There are two main varieties of cherries for making liqueurs. There are dark, sweet cherries and there are sour (or tart), red cherries, the latter being used most often in making cherry pie. These make two distinct varieties of liqueur. This is my recipe for dark cherry liqueur.
This recipe is made with vodka only. I have seen many other recipes for cherry liqueur that use brandy in addition to vodka … some with more brandy than others. I have made it both ways, but I feel that this recipe makes a more pure, clear flavor than if made with brandy. The cherry liqueur I have made with brandy is okay and it mixes well with cocktails (see the recipe for the Singapore Sling), but the flavor is drier and heavier than this recipe. The whole trick is to allow enough time for the liqueur to age. Don’t serve it right away after macerating. Immediately after macerating, the liqueur will be very one dimensional and will lack depth. Allow it to age for a few months.
I have made this recipe with fresh cherries and with frozen cherries. I got the best results with fresh, dark, ripe and juicy cherries. At the time, local fresh cherries were out of season (it was Winter here in Southern California), so the ones I got were from Chile.
Here is my recipe for Dark Cherry Liqueur:
Dark Cherry Liqueur
Step One Ingredients:
- 1 1/2 lbs fresh or frozen cherries
- Cherry pits from half of the cherries (from 3/4 lb)
- 1 1/4 cup sugar (see notes below)
- 750 ml 80-proof vodka
Step One Directions:
- If using fresh cherries, pit the cherries with a cherry pitter and save the pits. If using frozen cherries, thaw them first.
- Put cherries and sugar in 2 Qt. Mason jar.
- Add vodka then shake thoroughly to dissolve the sugar.
- Crack open the cherry pits and chop the kernels with a chopper, then add them to the mixture.
- Macerate at room temperature for 8 weeks.
Step Two Ingredients:
- 1/2 cup standard sugar syrup
Step Two Directions:
- Strain through a stainless steel strainer to separate cherries from vodka and juice.
- Squeeze the remaining juice from the separated cherries using cheese cloth.
- Add the sugar syrup. Vary the amount to sweeten to taste.
- Age for 2 to 3 months
- Use only very ripe, juicy cherries. If cherries are not ripe enough, then let them stand until as ripe and juicy as they can get.
- You can use 1 1/2 cups of sugar instead of 1 1/4 cups and possibly skip the addition of standard sugar syrup at step 2. It depends on the sweetness of the fruit. You should always sample the flavor when sweetening.
- If you crush the cherries at step one, then macerate for only 4 weeks. This will make a lot of sediment, though, depending on the degree that the cherries are crushed. The finished liqueur will have to stand in a Mason jar for about 4 more weeks to clarify, then you will have to rack off the clarified liqueur before bottling (a good explanation of "racking" can be found at Gunther Anderson’s website on making liqueur). Either discard the portion with heavy sediment or use it in other recipes. The sediments create a bitter taste.
Making The Liqueur
First add the cherries, sugar and vodka to the Mason jar, then shake thoroughly to dissolve the sugar:
This recipe uses the pits from some of the cherries. If cherries are not in season, then you will have to wait, or obtain the cherry pits by some other means and make the recipe with frozen cherries. The pits add a nutty flavor and gives the liqueur an added dimension and depth. I pitted some fresh cherries, then washed and dried the pits, then cracked them open with a pair of pliers:
Washing the pits is very easy. Use an ordinary stainless steel mesh colander. Place it in a sink filled with about 3 to 4 inches of water. Add the pits to the colander, then scrub them against the wire mesh to loosen and separate the cherry flesh from the shells. Place them on a paper towel and blot the pits, then allow them to dry.
Chop the kernels using a chopper:
Using the chopper is fast and easy and makes finely chopped kernels:
Add the chopped kernels to the mixture, screw on the lid, then shake the jar.
Here is shot of the jar after adding all the ingredients at step one. It is ready to begin maceration. Cherry liqueur takes a little more time to macerate than Blackberry liqueur and it takes a few months to age to really bring out the flavor.
Now we wait for 8 weeks while the liqueur macerates. In the next post, I’ll go over the filtering and straining.