Scented with vanilla bean and orange liqueur, these Homemade Bourbon Soaked Cocktail Cherries are a welcome addition to any home bar or cocktail lover’s gift basket. Make up an easy batch and enjoy a bit of sophistication in your cocktails all year long.
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The quickest way for a bartender to get my respect is with a perfectly delicious, obviously homemade or gourmet cocktail cherry in the bottom of my drink.
This recipe for homemade cocktail cherries is a simple one using hot pack preservation. Fresh summer sweet cherries are pitted and packed into half pint jars, then covered with a hot bath of stove top simple syrup scented with vanilla bean. Each jar is topped with bourbon and orange liqueur, then sealed and processed as per normal canning procedures. Honestly, the most time-consuming part is pitting the cherries!
I’ve made a number of variations of these homemade cocktail cherries, but the one here is my absolute favorite. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
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The Joy of Homemade Cocktail Cherries
Whether you are a novice with a cocktail shaker or an expert in mixology, a really good cocktail cherry is your home bar’s best friend. So many classic drinks call for a red cherry garnish – Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, Pina Colada, Mai Tai, and even the non-alcoholic staple, the Shirley Temple. Sadly, the world is full of overly processed and sickly sweet “maraschino” cherries. These florescent red staples may be fine for a sundae or kid’s drink, but they just don’t cut it in my book.
Luckily, making your own homemade bourbon soaked cocktail cherries is incredibly easy.
When I first started making preserves at home, cocktail cherries were one of the earliest recipes I chose to master. Gourmet cherries (like these genuine Luxardo Maraschino Cherries) are decadent treats, but they aren’t cheap. Now every summer I build up a stockpile of bourbon soaked cocktail cherries, enough for my own use and a few to be used as very special gifts to the people I like the most. The end result is a preserve that is sure to impress your guests, and a pretty little jar makes for an appreciated gift to any foodie, cocktail connoisseur, or gourmet in your life.
The Right Tool for the Job
Pitting cherries is a pain. It’s time consuming. The juice stains. It’s ridiculous messy. For a jam or a pie, at least you can cut into the little stone fruits and just cut out the pits. For homemade cocktail cherries though, you need to leave the fruits whole. That’s where a cherry pitter comes in handy.
I used a very simple cherry pitter throughout last summer that really cut down the time, but the mess was still pretty substantial. This year I tried a much nicer option: an Oxo Good Grips Cherry Pitter, complete with a splash guard. It’s amazing! Super fast, very little mess, and actually kind of fun to use. The pitter snaps shut quickly, and the splash guard keeps the juice from splattering all over the place. I highly recommend picking one up for yourself or anyone in your life that makes a lot of cherry pies or preserves. It even works as an olive pitter!
Looking for ways to use your delicious new homemade cocktail cherries? While you can eat them on their own, you can also enjoy them in these fantastic drinks and desserts:
- My recipes for a classic Old Fashioned cocktail or a large batch of Whiskey Sours.
- A Hemingway Daiquiri from Erika’s Gluten-Free Kitchen, with white rum and grapefruit juice.
- An Aviation Gin Cocktail (with a lovely violet hue) from Platings & Pairings.
- In my absolutely favorite Pineapple Upside Down Cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
- Or, as a fancy topping to one of Domestic Dietitian’s Banana Split Popsicles.
New to preserving? Here are some great resources to get you started:
- A couple of my favorite books:
- Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round & Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces, both by Marisa McClellan
- Saving the Season by Kevin West
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry
- A simple Home Preserving Kit
- A Large Non-Reactive Pot, like an enameled Dutch Oven (Le Creuset and Lodge both offer options) or a stainless steel jam pot.
- A pot for processing the jars in a water bath – you can use a true water bath canner and rack, or if you’re like me, your largest stainless steel stock pot with a handy blossom trivet in the bottom.
Homemade Bourbon Soaked Cocktail Cherries
- 1.5 pounds sweet red cherries, preferably organic
- 1.5 cups granulated white sugar
- 1.5 cups water
- 1 vanilla bean, slit along its length to expose the seeds (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1.5-2 ounces orange liqueur, divided (Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
- 5-6 ounces bourbon, divided
- Using the cherry pitter, remove the pits from each of the cherries. It’s important to keep the cherries as whole as possible, so that they can be used as beautiful garnishes later. Be warned – this part can get messy!
- In a heavy bottomed, non-reactive sauce pan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a low boil. Add the vanilla bean and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.
- Pack the cherries into the half pint jars until they are three-fourths full. Ladle the simple syrup into each jar to the same three-fourths height. Then, top each jar with about ¼-ounce orange liqueur and 1-ounce bourbon, leaving a ½ inch of head space. You may need to add a little more syrup or a little more liqueur to meet that level, as needed.
- Wipe the rims clean, apply the lids and screw on the bands to finger tip tightness. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 15 minutes, then remove the canning pot from heat and allow the jars to vent in the pot for an additional 10 minutes (This will prevent potential leaking when the jars are removed). Let the jars rest for 24 hours. If any do not seal, store in the fridge.
- Store sealed jars in a cool dark space, letting the cocktail cherries cure in the sugar-liqueur mixture for at least 2 weeks before using. Once opened, store jars in the fridge and use within 3-4 weeks.
67 thoughts on “Homemade Bourbon Soaked Cocktail Cherries”
Thank you! I can’t seem to find these in most stores in Santa Varbara, so decided to make my own.
Your site gave me more info than any other. 💃
This is so awesome to hear – I’m glad I could help!
The recipe says this is three pints but in the instructions it says to use half pints. What is the yield? 3 pints or 3 half pints? Thank you!
Hi Shelly! The total yield is 3 pints worth, but I recommend dividing the cherries among half pints (so about 6 half pints). Sorry for the confusion!
No worries! Thanks so much!!
Great hard to find recipe. I used cherry juice instead of water because that is what my original recipe called for not water. Can’t wait until these are finished although I hope to give as Christmas gifts
How long are the unopened cans good for? Thanks in advance!
If properly processed in a water bath, I’d say unopened, sealed jars will keep in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 years. After that, the quality of the fruit will degrade. I’ve personally never had them last that long without getting eaten!
I made these last year, I have 3 coworkers very eager for cherry season this year 😄
Awesome recipe! Thank you!
Just made a batch up. Anxious for 2 weeks to pass by. Recipe seems easy and straight forward. I did have some simple syrup left over though. Hope I added enough.
Thanks Lori! As long as you could cover your cherries to the proper headspace, you’ll be just fine!
Thanks for the recipe. I can’t wait to try them. In the early 1960’s, my father made this in gallon jugs using hard candy for the sweet.
What’s the temperature of a hot water bath?? Thanks
Hi Poc! If you aren’t familiar with hot water bath processing for shelf stable canning, I recommend reviewing this resource for instructions: https://foodinjars.com/blog/new-to-canning-start-here-boiling-water-bath-canning/
I made these cherries and I’ve been canning for many many years. Never with alcohol. After the water bath I let them sit off the burner for 10 minutes and when I took the jars out of the water the juice still seeped out a little. The jars did seal even after juice seeping out. Hopefully they will be ok. Should I have left them sit in the water longer?
Hi Maria! That can happen sometimes. Did you leave the jars undisturbed for 24 hours, and they sealed properly despite the seepage? If so, you should be fine. If you have any concerns on any of the jars, I suggest storing them in the fridge.
What is the best most scrumptious brand of bourbon and of the orange liqueur to use for this recipe?
I always use Cointreau as my orange liquor of choice. As for bourbon, I recommend something mid-range – There is too much go on for a really great craft bourbon to shine, but using something that goes well in a casual cocktail – Bulliet, Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, etc. – are all solid go to’s!
They sound delicious. One question, what do you mean by venting jars for 10 minutes?
Hi Alice! Venting just means leaving the jars in the water bath, rather than taking them out right away. Turn off the heat, move the pot off the burner, and let the jars just sit for 10 minutes once you’ve finished processing them.
Can you substitute frozen cherries for this recipe?
I don’t know if I would trust frozen cherries in this recipe. While they work great in jam, I’d worry they would get too mushy and wouldn’t hold their shape appropriately.
I have used frozen Cherries from BJ’s and they came out great!
I made these cherries and they are so delicious!! I am lucky to have a cottage in Traverse City, Michigan, the cherry capital. My daughter and I picked cherries from a tree down the street and I made them that night. Your recipe is perfect. Thank you for sharing it.
I’m so jealous! That sounds amazing. I’m glad you loved the recipe! <3
Do you have to do the water bath process?
The waterbath process seals the jars, helps kill bacteria that may have accidentally made it into your jars, and allows them to be shelf stable until opened (at least 1 year). You can skip the waterbath, but you’ll need to store all of your jars in the fridge and should use them relatively soon (I always water bath, so I’m unsure the exact life). Good luck!
Hi, Kristen. I love this recipe. Thank you. I followed your link to the well-written canning tutorial, and I have a question. The article suggests adding some white vinegar to the water bath. (1) How much vinegar?, and (2) wouldn’t the vinegar affect the taste of the cherries (or whatever we are canning)? Thanks! David
I actually never add vinegar to my water bath. I think I might have years ago, but personally didn’t see much of a difference. Some canners swear by it, but its not required for safe canning. If you do choose to add some, maybe just a splash? For a more technical answer, I’d recommend reaching out to the author of the article I linked. In terms of flavor, by the time you put the jars into the water bath, they should already have their lids screwed on tight – none of the water/vinegar from the waterbath should ever end up inside your preserve.
I always add vinegar because I have very hard well water. The vinegar keeps the jars from being covered with white powdery scale. It doesn’t affect the taste at all.
Hi Kristen- can I leave the pits in?
Hi Judi –
From a food safety stand point, leaving the pits in shouldn’t impact the process. In terms of flavor and quality, I can’t say. I’ve made jarred cherries that have included the pits before (different recipe), and honestly didn’t find it worth my effort. I highly recommend pitting the cherries if you want the best quality product for your time and money!
Hi Kristen, Love this Recipe! This is the second year we’ll be using it. Wondering if the amount of sugar is a canning safety issue? We don’t like things overly sweet, thinking about having it. What do you think?
***halfing, not having – I’d like to try half the amount of sugar 😉
This recipe is AMAZING!! We had a mass amount of cherries this year!! I’ve already canned 14 pints!! Cheers to many Manhattans this Fall!!
I am so jealous – that sounds awesome! I’m so glad you liked the recipe and it will go to such a worthy cause.
This was delicious! We went cherry picking a couple of weeks ago and found this recipe during our search for creative ways to use them. We followed your recipe instructions and waited for 2 weeks to cure. We had them in a cherry cocktail tonight. SO GOOD. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you so much Katherine!
Is it possible to pit the cherries and leave the stem intact.
Hi Rick! I’ve personally never tried it – I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some trick to making that happen, but i bet it would rather intricate to accomplish.
It worked! The pitter removed the pit and left the stem. I clipped off the end of the stem so it wouldn’t contaminate the syrup ….maybe!
So they look fabulous in the jar!
Thanks for the recipe! Party on…..😀
That’s awesome! Pretty garnishes are the best. 🙂
I saw that thyme Paris well with cherries and of course noticed the website name… Have you tried adding a touch of thyme to this recipe as I am tempted and would be curious beforehand.
Hi Todd! I haven’t tried thyme in this recipe – I like to keep the cherries relatively neutral since I use them in all kinds of drinks. Add an herb and it becomes less versatile.
That being said, I have made cherry jam with thyme and its lovely.
Me and a friend made your cherry recipe last year and are already plotting for at least doubling the quantity this year. Delicious!
The only detail was that the all the ingredients in the liquid I did them per batch rather than per jar which seem to simplify from my perspective the assembly. Also used vanilla rather than vanilla bean.
Hi Kristen, I’m going to try your recipe. Is the lemon juice just for flavor or is it for safely Canning? I was also wondering if I can just use bourbon?
Hi Kris! The lemon juice adds acidity, and is essential to safety. I wouldn’t skip it.
I loved this recipe and it’s simplicity of ingredients! I’ve used other recipes in the past that have a spice sachet. Love the idea of just vanilla bean and Cointreau. I substituted cherry juice (no sugar added) for the water. I’ve done this with other recipes. Love the extra cherry deliciousness.
That sounds amazing!
Other than the fact you have to be aware, do you have to pit the cherries? Can you just leave them whole?
Hi Jim – From a safety standpoint leaving the pits in the cherries shouldn’t make a difference. That being said, I haven’t tried it myself so I can’t speak to the quality of the final product.
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), you should prick the fruit on each sire with a sterile needle if leaving the pits in to avoid bursting during the canning process, so I would try this if I didn’t want to pit the cherries.
That being said, I find the little bit of work on the front end to pit the cherries to be more than worth it. The gourmet cherries on the market are always pitted and stemless, and I find the cherries soak up more delicious flavors when dropped in a cocktail this way. Just my two cents!
These sound and look amazing! Do you think it would work to leave the stems on?
Ugh I’m sorry— I just saw the previous comment asking about pits. I was just thinking the Stamms might look nice as a garnish.
Do these end up with a nice thick, dark syrup like Luxardo cherries? They look amazing, and I think we all agree, it’s nice to avoid spending $18 for one small jar of cherries.
None of my jars have gotten quite that dark and syrupy – I wouldn’t be surprised if some kind of thickener is used, or if they just can just let things cook down a lot longer and higher than I can at home! That beings said, the syrup is still beautiful and makes a delicious addition to cocktails – I’d say its more the consistency of a good grenadine.
This sounds delicious and I CANNOT wait to try it! It’s a great gift idea!
My question: Is there a big taste difference between using the actual vanilla bean vs using vanilla extract? I went to 2 stores this past weekend looking for vanilla beans for a different recipe and couldn’t find any. But I almost always have vanilla extract on hand.
In this recipe, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I use a splash of vanilla extract when I don’t have a good bean on hand. I feel like it dilutes the vanilla taste a bit, but not enough to stress about it!
I hope you enjoy your cherries!
Thanks for the recipe. I hate the cost of nice cocktail cherries. Although I did not can the cherries, I chose to go straight into the fridge, I followed the recipe using a 10oz bag of frozen organic black cherries and Jameson. The cherries only filled one jar which will only last me about a month. Gary Regan, in the Joy of Mixology, said frozen cherries are perfect for homemade cocktail cherries.
My Question is “Does the canning process cook off the alcohol?” I don’t really drink but I like the bourbon flavor.
It definitely does not. These are very boozy.
It’s a myth that alcohol ‘cooks off’. As one who has cooked for a man who could have no alcohol in his diet due to medical issues, I did a LOT of research. These definitely are still boozy, hence the name.
Beware, though, if you always thought recipes were alcohol free due to cooking in any way.
Hi- what about a version without sugar/simple syrup? Has anybody tried that? I’m thinking of just using booze and lemon juice, but am a beginning canner and don’t know what the sugar might contribute.
Thank you for this great recipe and discussion!
I’m confused about the half pint versus the pint. If I make 3 pint sized jars, do I double the amount of liquor in each jar? Or is the liquor the same per jar, regardless of the size?
Also, can I divide the vanilla bean into 3 pieces and add a piece to each jar? Or do I throw out the vanilla bean? (They’re expensive!)
Hi Marilyn –
The recipe makes 3 pints worth of cherries and syrup – the amount of booze in each jar might need to be increased if you use pints instead of half pints, the important part is to make sure you leave the half-inch headspace before water bath processing – no more, no less.
I wish I would have seen this yesterday! I pitted cherries yesterday, made some jams and desserts, and froze a bunch!
Based on some of the other responses, I am going to go ahead and try a small batch with the frozen!
Wish me luck
Hi Kristen,I’m excited to try this recipe! I found local Michigan frozen cherries but they are “Tart” – not sweet. Have you ever made it with Tart? I typically like less sweet cherries.