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!
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.