The first time I tried cherry liqueur, I thought it tasted like cough syrup. For years, I avoided anything made with the stuff because I don't want my cocktails to remind me of sick children. Then one day I ordered a Singapore Sling without really knowing what was in it. When I found out that cherry liqueur played a big part in making this drink so good, I realized that maybe I had stereotyped all cherry liqueurs because of one that was particularly bad (and probably cheap).
Prejudice erased, I soon started splashing a little cherry liqueur in everything from Manhattans to Sangria. I went a little nuts at the roadside cherry stands this summer, so once I saw I had more cherries than my freezer and I knew what to do with, I knew it was time to experiment with my own cherry liqueur.
What's Available to Buy?
When you're buying cherry liqueur, you have to pay attention or you may end up with the wrong thing. Cherry liqueur is sweetened and can be made with any type of spirit base.
Brandy is the most common, so cherry liqueur is often called cherry brandy. Then there's kirsch or kirschwasser, which is an unsweetened eau de vie distilled from cherries. But sometimes kirsch is called cherry brandy. You can't use kirsch and cherry liqueur interchangeably, since one is sweet and the other isn't.
Despite the somewhat confusing name game, it's actually not difficult to know if you have the right bottle in your hand. Kirsch, the unsweetened eau de vie, is clear in color, while liqueurs will be dark.
Cherry Heering is my favorite cherry liqueur, and it's not hard to find for about $25 or $30 a bottle. It's made with real cherries and it actually tastes like cherries. There are also more affordable options from Bols and Hiram Walker, but now that I make my own, I haven't been tempted.
Cherry Heering tastes great and is made with real fruit, so the reason to DIY isn't because good commercial cherry liqueur doesn't exist. But it's fun to turn a basket of local fruit into something delicious that you can drink for months to come. While I'm certainly not going to age my liqueur in oak casks in the garage, I can make a complex and fruity liqueur using my trusty steeping jar.
Making your own cherry liqueur is a simple and inexpensive way to expand your home cocktail repertoire. Cherry liqueur wasn't one of my home bar staples, so once I decided to make my own I was surprised by all the recipes I had previously missed out on trying.
You can sip your cherry liqueur on the rocks, or splash it in some sparkling wine or seltzer. Add it to some cola for a delicious and slightly alcoholic version of Cherry Coke, or use it to add depth to a sangria.
With a little tasting and adjusting, you can use homemade cherry liqueur in recipes that call for Cherry Heering or cherry brandy. The Singapore Sling is the drink that won me over—it's fun and fruity without being syrupy sweet or unbalanced.
Another delightful drink is the Buck's Fizz, which is like a Mimosa with a little cherry liqueur and gin added in to make it even better. Like cherries themselves, cherry liqueur goes really well with the brown liquors. So try a Blood and Sand made with Scotch or a Whitfield Takes Manhattan, which is a fun twist on the classic Manhattan. Another Manhattan-inspired option is Remember the Maine, which adds a little absinthe to spice things up.