In Search of a Bona Fide Cherry Bounce Posted by: Dan | 0 Comments
Mixology is cool, and cocktails are hip right now. Bartenders… ahem… mixologists, excuse me, are doing a stylish dance with tradition and invention, like a sexy salsa or tango. With one hand, they are infusing whiskey with leather and ground beef, via chemistry sets. With the other, they’re pouring the most historically pure version of a Sazerac possible, and they know this because they’ve read thousands of pages on the subject.
Amid the hipness, confused by the elusive, babbling ingredients now listed on most cocktail menus, one can easily forget the origins of our beloved liquor potions. One can forget that hipness had little to do with Martha Washington’s preferred drink or with which alcohol the pioneer got wasted. Cider, so they say, was a popular drink for American colonists because all one needed to do was plant an apple tree. An IPA started hoppy because it was being exported to India, via long, slow boat rides. The alcohol menu tends to be pragmatic in origin and culturally significant only in hindsight.
The Cherry Bounce was Martha Washington’s favorite, so history goes. She actually wrote about it:
“Extract the Juice of 20 pounds of well ripend Morrella Cherrys Add to this 10 quarts of Old French brandy and sweeten it with White Sugar to your taste… After the liquor has fermented let it Stand Close-Stoped for a month or Six weeks—then bottle it remembering to put a lump of Loaf Sugar into each bottle.”
In regions where cherries actually grow, it’s a liqueur as old as time, drunk and loved for as long as we’ve been eating cherries or, more likely, drinking brandy.
Growing up in Arkansas, I’d never heard of a Cherry Bounce, and I was a little perplexed when this assignment came my way. I’d never seen it at a bar or in a glass. Google yielded very little, leading me to suspect that the Cherry Bounce is either so ubiquitous that it needs no introduction or that no one likes Cherry Bounces. In simple terms, a Cherry Bounce is a liqueur (brandy, whiskey, or rum, but hell, why not vodka or bourbon?) infused with cherries and sugar. A colleague happened to have a bottle of Cherry Bounce she’d been infusing for two years. I asked her to bring it over.
The first taste would probably not have been to Martha Washington’s standards. For one, my colleague had used Captain Morgan instead of expensive brandy. The cherries were store bought in Arkansas, the liqueur unfiltered. It was a little like drinking a forgotten bottle of cherry juice infused with dust and left on a shelf somewhere. It did, however, stimulate some interesting conversation from my mid-summer porch.
So I turned to my cousin, an aspiring mixologist and recent addition to the Big Orange bar staff. That credential in itself lends him an expert’s weight, as you know if you’ve enjoyed a cocktail at the Big Orange. Michael did not disappoint. He did his research and compiled his own recipe, doing the same salsa dance with history and creation. I arrived at his kitchen, to a kitchen counter covered with cherries, bottles of liquor and bitters, lemons, brown sugar cubes, and a mortar and pestle. While I alternated between eating cherries and sipping liquor, Michael rolled up his sleeves and got started.
The ingredients at play are as follows: bourbon, lemon peel, sugar, and cherries. The process isn’t complicated: Michael pitted the cherries, peeled the lemon, crushed the sugar, and dumped it in a copper pot with the bourbon. The concoction was gently heated to break down the cherries and get those ingredients mixing. After some time, Michael got a ‘tater masher and did some mashin’ to expedite the process. He turned the burner off, let it sit covered on the stove for as long as patience allowed, and filtered it into a jar with whole cherries and more sugar. The result is a Michael Hedges Cherry Bounce, and it will be best appreciated in a few months. Or in three years.
The conversation we had while whipping up Cherry Bounce is what most interested me. While the alcohol vapors gently waft around the kitchen, we talk history. I’m thinking of the Cherry Bounce as some novel drink I can try and order at a bar only to impress my friends when the bartender confesses they don’t have it. Michael leads me in another drink, excuse me, direction. The true story of the Cherry Bounce, of liquor in general, has to do with essence. In olden times, an infused liquor could be thought of as capturing the essence of a particular crop or fruit. Infusion took a perishable product and made it everlasting, reducing it into its magical center. Apothecaries served alcohol for your health. You could look at the whole thing with a little mysticism in mind.
The Cherry Bounce was a solution to a perishability problem. Imagine that 1700’s farmer or landowner, shirt filled with just picked sour cherries. “Oh these are so good,” he laments. “But there is only one of me, and thousands of them! How shall I keep them ‘fore they perish?” Why, with a Cherry Bounce! Take those delicious sour cherries, fresh from the tree, and stick ‘em in a jar with brandy and sugar, and you shall enjoy cherries deep into Winter year! I’m just saying, it’s interesting. Sure, you can buy cherries year-round in the grocery store, but rarely are they as good as a fresh sour cherry, in season, from the North. Even in our year-round modernity, things are at their best for only so long. In this way, you could see a Cherry Bounce as preserving the best possible cherry, of bottling a memory of taste once the memory’s origin is gone.
Advice to the Southerners: don’t bother with a Cherry Bounce unless you have good cherries. Wait ‘til you go to Washington or New Hampshire, pick a gallon’s worth, and smuggle them back in a jar of liquor and sugar. Then, laugh on your brilliantly executed plan over a dessert glass of Cherry Bounce and wait for the sequel to this exploration, the Tasting of the Cherry Bounce, due in three months.
Sam Hedges was born in Little Rock and attended the University of the South. He is the Director of Operations for the Arkansas Local Food Network and works at the Little Rock Athletic Club. He collects food and then eats it.
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