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Brandied Cherries, a better cocktail cherry

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Maraschino cherries, or at least the artificially bright red super sweet cherries that are plunked into Manhattans and nestled atop ice cream sundaes, are polarizing.

They’re pretty, but their flavor is, at best, boring. Even as a kid, I tended to leave them uneaten.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Better versions of cocktail cherries exist. You can buy fancy Luxardo cherries, made with marasca cherries and soaked in a tart Maraschino liqueur syrup. They are delicious. And also expensive.

But, if you can find fresh cherries (or jarred cherries in syrup), you can also make your own.

Brandied Cherries. From Blossom to Stem |

I’ve learned, after trial and error, that I don’t love heavily spiced cocktail cherries or obscenely boozy bourbon-soaked cherries or anything overly complicated.

It turns out my favorite cherries to drop into cocktails are simple brandied cherries.

They still retain their natural cherry flavor, and they don’t muddy up a drink with spices that might not quite go.

Sour cherries in jars

The process is simple. I like to start with sour cherries, but sweet bing cherries also work here.

I remove the pits (you could save them and use those and use them in orgeat) and tuck the cherries into mason jars. And then let them soak in a brandy-simple syrup.

You can use them in drinks as soon as they cool, but they get better and more rich with brandy flavor the longer they rest.

Brandied Cherries. From Blossom to Stem |

The alcohol and the sugar work as preservatives and these keep in the refrigerator pretty much indefinitely. (I went crazy a year ago with a huge batch of these and the ones I have left are still good.)

I like to plunk these delightful orbs into Manhattans, of course, but also Brooklyns and Martinezes (and while I rarely do this, they wouldn’t be bad in a Toronto, either).

(Oh, and if you like a boozy milkshake they’d be pretty amazing in place of the blackberries in these milkshakes)

Brandied Cherries. From Blossom to Stem |

They make a satisfying garnish to a thoughtfully made cocktail. And I never leave these at the bottom of the glass uneaten.

Yield: 4 cups

Brandied Cherries

Brandied Cherries. From Blossom to Stem |

These brandied cherries are so much better than commercial Maraschino cherries (unless you're talking about pricy Luxardos). I like to use sour cherries here, but this also works with sweet bing cherries if that's what you have. This version is adapted from Paul Virant's Preservation Kitchen.

(If fresh cherries aren't available, you can also use jarred Morello cherries, such as the ones at Trader Joe's, that are usually packed in a sugar syrup. Drain the cherries and proceed as directed.)

They keep forever, more or less, in the refrigerator, but if you are someone who cans, you can also process them for 5 minutes in boiling water and store at room temperature indefinitely. I like to go with a lower end cognac here because a particularly high-end one would get lost in a drink.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes


  • 1 cup (200 grams) brandy
  • 2/3 cup (150 grams) water
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 4 cups (600 grams) sour cherries, pitted


  1. Add the brandy, water, and sugar to a small saucepan and heat over medium until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Fill two pint jars with the pitted cherries. Carefully pour the brandy syrup over the cherries until the cherries are covered with the liquid. Put lids on the jars and store in the refrigerator. Use to garnish drinks as desired.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 27Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 4gProtein: 0g
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Sunday 28th of February 2021

Hello, this recipe looks great. Question...If I use the jarred drained morello cherries should I cut down on the half-cup of sugar since they are already soaked in it? Or just leave as is? Thank you.


Sunday 28th of February 2021

@Mary Kasprzak,

Thank you!

Mary Kasprzak

Sunday 28th of February 2021

You could go either way. Keeping the sugar the same will obviously be sweeter, but this recipe is flexible and you could reduce the sugar to 1/3 cup or so. Because these are garnishes that we eat only one or two at a time, usually after soaking in a cocktail, the extra sweetness doesn't make a huge difference.

Cacao Kingdom

Sunday 5th of July 2020

We have done something very similar for our business. We process them so they are shelf stable and after around 6 months we use them for making chocolate covered cherries for the holidays. We run a small bean to bar chocolate company so we make the chocolate ourselves and the cherries we get are local!

Rick DuBois

Tuesday 23rd of June 2020

I've made two jars of brandied cherries. The first has been in the fridge for just over three weeks, and the cherries are losing their color unevenly. Many of them are half still dark red and half bleached to a very pale pink/white.

The second jar I canned about a week ago and put it in a cupboard. The cherries in this second batch are all evenly bleached to a pale pink.

Any idea what's going on? These cherries may taste great, but they are not going to be aesthetically pleasing at all as a cocktail garnish. I'll appreciate any insights you may have.


Mary Kasprzak

Wednesday 24th of June 2020


I'm not sure what's going on. I've made these many times and never had the color change significantly or experienced anything like the fading you describe.

If they were oxidizing, they would turn brown, but that doesn't seem to be what's happening here.

I wonder if it has something to do with the variety of cherries you're using? I've typically used morello cherries, which have red skin and flesh, but montmorency cherries have red skin with a pale flesh. I could imagine the latter variety (or similarly colored varieties) turning paler over time, though I haven't personally observed it.

Matt Soifer

Sunday 26th of April 2020

What’s your go to brandy/cognac for this recipe?

Mary Kasprzak

Sunday 26th of April 2020

I like Maison Rouge V.S. (or V.S.O.P.) cognac for this. It's affordable and good for mixing.

My favorite sipping cognacs are from Pierre Ferrand, but their nuances are lost in something like this.

Susan Loeffler

Tuesday 7th of April 2020

Can I use frozen cherries?

Mary Kasprzak

Wednesday 8th of April 2020

Yes! I've done it before. The texture will be a little softer and they won't be quite as pretty, but they'll still be delicious!