Every summer for the last 15 years, at the end of July, I have traveled north from Chicago to Door County, Wisconsin to pick tart, Montmorency Cherries.
I grew up doing this with family from Appleton. We would pick cherries around Algoma, and then go back home and pit them all outdoors by the garden. My grandma, Delphine, would then can them for pies and cobblers and other desserts. I loved helping her with the canning process.
I grew and traveled and moved throughout my life, but Wisconsin was always a place of grounding for me and as I developed a career in the bar and cocktail world, cherries and Wisconsin were always there calling me back.
DOOR COUNTY CHERRY OLD FASHIONED
One influential thing about Wisconsin that I grew up around was the remnants of a real cocktail culture. There was always a dinner at a local supper club, replete with cocktails at the bar while we waited for a table, or cocktail hour at home with grandparents served with summer sausage and cheese and pickled vegetables. Of course, the kids got kiddie cocktails, which would be horrifying today but was good prep for future bartenders.
I have been developing recipes over the years for making cocktail cherries, cherry bounce, and Creme de Noyeaux from the cherry stones and incorporating them in cocktails.
The Wisconsin Old Fashioned, along with classics like Manhattans, Gimlets, and Martinis, were the go to’s for the adults. Old Fashioneds and Manhattans are almost always made with brandy in Wisconsin, a legacy of German and central European immigrant culture.
I make Cherry Bounce each year with Bourbon, Rye, Brandy or Cognac. Those spirits are perfectly complimented with cherries. They just go together.
Of course, the next logical conclusion was to make an Old Fashioned with the cherries and cherry syrup we make.
Here is the recipe:
2 oz Sacred Bond Brandy
.75 oz Montmorency Cherry Syrup
2-3 Dashes Angostura Bitters
2 Montmorency Cocktail Cherries
Add all liquid ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir briskly to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or an iced rocks glass. Express the orange peel over the cocktail glass and discard, or add to the rocks glass as a garnish. Two cherries on a pick.
You can find cherry syrup in some specialty stores or make your own with cherries or buy tart cherry juice or juice concentrate and make your own syrup. I have found homemade to be much better, but it’s still good with a quality premade one. To make a syrup, just add equal parts refined cane sugar and tart cherry juice and dissolve on low heat. Cool and refrigerate.
Making cocktail cherries quickly isn’t hard. Make the cherry syrup. Blanch some pitted cherries (1 minute in boiling water) add to a glass jar, top with cherry syrup, store in a refrigerator. These will last for a long time this way and will be ready to use in 1-2 weeks and get even better over time.
I sometimes add a splash of vermouth or bourbon or brandy to the cocktail cherries. You can add orange peel or make them spiced with cinnamon or allspice, if you wish, as well.