Last weekend I took a long weekend away to spend with my niece and nephew in Door County, WI. If you haven’t been there, it is the peninsula that just out of the side of Wisconsin into Lake Michigan. One of the things that Door County is very proud of is their cherries. If you make a fruit product in Door County, you better have at least one expression that contains cherries. Cherry jam, jelly, wine, vodka, soap, cider, ice cream, candy, you name it. And while I’m not any sort of judge of cherries, I don’t even particularly like them, when you are there, and they are in season, it’s hard not to come home with at least a quart of them.
Luckily even though I don’t eat cherries, every time I get some, I decide to try to make my own cocktail cherries. Because even though I may not like cherries by themselves, they do play really nicely with bourbon and rye whiskey.
The last time I made some it was chocolate bourbon cherries because those were the ingredients I had on hand that year. Thanks to my recent exploration of Michael Dietsch’s Whiskey cocktail book, I find I have a lot more items to play with this time. I really like Manhattans so this year I tried to really think about what flavors I wanted to include in my Manhattan so I would end up with the perfect garnish. I used cherry puree because some of my favorite bourbons have a ripe cherry note to them. I used dry curaçao because I prefer orange bitters to aromatic in my Manhattan. I used New Riff new make rye and Old Grand-dad 114 to give it a flavor that would play nice with the bourbon or rye. I used the spices from the Brandied Cherry Recipe in Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book because I thought they would play nice in my drink.
Orange-Spiced Cocktail Cherries
Pit one quart of fresh tart cherries. You will need one pound for the recipe and the remainder for the cherry juice. (if you are looking for a cherry pitter, I recommend the OXO Cherry Pitter it works great and isn’t expensive.)
1 cup cherry “juice" (Puree the remaining pitted tart cherries (about 2/3 pounds) in a blender, run it through a fine mesh screen and add water to the result until it makes 1 cup)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon chunks (crushed cinnamon sticks)
1 tbsp Juniper berries
1 tbsp whole Allspice
1 whole Star Anise (broken up slightly)
2.5 fluid ounce Dry Curaçao
1.5 fluid ounce New Riff new make rye
4 fluid ounce Bourbon
In a medium sauce pan, combine the cherry juice, the sugar and the spices and bring to a simmer (not a boil). If you want to avoid straining it later, tie the spices up in a piece of cheese cloth so you can fish them out). Once the mixture is at a simmer, let it simmer for 5 minutes to infuse the spices. Then add in your pound of pitted tart cherries. You’re just looking to warm up the cherries not cook them so stir them a few times and pull it from the heat.
At this point the cherries should be well below boiling, but measure it to be sure. Once it is below 160 degrees (don’t want that alcohol boiling off) add your spirits and stir.
You have a couple choices at this point. If you make a lot of cocktails you can just pack them in a mason jar and pop it into the fridge. If you think you might need it to last longer, you can put them into smaller jars and run it through a hot water bath for five minutes to can it. This is what I did. I ended up with 3 half pint jars to use later and about half a jar of the same size that I can use right away.
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