Today we’re doing things a little differently…
Chris & I have been trying to figure out a great recipe for cocktail cherries for years, and in the process of researching for this post, I met Marianne from Mess Hall Cocktail Company. Not only did she give us tons of useful tips for making better cherries, but she offered to share them with you!
By the way – she’s also extended an offer for 50% off her 32 oz jars of cocktail cherries, so be sure to read to the end for the link & coupon code!
Take it away Marianne!
The Story of Mess Hall Cocktail Company
A couple of years ago, we started to notice that most of the cherries garnishing our favorite cocktails were overly sweet with a waxy texture, like they used to be cherries at some moment in time (long, long ago). It didn’t take long to learn why. Most of the American made maraschino cherries are bleached and brined in underground tanks before being injected with color and flavor. And many of the European style cherries are candied in a thick syrup that works for some preferences, but left us wanting more acidity, more complexity, and more textural integrity in the cherry itself.
Living in Chicago at the time, we thought about the hundreds of acres of cherry orchards on both sides of us in Wisconsin and Michigan. We thought about craft cocktails and how an amazing cocktail demands balance. So we bought a basket of Balaton cherries from one of our farmer friends and made a small batch for fun. Our goal was to make a balanced and complex cocktail cherry, fit for the high quality of craft cocktails that are being stirred, shaken, and poured across the globe. Mess Hall Cocktail Co. was born.
We found that most of the cocktails we were drinking with cherry garnishes were bourbon cocktails, so as we set out to make our own recipe, it didn’t take long for us to incorporate some good old Kentucky Bourbon into the recipe itself. We also found that adding a bit of bourbon into the cherry syrup added warmth, but doesn’t overshadow the star of the show, the cherries themselves.
Making Our Cocktail Cherries
Today, I’m going to show you how to make your very own cocktail cherries with the same flavor profile as our Mess Hall Cocktail Cherries, Great Lakes Edition.
When I think of the Great Lakes region, I think of relaxed summer days on the water, crisp fall hikes and winter weekends at the cabin with friends, sipping cocktails. There is a warmth that can be felt throughout each season thanks to an abundance of cherry trees and a healthy dose of mid-western charm. We set out to capture this warmth in our Cocktail Cherries Great Lakes edition with hints of bourbon, vanilla bean, cinnamon, rose and peppercorn.
Cocktail Cherry Recipe
- 2 Lb of your favorite firm cherry (we use the tart balaton variety, but any sweet cherry will work well)
- 2 c. sugar (turbinado or demerara are our favorites)
- ¼ c. Bourbon
- 1 c. Cherry Juice (or water)
- ½ Vanilla bean
- 1 piece, star anise (whole)
- ½ Cinnamon Stick (whole)
- ½ t. Black Peppercorn (whole)
- Wash a quart size canning jar (or similar glass container) in hot soapy water. Dry.
- Put some good music on. This is gonna be fun!
- Wash cherries. Remove pits from cherries.
- In a saute pan over medium heat lightly toast star anise, peppercorns and cinnamon for about a minute or until you can smell their lovely aromas wafting around the kitchen. keep the pan moving during this time. Pour these right into your prepared quart sized glass jar.
- Scrape vanilla bean with a paring knife and put bean and scrapings into jar.
- Add pitted cherries to jar
- In a medium saucepan bring cherry juice, bourbon and sugar to a simmer. whisk until dissolved.
- Fill jars with hot syrup.
- Let cool to room temperature and then move uncovered to fridge until cold.
- Once cold, put lid on cherry jar.
- Keep in fridge for up to 3 months.
- Use cherries and syrup in cocktails, pair cherries with cheese or use as a dessert topper.
Ideas to Mix Things Up:
There are many variations you can incorporate to create your ideal cocktail cherry concoction. You can swap out the alcohol for whiskey, scotch, rum or brandy, even a botanical gin.
You can also add various citrus, spices, dried flowers and herbs. some favorite combinations that come to mind:
- Pine, Juniper, Peppercorn, Gin
- Lime Zest, Almond, Dried Coconut. Rum
- Scotch, Lemon, Thyme
Thanks Marianne & Mess Call Cocktail Company!
I’m glad we left this post to a professional! I’m really excited to try your recipe and give it a spin in Chris’ favorite Manhattan.
Great article and great looking recipe. I can’t wait to try it! One thing, though. At which stage in the process do we add the bourbon? It’s listed in the ingredients but not in the recipe steps. Thanks!
Sorry Bruce, it should be in step 7. Added now 🙂
Same question as below. In most recipes the bourbon is added to the sugar. Also boiling the sealed jars allows for longer shelf life.
Thanks Daniel, you are correct! I added it to step 7, sorry about that!
DIY cocktail cherries are something of a holy grail for me (lately I’ve been so disappointed by recipes that I quite frequently don’t bother to garnish my Manhattans),
You had me with “textural integrity”. I am a huge fan of the Luxardo company, but I was so disappointed a couple of years ago when I finally ordered a jar of their cherries. They were almost as shriveled up as raisons. And as excellent as their maraschino liqueur is, merely soaking cherries in it really doesn’t produce anything worth the cost of the liqueur.
This recipe looks stellar! Star anise. Cinnamon. Black peppercorns. Vanilla bean. How could these cherries not be fantastic in a Manhattan (especially if Rittenhouse 100 is the whiskey) Thanks so much for sharing!
Julia: It’s Thursday well before midnight, but the coupon code in the Mess Hall site says it has expired. Can you help, or should I try going straight to Marianne? I was excited to order two jars for Father’s Day gifts. 🙂
I sent a note to Marianne last night, thx for letting me know 🙂