – I am excited to try them.
Sorry your cherries didn’t work out. I would say you missed some details. For example, I do list to use 6 half pint jars, not pint jars. It also says to cook them for one minute only. Basically, you just want to bring them up to temperature, not actually cook them.
Hi Bernice, do you reuse the leftover liquor for anything one the cherries are gone?
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!
Glad I read the comments. I could not find anywhere how many jars and what size to use.
You mean other than the 2x in the recipe card? 1) Up in the ‘serving’ area and 2) Step 1 in the instructions? It says 6 half pint (250 ml) jars. How can I make this clearer?
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
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!
I love making my own cherries. I’m curious though about your canning method. You don’t need to water bath them?
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.
To clarify – does the syrup need to be boiled? The recipe states that the syrup is to be heated only until the sugar dissolves.
Hi Natasha. Did you stop reading partway through Preparing the Cherries step 1? Here is what the rest of the instructions say:
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.
Add the cherries to the syrup and allow to simmer for one minute.
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.
I really appreciate how detailed and descriptive this recipe is and the fact that frozen cherries can be used for it as well.
I try my best to give accurate, trustworthy recipes. Hope you do try it!
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!❤👍🙏😛😍
Oh for sure…I cannot stand maraschino cherries either, homemade is always better!
What a wonderful article! This looks so refreshing and delicious , I can’t wait to make my own cocktail cherries at home.
I hope you do, they are worth it!
I **love** the idea of making homemade cocktail cherries! Now that I’ve read your recipe, I’m obsessed really! It’s cocktail season and I was trying to think of alternatives to the artificially red cherries just this week. Great timing! 😉 Now to get my hands on a bag of sour cherries…
They should be available very soon!
My husband and I have been having fun making cocktails at home and this recipe is the “cherry on top” 😉 Thanks!
That’s so great to hear. I much prefer the flavour of these over the store bought cherries.
A batch of these cherries is great to have on hand for garnishing cocktails, great for presentation.
Yes! And they make great gifts, too.
These are so good! I never even thought to make my own cherries like this before and now I’m never going back to jarred cherries!
Ever since I’ve been making these cherries, I haven’t had to buy cocktail cherries.
I love fresh cherries. When I was growing up my aunt had an orchard. The family would gather every summer and pick cherries (peaches, plums, pears, gooseberries). This sounds like a great food gift idea.
That sounds absolutely amazing Gloria, I would love to move to the Okanagan some day. And yes, many have benefited from a gifted jar of these cherries!
One site said to wait for 3 days, this site 2 weeks and another 4 weeks before enjoying. Enough time for the cherries to soak-up the flavors. I made this yesterday and I can’t wait to try in my next Manhattan but I will practice patience and wait. The recipe was really easy and fun to make. Very lovely in jar along with peels. The sauce tastes great so I expect the cherries ‘should’ too.
You could still try them after 3 days…the cherries will just taste fresher. Anytime after 2 weeks is good too. You want the flavours to permeate the cherries.
Do you remove the cloves and lemon peel prior to jarring or leave them in?
Hi Lori, it’s totally up to you. Some jars will have them, some won’t. Or you can dig them out before filling jars if you prefer.
The recipe says to juice and peel the lemon. When do you add the juice? The directions only say to add the peel.
My apologies! Please add the lemon juice to the syrup before you bring it to a boil.
These cocktail cherries sound incredible and wouldn’t last long around me. I would snack on them all day.
lol. SAME HERE. It’s ridiculous.
My kids love these on ice cream recipes. Thank you for this awesome and easy recipe. I am pinning this!
I bet they would!
Genius! We have so many cherries this year in our garden and I didn’t know what to do with them. Now, I know! Going to make these tasty cocktail cherries! Thanks for the idea 😉
Yes! Give them a try. So worth it…also amazing just on ice cream.
I found myself nodding along with you right from the get-go. It seems like travesty to put those awful, embalmed, sugary red ‘cherries’ into a well-crafted cocktail. Not only are these better in every conceivable taste department, I personally think they’re a lot nicer to look at too! I’ve done a few different types of boozy cherries over the last few years, but I really like that you add spices to the mixture here for that extra dimension of flavour. Wonderful stuff – and cheers to good garnishes!
LOL I’m a cherry snob. I WILL ask what kind of cherries a bar uses for Manhattans before I order one.
These cherries looks fantastic. Great treat to have at home. Can’t wait to use it for next cocktail party. Thanks for sharing
That’s what I need in my life…more cocktail parties!
These cherries are so easy to make that having them on hand for when I make cocktails is a must!
I agree 100%
Bernice, this recipe couldn’t have popped up at a better time for me! Here in the Okanagan, cherries are everywhere, but the season is so brief. I love this recipe because I can preserve the bounty. The spices make me super happy and I really can’t wait to get going on this recipe. Thank you!
Awesome! How lucky are you? I would eat so much fruit if I lived in the Okanagan!
I need more cocktail hours in my life! What a fun ritual. 🙂 Having the perfect garnish is what separates a finely crafted cocktail from the rest. LOVE these cherries. My manhattan was elevated by this recipe.
Agree! Life is too short for crappy garnish!
Great idea for using cherries now that’s cherry season! I never tried to make cocktail cherries before, but I’m always in for trying new recipes!
Give it a try…I promise you won’t regret it Tatiana.
These are my favorite cherries! I’ve made cocktail cherries before with just the Luxardo, and it just wasn’t right. Thank you so much for this perfect recipe. Will be making these again every year during cherry season!
Great to hear! I hope you enjoy this version.
This looks incredibly tasty and refreshing. The looks it gives makes you crave and entice to it, will definitely make this at home.
Thanks for stopping by Amy!
This is awesome. These Cocktail cherries look so tempting and yum. Love the spices and the Liqueur used to make them perfect.v
Thank you Veena! I’ve been making them for years now and finally ready to share!