In 2011 I went to Lisbon, Portugal, where I encountered Ginjinha/Ginja, a cherry liqueur that made the stuff in Canada aspiring to that name weep in shame. And it was dirt cheap too: €10 per litre bottle. Incredibly rich flavour, and not disgustingly sweet like the Canadian and American stuff. Ginjinha is made with Morello cherries and Aguardente (essentially brandy, although the descriptions over at Wikipedia suggest Aguardente labels should have a skull and bones on them). All of which inspired me to make my own, and sour cherries appearing at the farmer's market today means I've pulled the recipe out.
Some people are quite impressed by the results I get, building up this mythical process in their minds. The reality is much more boring: get some cherries, leave them in booze for a month. That's it, that'll produce a drinkable product. The main problem most people have with this is the "for a month" part. Let me give you a hint: you don't have to do anything. Modern society just doesn't get delayed gratification. If you want a better product, here's a more detailed recipe.
- 1 900 ml mason jar
- 1 pint sour cherries
- 2 cm cinnamon bark
- 1/3rd peel of an orange
- about 500 ml brandy
Clean the cherries, leave the pit in. Put the orange peel and cinnamon in the mason jar. Puncture every cherry with a fork. Fill the jar with cherries to within 2cm of the top. Shake it down (gently) to fill space, top up with cherries. Pour in brandy to fill. Seal and store in a cool cabinet for a month. Press as much juice as possible out of the cherries. Use a coffee filter to remove sediment. Use simple syrup to sweeten to taste. Store in the fridge.
Buy your cherries at the farmer's market: sour cherries are hard to find at the supermarket and usually very bad. Sweet cherries don't have as good flavour (any pie maker will tell you the same thing). Montmorency cherries are commonest in Canada. I managed to find Morellos once, but the difference in flavour was so minimal I haven't bothered to pursue it since.
I use cheap brandy, the cheapest the LCBO carries.
You may wonder about the fork: if you don't puncture the cherries, the alcohol won't get inside the skin for a while, giving the cherries time to go bad in their own skin. This can radically change the flavour (most people don't like the change, although I have one friend who does). I suspect you're also risking an explosion as I saw small bubbles of gas.
Some people worry that the bottle in a dark closet is a breeding ground for germs. Don't worry: 40% alcohol will kill just about anything. Nothing grows in there.
The cinnamon and orange peel add hints of flavour that emphasize the cherry: they're not required, but they really improve the flavour. I leave the pits in the cherries as they also add to the flavour.
After three weeks you should start tasting: if it tastes mostly like brandy you're too early. There's generally a turning point around four weeks when it ceases to improve, and around five weeks it can start to get worse.
My best method for juicing the cherries has been to put them in a heavy duty ziplock and squeeze them - it's not great. This year I'll try a juicer.
Filtering your liqueur is important not just for appearance, but also for texture when you're drinking it and for longer shelf life. I use a pour-over coffee filter and cup I bought at Starbucks. (If you're adding simple syrup, do it AFTER the filtering, it slows the filtering that takes a couple hours to most of a day.)
Some people like a bit of simple syrup added to sweeten the liqueur, but not much is needed. I've taken to storing the liqueur without the syrup because several of my friends prefer it without syrup added.
You can store the liqueur on the shelf for a couple months, but it'll start to go off after that. If you keep it in the fridge, it can last up to a year (it actually improves with time, peaking around six months).
This can be done with other fruits (skip the cinnamon and orange peel): peaches (but! usually ready after about 5-7 days), apricots (also a short soak), black currants ... but none have ever worked as well as the cherries. The peaches are close on a good day. If anyone knows a good recipe for Limoncello I'm all ears: I've only achieved "mediocre."
Yes, this is legal in Canada: there's no distilling involved. Don't sell it, that's illegal. But you can certainly give it away (although you may have to explain to your friends that they won't go blind).