Cherry Liqueur: Make Now. Love Later.

Basano del Grappa

Basano del Grappa

My husband’s family hails from Bassano del Grappa and neighboring town of Borso in northern Italy. Just outside of Venice in the lower Alps. The Family is still there. It’s just my Dean, his brother Tom and our families in America now. The rest of the extended clan are still cooking beautiful dishes in their ancestral homes, working as Butchers, and making a little wine and grappa in a collective town effort. They keep their low-alcohol, fragrant red wine in a 5 gallon car-boy in a special cupboard beneath the kitchen sink and pour small amounts to enjoy with dinner in beautifully aged, slightly chipped glassware.

Dean’s Nonna (Lucia), mother (Olga), and grandfather (Adolfo) emigrated to America in the aftermath of World War I. They settled first in Queens and then soon to a small town in the desert called Las Vegas, Nevada. Dean’s father (Enzo) spoke mostly Italian and was a great bartender known for his Vodka Martinis. Lucia was a seamstress, flawless cook by all accounts, and Matriarch. The boys parked cars and played football on scholarship. Their family is one of hard work, immigration, sending home what money they could to family still in Borso and Basano, and, of course, Cooking. Dean’s grandfather, Adolfo, was the one who enjoyed the ritual of one shot of Grappa with his espresso every afternoon and as Dean remembers, would make Grappa in their Queens apartment bathtub. Grappa and wine are deep parts of my husband’s blood.

When I first met Dean at the Farmer’s Market some seven years ago, he was in cahoots with some other “Degos” to make Grappa from the dregs of our wine making processes here in Sonoma.  First, they used rehydrated “Pumice” (the dried skins and seeds left over from pressing out every last bit of wine).  Next batch? He and Mike Muscardini used “Must” — the still sopping wet skins and seeds left from barrelling-down our Zinfandel from tank to barrel.  This resulted in a smoother, more lyrical softness to the otherwise harsh mouthfeel in Grappa (I think at least).  All produced (slightly illegally) in a hand-hammered copper still for home consumption. Now, we have just released our first commercially produced Grappa called “Adolfo” ($40) made from the “Must” of our Estate Grown Merlot, the vines right outside my kitchen window.

And it is this Grappa that Dean prefers me to use when making our “Cherry Moonshine” each Summer…  But I cannot purely use Grappa.  No matter how much he loves it. No matter their family history with Grappa.  Because a small glass of Cherry Liqueur in the coming cold Winter nights is my FAVORITE evening splurge.

And because… well… Grappa. Makes. Me. A. Bitch.


First off, this is NOT my recipe. Rather this is Kevin West‘s take on an old classic. His book on canning and jamming the growing season is a Bible of sorts and 100% belongs on your shelf: Saving the Season.

Second, after two years of tweaking — and debate — Dean and I have reached an understanding on what our ingredient equations should be.  BUT we still differ in which liquer to use… I think Bourbon or Vodka and Dean adamantly prefers our Grappa. Nose hair bleeding levels of Grappa, in my modest opinion. So pick your your own style and make this definitely delicious, no-fail recipe. Minimum effort with big flavors. Provided your ingredients are top notch.

Ready to store.

Ready to store.

We compromised this year.  I made five batches (so far) of three large jars each with Vodka, Whiskey, Amaretto, and yes, our Adolfo Grappa for Dean.  Three whole jars just for him.  Some we will drink this Winter and Fall.  Some we will continue to age another year.  I leave it up to you how long you wish to age your Cherry ‘shine. 4, 6, 10 months or longer but I think at least 4-6 months for maximum flavor melding.

Such deliciousness come this Winter.

Such deliciousness come this Winter.


  • Mason Jars and lids (larger size for home use and make two or three for house-warming gifts during your holidays)
  • Dark Cherries (eyeball your jars and buy accordingly. But at least a pound.)
  • 1-2 bottle high quality 80 proof liquors like Maker’s Mark, Kettle One Vodka, Gentleman’s Jack, or Amaretto.


Scald Mason jars and lids in hot water 5 mins.

De-stem cherries and sort, removing any moldy or damaged cherries.

Remove jars and lids from water safely (I use rubber-tipped tongs). Fill jars with cherries. You can snugly pack cherries (Kevin West’s version) or fill jar more loosely (like we do). We’ve found that everyone just loves the flavored liquor with a cherry or two in their glass. So I pack the jars more loosely with a good 1 inch of pure liquor on top.

Fill jars with your choice of alcohol. Place lids on snugly and store 4-6-10+ months in a cool, dark place. I put my Cherry ‘Shine up with my recently made jams that need time to settle.

First cold rainy night this coming Fall? You’ll be so happy you made this!


I leave the Cherries up with my setting Jams. You want to store in a cool, dark place.