DIY Cocktail Cherries: A Step-By-Step Guide

By: Shreya Goswami

Cocktail cherries

Cocktail cherries are nothing short of delightful little gems that everyone enjoys in their cocktails, right? Whether they are sitting on the rim of your cocktail glass or sunk at the bottom of it, these cherries do much more than adding a pop of colour to your crafted cocktails. In fact, mixologists will tell you that a simple cherry can elevate your cocktails to new heights with their sweet-tart flavour. So, no, cocktail cherries aren’t just garnishes. They are deliberate additions to cocktail recipes and add flavour, depth and character. 

But can you just get some cherries home to make your own cocktails? No, because just like everything else about cocktail making, selecting the right cherries and treating them right can enhance their flavour, and so indirectly also enhance the final cocktail’s flavour. There are basically three types of cherries that are most commonly used in making cocktails: 

Maraschino Cherries: Bright red preserved cherries that have been steeped in sugar syrup infused with almond.  

Luxardo Cherries: Originating in Italy, these cherries are dark magenta in colour and are soaked in sugar syrup to enhance flavours. 

Rainier Cherries: Considered to be premiere quality cherries, these are known for their sweet flavours and are also brined before use. 

Although these three types of cherries are preferred for cocktail making by mixologists worldwide, you can also pick other varieties that are easily or locally available. These will indeed give your cocktails more of a local flair and flavour.  

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DIY Cocktail Cherries: Getting Started 

As mentioned before, just getting some cherries and chucking them into your cocktail mix is not going to give you the desired results. Cherries form an integral part in the making of great cocktails, and they deserve to be given a treatment that enhances their flavour profile further. To do this, here are some of the basic ingredients, apart from the cherry varieties mentioned above, that you will need: 

Sugar Syrup 

Steeping the cherries in a good sugar syrup enhances their sweetness and also increases their shelf life. So, always make a simple syrup made of equal parts water and sugar to steep your cocktail cherries in. 

Flavouring Agents 

Like people do with sugar syrup-based desserts, adding a few flavour enhancing spices and extracts can improve the profile of the steeped cherries. From vanilla and almond extract to spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, a lot can be added to the sugar syrup in which the cherries will be steeped. 

Alcohol  

While this step can be skipped in case you are making non-alcoholic drinks or mocktails, adding a dash of brandy or bourbon to your sugar syrup can easily add another layer of complexity to the cocktail cherries. Just like dry fruits and nuts in a Christmas cake, cherries steeped in an alcohol-infused syrup make for more potent flavours. 

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DIY Cocktail Cherries: A Step-by-Step Process 

Now that you have a grasp of the ingredients you need to make your own fabulous cocktail cherries at home, here is a step-by-step guide on how to prepare them for your next cocktail party. 

Step 1: Cherry Preparation 

Wash and rinse the cherries thoroughly, then let the water drain. Dry the cherries completely, then think about how you want them to go into your cocktails. One method is to remove the stems and pit the cherries using a pitter. The other method is leave them with the stems and pits on so that they can be bitten into later. 

Step 2: Sterilisie The Jars 

If you’ve ever made pickles then you know just how important it is to use a sterilised jar to make cocktail cherries that have a long shelf life. The best thing to do is to use glass jars, and boil their lids in hot water for at least three minutes. All the jar and lid to dry out completely before using them. 

Step 3: Simple Syrup Preparation 

Combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and heat it up over medium heat. Mix the sugar into the water until it dissolves completely. Boil the syrup for five minutes, then take it off the heat and allow it to cool down completely before proceeding.  

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Step 4: Make An Infusion 

Place the cherries in the sterilised glass jars leaving a little space at the top. Now add any spices or flavouring agents you want, like vanilla extract, almond extract, cinnamon sticks, grated nutmeg, cracked cardamom pods, etc. You can also add in a dash of rum, whisky, brandy or any liqueur.  

Step 5: Pour In The Syrup 

Once the simple syrup is completely cooled, pour it into the jars over the cherries until they are completely submerged. Make sure there is a small gap at the top of the jar to allow for the cherries to expand as they steep. 

Step 6: Seal And Store 

Seal the jar tightly with the sterilised lids and ensure no air can get into them. Store the steeped cocktail cherries in a cool, dark place for at least a week. This time duration will allow all the flavours to be infused in the cherries properly.  

Once infused and steeped for over a week, your cocktail cherries should turn even juicier and more aromatic, making them the perfect additions to your cocktails. However, before using these cocktail cherries, make sure you smell the liquid and check the cherries to ensure that they have indeed been properly preserved.