6 Boozy Cherry Recipes for Cocktails and Beyond

You will thank yourself in winter for doing this surprisingly simple DIY garnish project now

July 27, 2023 6:13 am
Homemade Rye Bourbon Manhattan with a Cherry Garnis
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Peak cherry season is happening now — and to paraphrase Neil Diamond’s hit “Cherry Cherry,” they don’t stay too long, mama! There are dozens of premium jarred cherry options on the commercial market. But if you experience cherry withdrawal in the colder months like I do and are the type who always opts for a cherry over a twist in a Manhattan, you will thank yourself for making your own boozy cherries to indulge in throughout the year. This project is a surprisingly doable quality of life upgrade. 

pints of fresh cherries at the farmers market
Don’t let summer’s bounty get away
Amanda Schuster

Both sweet and sour cherries are now on offer. Different varieties require different measures of the easy-to-make syrup needed to sweeten and par-cook the fruit. You can also use frozen sour cherries (thaw and drain them first), but if you have access to the fresh ones, jar ‘em if you got ‘em! Sour or half-sour cherries are the preferred varieties because they retain their color and bite longer than sweet ones, but the sweets will still be fab in these recipes. 

First, Sterilize Those Jars! 

These cherries should be stored in a clean, tight-sealing jar. If you’re reusing one, make sure it’s been fully cleaned and there are no lingering food odors that would affect the flavor (you don’t want cherries with dill pickle breath). You can store the cherries in a standard canning jar — 1.5 to 2 cups/240 to 400 grams — or divide them up into smaller jars, which are best for gifting or keeping behind an active bar. Sterilize the jars, seals and lids before use by boiling them in water for at least 10 minutes (the Bain Marie method) and filling them immediately. Handle with tongs until the jars are cooled or keep them in the hot water until use. Filled and sealed jars can be kept unrefrigerated as long as the seal is intact, but refrigerate them once opened. 

To Pit or Not to Pit? 

Some swear the cherries taste better if the pits are left inside. Most people prefer to remove the pits with a pitting tool (this one is the best $13 you’ll ever spend, and it works for olives, too), which only takes about 10 to 15 minutes while, say, listening to a favorite podcast. The fruit sometimes isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as whole cherries, but the reward is eating them in a carefree manner, and they can also be used in both sweet and savory dishes (such as proteins with cherry sauce), or as an ice cream topping. 

pork chops in a cast iron pan with cherry sauce
Pitted cherries are perfect for making a pork chop sauce
Amanda Schuster

Basic Prep Instructions

Each recipe will have the same base prep instructions: 

  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated or pure cane sugar
  • 1 cup (236 ml.) water
  • 1 pint container of cherries, (about 1 lb./450 grams) 

Sterilize the jar(s) per above instructions and leave in hot water until use. Wash and de-stem the cherries. Pit them if desired. Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves and will coat the back of a spoon. In a larger saucepan, add as much syrup as needed to sweeten the cherries according to the below recipes, stir to coat, simmer for about 30 seconds (don’t burn the cherries!) and immediately turn off the heat. Add the booze. Stir to coat the cherries. Allow to cool. Add to the jar, seal and label.

Boozy cherries can be stored for months — up to a year and change — in the fridge or unopened in a cool, dry space, as they are now well preserved. The longer they are stored before first use, the better they taste. The cherries can be used the next day, theoretically, but are best kept at least a few weeks in the jar. 

Why Your Cocktails Need Popcorn
It’s more than just a bar snack or garnish

Here are some recipe ideas, each using the basic prep as a template. Note: some juice might be left over after the cherries are added to the jar. The residual boozy cherry juice can be used for cocktails or highballs and stored in the fridge for weeks. Any leftover syrup can be used for other cocktails or to sweeten tea — just store in the fridge for up to 10 days. 

Basic Boozy Cherries

Servings: 1 pint of cherries

  • 1 lb. cherries, washed, de-stemmed and possibly pitted
  • ⅓ cup (78 ml.) syrup if sweet, ½ cup (118 ml.) if sour or half-sour
  • 1 cup spirit of choice, including whiskey, brandy, pisco, rum, vodka, gin or tequila
    1. Prepare according to the basic recipe above.

Rum Vanilla Cherries

Servings: 1 pint of cherries

  • Use same amount of cherries and syrup as Basic Boozy recipe
  • 1 cup white or dark rum of choice (you can split different kinds, even use spiced rum, just use 1 cup/236 ml. total liquid) 
  • Barspoon of good vanilla extract or one whole vanilla bean, split 
    1. Prepare according to the basic recipe. If using extract, only add it when adding the rum at the end. If using the bean, add to the jar with the cherries. 

This next one been my go-to for years, and a version appears in my book New York Cocktails.

Amanda’s Classic Rye and Amaro Cherries

Servings: 1 pint of cherries

  • Use same amount of cherries and syrup as Basic Boozy recipe 
  • ¾ cup (177 ml.) rye whiskey 
  • ¼ cup (about 60 ml.) amaro, nothing super bitter. I like Zucca, Ramazzotti or Nonino
    1. Follow basic prep. 

These taste like an edible Manhattan! 

Bourbon or Tennessee Whisky Cherries With More Cherry 

Servings: 1 pint of cherries

  • Use only sweet cherries for this recipe, with ½ cup (118 ml.) of the syrup 
  • ¾ cup (177 ml.) bourbon or Tennessee whisky 
  • ¼ cup (about 60 ml.) cherry liqueur
  • 1-inch piece orange peel (optional) 
    1. If using, add the peel to the syrup when preparing, and strain out before proceeding to the next steps of the basic prep.

Multi-Brandy Cherries

Servings: 1 pint of cherries

  • Use same amount of cherries and syrup as Basic Boozy recipe 
  • 1 cup (236 ml.) mix (2 or more) of grape brandies, like Cognac, American brandy, pisco, Spanish brandy, etc. 
    1. Prepare according to the basic preparation instructions above.

For the final cherry recipe, Japanese shochu or Korean soju made from rice or sweet potato are best here. It sounds weird, but the amaretto complements the aromatics of the spirit and the tartness of the fruit so beautifully. They’re a fabulous garnish for shaken sour cocktails, especially with some of their juice floated over the top. 

Shochu/Soju Amaretto Cherries

Servings: 1 pint of cherries

  • Use same amount of cherries and syrup as Basic Boozy recipe
  • ¾ cup (177 ml.) shochu or soju of choice
  • ¼ cup (about 60 ml.) amaretto liqueur 
    1. Prepare according to the Basic Boozy recipe


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.