Cherry Bounce – A Simple Colonial-Era Liqueur


In addition to experiencing the flavor and aroma of a cocktail, appreciation comes from knowledge of its history. However, our tendency is only to study modern history and investigate the birth of the cocktail rather than the historical context of drinking culture which predates it. For Americans this means failure to reflect upon our colonial roots, when even children drank out of necessity due to a lack of potable water. Fortunately, this history is well-preserved in personal journals and publications of the era, and unlike with modern cocktail history, these drink origins and names are not hotly debated. While some of the ingredients may be obscure, it’s possible to make modern versions of the various beers, punches, and cure-alls that were traditionally consumed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The latest book I’ve dove into is Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse of Tamworth Distilling. Colonial Spirits breaks down the drinking habits of the colonists by base spirit, giving a brutally honest and often comedic historical context to their drinking culture. Each chapter features a brief back story establishing the context of the spirit followed by several recipes. Many of the recipes include a citation to the original recipe, one of them being the cherry bounce liqueur that Martha Washington made.

Tamworth Distillery created their own cherry bounce based off this recipe to accompany the release of Colonial Spirits. They named it Sweet Lips, after George Washington’s prized American Foxhound of the same name. (However, if I were Tamworth, I may have opted for one of his other dog’s names like Drunkard or Tipsy.) Looking at Martha’s recipe, I hope this was their go-to recipe when hosting a party because it calls for the juice of twenty pounds of Morrella cherries, 10 quarts of brandy, along with sugar and various spices. That’s just over 12 bottles of brandy alone!

Cherry Bounce
This cherry bounce recipe is based off of Martha Washington's recipe. This particular variation can be found in the book, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History.
Recipe Type: Cocktail
Serves: 1 quart
  • 1 (750 mL) bottle of whiskey or bourbon*
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 1 pound sour cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  1. Combine 1½ cups of the whiskey and all of the sugar in a 1-quart jar. Shake to dissolve.
  2. Add cherries, vanilla bean, and remaining whiskey to the jar. Seal and shake.
  3. Store in a cool dark place for 4 to 6 weeks, or up to 6 months.
  4. Strain the mixture into a bottle and keep up to 2 months.
The recipe in the book calls for whiskey or bourbon, and Sweet Lips uses rye, apple brandy, and grain neutral spirits. I think that exclusively using a rye (Rittenhouse), applejack (Laird’s), or a Cognac (Courvoisier) or even a combination of these three would yield great results.
Sweet Lips uses a house-made rye whiskey, apple brandy, and grain neutral spirits as a base. This base is infused with sour cherries, Tahitian vanilla, distillate of smoked cardamom, and wild cherry bark. The resulting liqueur is bottle at 40% ABV and has a natural red-brown color. It smells like fresh cherry pie, but not the kind you can easily find at a local store – this is the cherry pie made with the recipe that has been in the family for years. The spice of the rye blends with the notes of baking spices, and provides warmth and comfort with each sip. If you’re not fortunate enough to get your hands on a bottle, Colonial Spirits features a recipe that you can make at home. Cherry bounce can be enjoyed year-round, but the flavors lend themselves more towards Fall and Winter drinks.
sweet_lips_and_colonial_spiritsAs much as I wanted to exclusively sip cherry bounce neat, I had to mix up at least one cocktail featured in Colonial Spirits to see how cherry bounce (specifically Sweet Lips) plays with other ingredients. Riffs on classics are hard to beat, so I chose the New Amsterdam. New Amsterdam was the original name for New York – a state in which the city of Manhattan resides. The Manhattan is also classic cocktail, and the New Amsterdam recipe is a riff on what is called the Perfect Manhattan. A Perfect Manhattan uses both sweet and dry vermouth instead of simply the customary sweet vermouth. The New Amsterdam uses cherry bounce as the base, and a rye-forward one like Sweet Lips works extremely well in this recipe and gives it a seasonal twist.

Regardless of whether you specifically make cherry bounce or try another colonial recipe, the drinking culture of that period created a certain style of drinks that are worth exploring. From dandelion wine to switchel to mulled cider, the drinks emphasized making the most of what the land provided and storing it to last throughout the year. And any distillery or individual that shares those same practices has respect in my book.

New Amsterdam
Recipe Type: Cocktail
Serves: 1
  • 2 ounces cherry bounce
  • ½ ounce sweet vermouth
  • ½ ounce dry vermouth
  • dash of orange bitters
  • orange peel for garnish
  1. Combine ingredients in mixing glass and stir until chilled.*
  2. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with expressed orange peel.
The recipe in the book calls for shaking this cocktail, however this goes against the conventional method of only shaking if a recipe contains a fresh juice or viscous ingredient such as honey. For this reason I chose to stir the cocktail, as one would a standard Manhattan.

Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History

Additional Resources:
Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History
Tamworth Distilling Announces Sweet Lips
More Info on Steven Grasse
Grade A Tahitian Vanilla Beans

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