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Drunk Cherry Showdown: Alcohol Taste Test

Ahhh cherries. So sweet, so beautiful, so corruptible! Seriously, these juicy red fruits love the hooch, soaking up a variety of spirits in as little as an hour's time. While cherries are not exclusive in the tipsy fruits realm, none compare to the ease, flavor and speed with which a batch can be made.

Before we get down to the taste test, let's talk about cherry types, seasonally availability and preservation.

Cherry types:

To go through all of the different cultivars and varieties would require its own article, and a lengthy one at that. Instead, let's distil the data into kitchen usability.

Sweet Red: includes Bing, Chelan, Lampins, Dark Hudson (and others, though these are the types most likely to be found in most stores)

Sour and Semi-Sweet Red: Sweetheart, Lambert, Montmorency, Tulare, Bright Red Sour, Balaton

Yellow: Rainier (sweet), Sour Yellow

While new cherries are introduced year to year, whether transplanted from another region or bred for certain trait combinations, it might be best to stick with the more common varieties. I am all for experimenting, but not when preparing a large batch for guests.

Seasonal Availability:

Like most fruit, cherries are a summertime harvest, generally starting in late June. Weather conditions can vary the peak harvest by a few weeks, so always call ahead if you plan to visit a U-pick farm.

In the Pacific NW, we tend to have Chelans first, followed by Bing and then Rainier 2 weeks later. If you time it right, you can often pick the end of the Bing harvest and the start of the Rainiers on the same day.

Preservation:

While you can turn your cherries into jam and preserve by canning or freeze your pitted fruit, cherries provide a wonderful third option: alcohol. While just about any fruit can be preserved in a jar full of your favorite (80 proof or higher) alcohol, not all of them will look or taste as expected after a few months. If you have ever prepared a Rumtopf, you know what I mean; the stars of the jar were always the cherries. While I certainly enjoyed the rum soaked cherries all through winter, I couldn't help but to wonder if there was something better than straight rum.

Most recipes that I researched mentioned brandy, which seems a reasonable choice considering that it is a distillate of wine, which tends to pair well with cherries. Still, what I wanted was to uncover some choices that could accent not just the drunk cherry consumed directly, but as an accompaniment to other taste profiles. Cost was also a factor, as no one wants to bust their party budget on just a round of drunk cherries. What I needed was a ranking system that would highlight the plus and minus to each spirit.

With clipboard in hand and a tasting sheet prepared for each sample, I set out to do some really hard work.

*The values for each measurement are independent, and not intended to add up to a set of winners. Different applications may praise opposing qualities, so make clear note of what traits would work for the dish or presentation you intend. Also be aware that a cherry soaked for less than 24 hours will favor the original qualities of the fruit and make the cherry itself a real treat to consume. After 48 hours, however, the cherry flavor will have largely been extracted into the alcohol, leaving a fruit that is strongly alcoholic and great in cocktails, but less desirable on its own with the resulting cherry infused liqueur instead being the star. If you intend to feature your drunk cherries as a desert, soak for less than 24 hours, or as indicated in the tasting sheets below.

 

1 - Kopke Tawny Port:

Cherry Saturation (was the taste of alcohol too weak or too strong):

Weak 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 _8_ 9 10 Strong

Notes:  Almost too strong.

 

Color (does the cherry retain its red pretty red color):

Ugly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 _10_ Pretty

Notes: Almost no change in color.

 

Flavor (does the alcohol compliment the cherry):

Cherry Killer 1 2 3 _4_ 5 6 7 8 9 10 Awesome Pairing

Notes: Tastes like port, but a lower quality one.

 

Chocolate (does the flavor profile work with chocolate):

Poor Match 1 2 _3_ 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Perfect Trio

Notes: Overpowers the chocolate.

 

Change to the soak (how was the left over alcohol):

Ruined 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 _9_ 10 Amazing

Notes: Cherry infused port is something I will make in the future.

 

Cost (was this unnecessarily expensive):

Cheap 1 _2_ 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Expensive

Notes: You would probably get the same result with a cheaper, but decent, bottle of port.

 

Overall Impression: 6 - It works if you have a bottle of port, but there are better options.

 

2 - Captain Morgan Spiced Rum:

Cherry Saturation (was the taste of alcohol too weak or too strong):

Weak 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 _8_ 9 10 Strong

Notes:  Saturated but smooth.

 

Color (does the cherry retain its red pretty red color):

Ugly 1 2 3 4 5 6 _7_ 8 9 10 Pretty

Notes: Uniform color change, reddish brown.

 

Flavor (does the alcohol compliment the cherry):

Cherry Killer 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 _9_ 10 Awesome Pairing

Notes: Surprisingly balanced, distinct rum and cherry flavor.

 

Chocolate (does the flavor profile work with chocolate):

Poor Match 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 _8_ 9 10 Perfect Trio

Notes: Slightly overpowered the chocolate, but should work well dipped, or with a shorter soak.

 

Change to the soak (how was the left over alcohol):

Ruined 1 2 _3_ 4 5 6 7 8 3 10 Amazing

Notes: Mostly rum taste, very little cherry (after a month, the rum is amazing, though the cherries suffer).

 

Cost (was this unnecessarily expensive):

Cheap 1 2 3 4 5 6 _7_ 8 9 10 Expensive

Notes: Of all the good cherry/alcohol combos, this is the most budget friendly.

 

Overall Impression: 8 - Surprised, long soak overpowers the cherry, but a short one was great.

 

3 - Villa Massa Lemoncello:

Cherry Saturation (was the taste of alcohol too weak or too strong):

Weak 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 _9_ 10 Strong

Notes:  More lemon than cherry.

 

Color (does the cherry retain its red pretty red color):

Ugly 1 2 3 4 _5_ 6 7 8 9 10 Pretty

Notes: Some nice red, but also muddy.

 

Flavor (does the alcohol compliment the cherry):

Cherry Killer 1 2 3 4 5 6 _7_ 8 9 10 Awesome Pairing

Notes: Overpowers a bit, but not unpleasant.  Shorter soak might resolve this.

 

Chocolate (does the flavor profile work with chocolate):

Poor Match 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 _9_ 10 Perfect Trio

Notes: Great balance.  The chocolate mutes the lemon to a reasonable level.

 

Change to the soak (how was the left over alcohol):

Ruined 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 3 _10_ Amazing

Notes: Mostly rum taste, very little cherry (after a month, the rum is amazing, though the cherries suffer).

 

Cost (was this unnecessarily expensive):

Cheap 1 2 3 4 5 _6_ 7 8 9 10 Expensive

Notes: Not too pricey, and I would guess a lower priced lemonchello would work just as well.

 

Overall Impression: 8 - The lemon flavor is a nice surprise when eating the cherry, especially with chocolate.

 

4 - Cointreau:

Cherry Saturation (was the taste of alcohol too weak or too strong):

Weak 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 _8_ 9 10 Strong

Notes:  You can tell its spiked. Might advise a shorter soak.

 

Color (does the cherry retain its red pretty red color):

Ugly 1 2 3 4 5 _6_ 7 8 9 10 Pretty

Notes: Dark and muddy, but uniform.

 

Flavor (does the alcohol compliment the cherry):

Cherry Killer 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 _8_ 9 10 Awesome Pairing

Notes: Not obviously orange, more pleasantly fruity.

 

Chocolate (does the flavor profile work with chocolate):

Poor Match 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 _9_ 10 Perfect Trio

Notes: Really great combo, would be amazing with a shorter soak.

 

Change to the soak (how was the left over alcohol):

Ruined 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 3 _10_ Amazing

Notes:  Very tasty. Would be worth using the cherries just for the infused alcohol.

 

Cost (was this unnecessarily expensive):

Cheap 1 _2_ 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Expensive

Notes: Cost is a bit prohibitive. Cheaper versions should work for the cherries, but may produce a lesser quality soak.

 

Overall Impression: 9 - With a shorter soak, this would be incredible around the holidays (think Terry's Chocolate Oranges)

 

5 - Disaronno:

Cherry Saturation (was the taste of alcohol too weak or too strong):

Weak 1 2 _3_ 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Strong

Notes:  The cherries are slow to absorb, but a longer soak does resolve.

 

Color (does the cherry retain its red pretty red color):

Ugly 1 2 3 4 5 6 _7_ 8 9 10 Pretty

Notes: Deep red with some muddiness.

 

Flavor (does the alcohol compliment the cherry):

Cherry Killer 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 _10_ Awesome Pairing

Notes: This might be the single best way to get tipsy ever.

 

Chocolate (does the flavor profile work with chocolate):

Poor Match 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 _10_ Perfect Trio

Notes: All three tastes shine at once. Longer soak cherries were even better.

Change to the soak (how was the left over alcohol):

Ruined 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 3 _10_ Amazing

Notes: So smooth and delicious, I almost drank the entire sample.

 

Cost (was this unnecessarily expensive):

Cheap 1 2 _3_ 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Expensive

Notes: Pricey, but for the wow factor, it's probably worth it for a party.

 

Overall Impression: 10 - This was the best of all six samples, both for the cherries and the soak. Honestly, I can't get enough of this combination now.

 

6 - Maker's Mark Bourbon:

Cherry Saturation (was the taste of alcohol too weak or too strong):

Weak 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 _10_ Strong

Notes:  Overly alcoholic. Not sure if a shorter soak would even help.

 

Color (does the cherry retain its red pretty red color):

Ugly _1_ 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Pretty

Notes: Ugly and muddy, no red at all.

 

Flavor (does the alcohol compliment the cherry):

Cherry Killer 1 _2_ 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Awesome Pairing

Notes: Almost no cherry flavor. Pretty awful.

 

Chocolate (does the flavor profile work with chocolate):

Poor Match 1 _2_ 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Perfect Trio

Notes: A serious waste of good chocolate.

 

Change to the soak (how was the left over alcohol):

Ruined _1_ 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 3 10 Amazing

Notes: This was the only sample where the cherry infusion ruined the alcohol.

 

Cost (was this unnecessarily expensive):

 Cheap 1 2 _3_ 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Expensive

Notes: The only time this would be worth the cost is if you were angry at your guests.

 

Overall Impression: 1 - This is how you ruin good cherries and good bourbon. Couldn't even finish the cherry sample, it was that bad.

 

So what did I learn?

-Sweet liqueurs really shine with cherries, and I would assume, just about any other hooch loving fruit.

-Unfortunately, some of the best options also tended to be the most costly, so featuring amazing drunk cherries as more of a garnish will likely be your best bet for entertaining.

-My samples used a 24 hour soak. In the notes above, a shorter soak would be somewhere in the 6-12 hour range. If you wanted to prepare a batch in a hurry, you could soak for as little as an hour and still have a pleasant cherry, but the soak will be largely unaffected.

-Use only sweet red cherries. Here is the outcome of using Rainiers:

These cherries were picked from the tree, pitted and placed in the alcohol in under 24 hours. Each had a lovely yellow hue with the expected patch of red blush. After the soak, however, they looked muddy, bruised and awful. They tasted fantastic, so if all you have is a box of Rainiers, then by all means whip up a few for yourself. If offering to others, however, I would stick with a red variety.

Also, if you wanted to get a sense of how saturated each cherry sample was after 24 hours, these cherries correspond from left to right with the tasting sheets #1 - 6.

So how do you make drunk cherries?

Simply pit your cherries by positioning your pitter tool so that it punches the pit out of the bottom of the fruit. If you do not intend to leave the stem in tact, then this is of lesser concern. Once you have your cherries pitted, sit them in a flat dish of alcohol with the hole submerged to allow the fruit to soak up the alcohol. The glass above shows how little alcohol is necessary. If making these for a gathering, just place your cherries in a shallow, flat bottomed dish with the hole facing down and add your alcohol of choice to the level shown above, then cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve.

 

 

If you intend to make a few jars to enjoy in the future, I recommend filling sterilized canning jars with cherries, but pack them loosely. Fill the jar with your preferred alcohol (add sugar if not already sweetened) and store in the fridge until ready to serve. Do you have to store them in the fridge? While I do keep my current jar cooled out of an abundance of caution and preference for cold drunk cherries, the rest sit on a shelf. Please note: not all alcohol or containers are safe and suitable for this type of storage. The two conditions you must meet are:

- an air-tight container. Drunk cherries don't go through the canning process, but continuous exposure to oxygen will degrade your alcohol content over time. A canning jar with a fresh lid works just fine, as do the rubber seal jars such as Fido and Weck.

- a minimum of 80 proof alcohol. Before you lament that this excludes most of the options in our taste test, a combination of high and low proof alcohol can be mixed to achieve 80 proof. There are a number of high proof options that are taste-neutral, such as Vodka and Everclear, though some liquor profiles may benefit from a more flavorful alcohol such as rum, tequila or gin. The best way to experiment is to make a mini-sample of your 80 proof mix and give it a sip. If you like it, you'll probably like it even more with your cherries. Flavor extracts can also be used to balance your flavors.

In a traditional Rumtopf (a clay pot or glass vessel for storing fruits preserved in rum), the key is to avoid any chance for evaporation of your spirits or conversion to acetic acid due to contact with oxygen, as your alcohol is the main preservative. In addition, a Rumtopf will include added sugar as a secondary preservative. Lastly, your fruits must be below the surface of your alcohol or they risk spoiling. If you feel confident that you can meet these requirements safely like your grandmother did, then its a fantastic way to put some fresh cherries up for the winter. I don't mean to scare anyone and it is a really easy process, but since I've never experience spoilage, I don't have pictures to show you. Suffice to say that any mold means that your jar is no longer safe.

If you choose to leave your boozy cherries out on a shelf, make sure that you follow best canning practices: use a sterilized jar, a fresh canning lid and after opening the jar, put it in the fridge. Better yet, invest in a few of the wonderful, Italian-made Fido jars from Bormioli Rocco or the German-made Weck jars just for this purpose. (Though I own some, I am less likely to recommend Kilner jars, as they are now outsourced and no longer made in England.) Whether placed on a shelf or set on a table, cherries stored in these classic jars just look stunning.

If all you have are Ball canning jars, however, the finished product will still look amazing. (left: my final jar of rum cherries from last year. right: Rainier cherries in Maraschino liqueur).

So hurry and grab the last of the harvest so that winter doesn't find you pining for summer's most perfect fruit.

Categories: Recipes, Highlights

Tags: Cherries, Boozy cherries, Rum cherries, Drunk cherries

Comments: 2 Comments

Drunk Cherries

Difficulty: Easy

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 0 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Oven Temperature: -

Yield: 4 jars

Drunk Cherries

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs fresh cherries (red preferred)
  • 2 cups cane sugar
  • 4 cups unsweetened alcohol (80 proof or higher if not refrigerated)
  • 6 - 1 pint size canning jars

Instructions

  1. Pack canning jars loosely with pitted cherries.
  2. Divide sugar evenly between each jar.
  3. Submerge cherries in alcohol.
  4. Add lid and shake to dissolve sugar. (If all of the sugar does not dissolve, just let sit for a few minutes, shake and repeat.)

Notes

* If using a sweetened liqueur, you may omit some or all of the sugar.

** 80 proof (40%) alcohol or higher is required for the safe storage of fruit without refrigeration. If your preferred alcohol is not of a high enough proof, either mix with a higher proof alcohol or refrigerate at current proof and consume within a few weeks.

As an example, I use 0.14 ounce of 195 proof Everclear for each 1 ounce of Disaronno in order to reach 80 proof.

https://www.itsygarden.com/old-fashioned-sour-cream-coffee-cake-for-your-strawberries/
Creative Commons License
This article's still images and text by Sandra Rosner are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
2

Comments

  • Comment by Carrie on 26 September 2015 2:26 am

    Can you use frozen cherries, or do they only work with fresh? I know someone who would love a jar of these.

  • Comment by Sandra on 27 September 2015 3:56 am

    Hi Carrie!
    While fresh cherries will always give the best presentation, frozen cherries can certainly be used out of season. I prefer sweet red cherries, but even tart red can be used if you add a little extra sugar to your alcohol.Just defrost the bag of cherries in the fridge, distribute into jars along with any of the juice from the bag and then add your alcohol of choice along with sugar.

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