J’Ann’s Cocktail Cherries

When I go to a bar, one of my go-to cocktails is the Manhattan. Several years ago, however, I got fed up with bartenders garnishing my drink with those neon red orbs they call maraschino cherries.

Delicious Cherries from the Tree

Delicious Cherries from the Tree

I won’t go into a diatribe about these once-upon-a-time cherries; but, if you are interested, you can Google the topic and see how the delicious little fruit is “de-cherried,” then chemically rebuilt and labeled as Maraschino cherries.

To sooth my discontent, J’Ann, my wife, started researching how to make a proper cocktail cherry (see her instructions below). Of course, you must start with fresh cherries and since we are from Colorado this means fresh Colorado cherries. Cherry liqueur is the second key ingredient, and our favorite is from Colorado’s Leopold Bros.

The hardest part, in my humble opinion, is getting the pits out of the fresh cherries. I think I lasted one session because proper research (and recipe revision) takes a lot of cherry pitting. Luckily, the next summer our young granddaughters, Kat and Gracie, were enlisted as cherry pitters and have kept up what is now a family tradition.

Through the years, J’Ann experimented with different ingredients and different proportions until she has now settled on the recipe below. These cherries are fantastic in any cocktail that calls for a cherry garnish and they also work exceedingly well on ice cream or mixed with your favorite syrup and placed on pancakes or waffles. Sharron, one of our good friends, unabashedly states that, in her house, these cherries don’t make it to a cocktail-–it’s simply jar to mouth. I cannot, and neither will you, fault her for that.

Now, I am off to make myself a proper Manhattan with genuinely delicious cocktail cherries that J’Ann, Kat and Grace made this summer.

‡ For more about Leopold Bros distillery and their products, see our Guidebook to Whiskey and Other Distilled Spirits in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, pp. viii, 112-113.



Instructions from J’Ann

For this recipe, you will need canning jars, new canning lids (these come in two parts—a seal and a screw lid), a deep pot for canning (I use a large pasta pot), canning tongs, kitchen food prep gloves (cherry juice stains your hands and everything else including your clothes, so you might want to wear an apron), a large bowl for the pitted bing cherries, and a small bowl for pits and stems.


  • 3 pounds of fresh bing cherries

  • Cherry liqueur (start with a full bottle)

  • Cherry simple syrup (see recipe below)


Sterilize the jars, lids, and tongs. Set aside. Make the cherry simple syrup and set aside. Wash and pit cherries (I discard the stems, but you may certainly leave them on).

Stuff the cherries into the clean jars. Really pack them in, leaving enough space to screw the lids on securely. Before securing the lids, fill each jar approximately 1/2 to 2/3 with Cherry Simple Syrup. Fill the remaining space in the jar with Leopold Bros cherry liqueur. Cover cherries, but do not over fill (leave about 1/2 inch of space). The contents of the jars will expand as you heat them in the water bath.

J'Ann Cocktail Cherries.jpg

Using tongs, place the sterilized lids on the jars and tighten. I screw them on tightly and then loosen ever so slightly to allow the pressure in the heated jar to escape. Place jars into a water bath (this is when the pasta pot comes in handy as the water should cover the jars with 2 inches of water). I can usually get 6 jars in my pot. It is important to leave space between jars so that the water can circulate properly. Process for 20 to 25 minutes.

Using canning tongs carefully remove jars and let cool. You should hear the lids pop (they will pop downward). This is a good sign that you have a nice seal. Store in a cool dark place for at least three months. As tempted as you might be, do not open any sooner. The longer they sit the better they get.

Cherry Simple Syrup

  • 2 cups Sugar

  • 2 cups Water

  • 1 cup Leopold Bros cherry liqueur

  • 1 section or petal Whole star anise

  • 2 Cloves

    Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside.

© J’Ann Wright - Reproduced with permission.