Ok. It’s summer. In fact it’s stupidly hot. And I don’t function well in environments above 75 degrees. So I’m a tad cranky most of the time when it’s like this. BUT there are CHERRIES in the stores again! That means I get to try something I’ve always wanted: homemade Maraschino cocktail cherries!
There are several different ways to do this. One way is to simply pour some cherries into a jar, fill with booze, and let it sit and marinate. Some people add sugar as well. That sounds awesome to me, but from what I’ve read, the results are not necessarily as awesome as it sounds. So I found a couple other recipes, and I’m going to try a few different versions. Tonight’s version comes from the very informative cocktail blog, Summit Sips. So what I’m describing here comes pretty much directly from that site, so you should go visit it. They also do a “Drink of the Week” which is just plain awesome. Anyway, the recipe is on the site HERE, though I’ll also list out what I did.
First of all, let’s get into the whole Maraschino Cherry thing right off the bat. You know those little bright red cherries in the jar that go on top of ice cream sundaes? Yeah, despite the name, those aren’t Maraschino Cherries. Look at the ingredients: cherries (well, they were at one time), water, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and a bunch of flavorings, preservatives and food dye. Yup. Those things are just made from sugar and red, like fake grenadine. The real stuff is miles away.
Seriously. Maraschino should be in quotations.
Actually, so should cherries.
Originally, Maraschino Cherries were made from Marasca cherries in Croatia, hence the name. These cherries were also used to make Maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is the big brand), and in a fun flip-flop, they used the liqueur to preserve cherries, which created Maraschino Cherries. They became popular in America around the early 1900s, but then were banned due to the national hissy fit of Prohibition. Yes, because Maraschino Cherries were preserved in booze, they were banned. That’s when the sugary fake red versions came along, and took over the market. But, with the whole retro cocktail thing going on, you can get REAL Maraschino Cherries again (notably, from Luxardo) and you can even get the Maraschino liqueur to make your own.
Also, fun tip: despite using the same word, when you’re referring to the bright red sugar cherries, it’s pronounced “mare-ah-SHEE-no” but when dealing with the REAL stuff (cherries or liqueur) it’s “mare-ah-SKEE-no.” Enjoy sounding like a know-it-all with that little tidbit.
So. Enough history. Here’s what I did (my measurements are a little wonky because I started with about a pound and a quarter of cherries. It’s a little easier when you start with one pound):
- 1.25lbs fresh cherries
(they’re probably Bing cherries. Apparently this works much better with sour cherries)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 2/3 oz lemon juice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 dash grated nutmeg
- 2 1/2 oz Maraschino liqueur
- 5 oz bourbon
Wash, then pit the cherries. Leave the stems on the cherries, and be sure to save the pits. I got the Oxo cherry pitter. It seems to work well enough. Yes, this will splash cherry juice droplets everywhere, and yes, it stains. Fortunately, my couch is already red.
In a saucepan, boil the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg. You’re basically making a spiced simple syrup. When it boils, add in the pitted cherries and the pits. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and stir the mixture for seven minutes. It’s going to smell AWESOME. After seven minutes, remove from the heat, and add in your spirits. Summit Sips went with a more neutral 2 oz each of maraschino liqueur, brandy, and Cherry Heering, but I don’t have any Cherry Heering and I like bourbon better. I used Old Crow Reserve because it’s tasty, it’s cheap, and I’ve got a lot of it right now. I also went ahead and substituted bourbon for brandy. So I wound up with one part maraschino and two parts bourbon.
Anyway, add in the spirits (a good rum would probably be nice too) and let it cool. Spoon out the cherries into a jar of some kind (like a canning jar) then strain in the syrup until it covers the cherries. Put it in the fridge. That’s it. That’s why I went with this version first… it’s decently simple. You can save the remaining syrup (strain out the cherry pits and cinnamon) and use it in drinks for a bit of added flavor. It’s got simple syrup, cherry juice, cinnamon and nutmeg in there, with some maraschino and bourbon. Yum.
Since all those little stems were reaching out to me as I put the cherries in the jar, I tasted one while they were still warm, and it was good. A little soft, though they may firm up a bit more once cold, and cinnamon spicy, with a little bourbon kick. Like a mini Manhattan made with lots of bitters. Another note: though my fresh cherries didn’t all fit in the jar, once cooked, they only took up about 2/3 of a pint jar.
There is another version I plan to try, which involves brining the cherries and is said to get firmer results. I’ll let you know when I try it, but for now, I’ll see how the current batch holds out.
So, since I had a half of a lemon, and a bottle of Old Crow Reserve, and some new cherry syrup just SITTING there, I HAD to make a drink. It’s basically a Whiskey Sour, but with the cherry syrup instead of simple syrup.
Cherry Whiskey Sour
Or, as a coworker immediately dubbed it on Facebook, “The Big Pink Squirrel.”
Though there already is a Pink Squirrel cocktail, I like the way he thinks. Thanks, Marwaaah!
- 1 1/2 oz whiskey (Old Crow Reserve in this case)
- 1 oz cherry syrup (homemade from the cherry making)
- 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
- Dash of Angostura bitters
You know the drill. Shake it all up, strain into a rocks glass over copious amounts of ice because it’s like 90 degrees out. You bet your sweet bippy there’s a garnish for this: one of those cocktail cherries you just slaved over a hot stove for. Bust ‘em out and put ‘em to use.
Well, it smells like cinnamon, cherry, and whiskey. And it tastes like cinnamon, cherry and whiskey (not necessarily in that order) though the lemon tart really does help reign this one in more than I would have thought. The cinnamon is a bit more forward than expected (plus there’s some Angostura in there) but it only elevates the fresh cherry and sweet bourbon. This one is mighty tasty, and would also do well as a Collins. Yes, I’m on a bit of a Collins kick lately, but it’s hotter than Lucifer’s taint out and a tall ice filled glass with some bubbly water makes everything a little mo’ bettah. Still, as a lowball, this one is fab. Put your new syrup and garnish to the test and give it a whirl.