For some, it’s not a proper Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Last Word cocktail without the finishing touch of a cherry, often served skewered on a pick. Alongside lemon and lime peels, the cherry is one of bartending’s most iconic garnishes, an edible sweet treat with which to finish your drink. And while the 80s and 90s saw the cocktail cherry transformed into a sickly sweet, artificial sugar bomb, recent decades have seen a revival in brandied and candied cherries.
While you can always buy jars of brandied cherries, they’re never going to be quite as good as the ones you make yourself, especially if you follow a recipe from one of the West Coast’s top bartenders. This recipe for flavorful brandied cherries comes from lauded bartender Daniel Shoemaker of Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon, and is well worth the extra work.
When you get started, be sure to clear away anything from your work space that you don’t want to get spattered with cherry juice. It sprays and it stains, even when you’re careful, so wear clothes (and maybe an apron) you don’t mind staining. Because of the alcohol content and the sealed jars, these cherries will last a few years so long as you keep them in a cool, dry space away from sunlight.
- 5 pounds ripe, firm sweet cherries
- 1/2 cup allspice berries, whole
- 1/2 cup juniper berries, whole
- 6 cinnamon sticks, lightly crushed
- 3 star anise pods
- 5 cups sugar
- 1 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed, strained
- 3 cups water
- 2 1/2 cups brandy
- 1 1/2 cups white rum
- 1 cup bourbon
Pull off the stems and punch out the pits of the cherries with a cherry pitter.
Add the juniper berries, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks and star anise to the center of a double layer of cheesecloth and tie into a secure bundle.
Combine the sugar, the lemon juice and the 3 cups of water in another large stockpot that holds at least 10 quarts. Bring to a simmer, stirring just until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the spice bundle and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add the cherries. Using the slotted spoon, stir the cherries until they are all soaked in the syrup and are thoroughly warmed. (You don’t want to actually cook the cherries, just allow them to absorb the syrup.)
Return the liquid and cherries to a simmer and pour in the brandy, rum and bourbon, stirring to combine. When the liquid is warmed through, remove the pot from the heat. (Be sure not to boil the liquid because you don’t want to cook off too much alcohol.)
Using a wide-mouth funnel or jar filler and a slotted spoon, pack each canning jar with cherries, filling it to the top. Give the jar a good tap on the counter to settle the fruit so there are minimal air gaps. Ladle the hot syrup into the jars up to about half an inch from the rim. Place the flat part of the lid on the jar, and screw the band on lightly.
Run the jars through a hot water bath. Allow them to cool and let the seals form properly. You’ll hear a nice pop as the vacuum forms and the lid is sucked down. Tighten the rings of all the jars that have sealed properly.