Višnjevača, (višnja or višnjevac), is a homemade sour or tart cherry liqueur (cherry brandy) beloved in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and beyond. Made by fermenting ripe sour cherries in local spirits, this cherry brandy is a potent delight. Shall we?
As June rolls around in the Balkans, it's time for households to get busy making višnja, a delightful cherry liqueur that's incredibly sweet and wonderfully strong.
In English, višnja is known as:
- sour cherry liqueur,
- tart cherry liqueur,
- cherry liqueur,
- cherry brandy, or
- cherry alcohol.
Višnja, pronounced as "vee-sh-ni-uh," also goes by višnjevača (Bosnia and Serbia) and višnjevac (Croatia). It gets its name from the sour (tart) cherry it's made from.
Višnja is like the Balkan cousin of Portuguese ginjinha. It's bursting with flavor and intensity. Believe us, this little delight packs quite a punch in tiny sips!
You can add cherry brandy to cocktails, or enjoy it neat. Whatever you do, remember to sip it slowly, and only a couple of shot glasses at a time!
Here's more on sour cherry liqueur ingredients.
Sour or tart cherries:
- Look for ripe tart cherries. Remove the stems, but leave the pits inside. Avoid: sweet cherries or (if you can) frozen tart cherries.
- Any homemade fruit brandy works. Local rakija fruit brandy is our preferred choice, particularly plum brandy called šljivovica.
Clear, neutral brandies are ideal for fermentation as they don't dominate the fruit's flavor. Instead, they readily absorb the tart cherry essence, resulting in a subtle alcoholic taste.
Substitute with vodka or another neutral-tasting clear spirit.
- The spirits don't have to be of the highest quality. A medium-range vodka or šljivovica will do just fine. (Confession time: in a pinch, I've even used sherry to ferment višnja, and it turned out perfectly.)
- Granulated white sugar is the best option for fermenting cherry brandy. Substitute with brown sugar or honey, or a combination of.
Cherry Brandy Formula?
Because it's simple to make, there's no exact volume formula for making tart cherry brandy. Get a wide-brimmed jar, some sugar, tart cherries, and liquor. Layer up the ingredients and top them off with liquor. That's all there is to it!
How much you'll need exactly will depend on the size of your cherries, and jars.
However, the approximation is that for every 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cherries, you'll need about the same amount of granulated sugar and about ⅓ to a ½ liter (11-16 ounces) of liquor.
Again, this is just an approximation!
Step-by-step Višnjevača Instructions
Step 1. Layer sugar and sour cherries (pit left inside, destemed), alternately into a wide-brimmed jar all the way to the top. (You'll probably need a few jars.)
Step 2. Slowly pour the liquor into the jar. It'll slowly start settling on the bottom of the jar until it reaches the top. Screw the lids tightly.
Sour cherries will stay on top of the jar, and sugar will settle to the bottom at first. As you stir it, the sugar will eventually dissolve and cherries will swim up and down the jar.
Step 3. Leave jar(s) in a sunny place for 40 days, and/or longer (not photographed). Once a week, take the lid off and stir well.
Step 4. When the 40 (or more) days have passed, strain the cherry liqueur into bottles. Put a few cherries into each bottle. Use the remaining cherries as a dessert topping, to use in a dessert, or freeze.
Making Tea from Sour Cherry Stems
Homeopaths claim that sour cherry stem tea is excellent for UTIs and kidney sand due to its antioxidant properties.
To get the stems ready for tea, spread them on a clean towel and leave them to dry for a few days. After this time you can transfer them to a paper bag.
To make the tea, cover ¼ cup of stems with 4 cups of water, and leave to soak for 12 hours. The following day, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cool for 15 minutes. Drink it up to three times daily.
Serving: There is no specific time when sour cherry liqueur should be served, however, it goes great with dessert or coffee, or as an aperitif (before-dinner drink to stimulate appetite).
It's best to serve it in small, shot glasses. Consume it by sipping it. Višnjevača is deceptively strong. If you're greedy you may find yourself on the floor after a couple of shot glasses.
Storing: Stored in a liquor cabinet, or a cool dark place (not the fridge!), višnja can last up to 2 years. (Our preference is to drink it within the year it was made, if you can make it last that long! 😁) Separated from tart cherry liqueur, fermented cherries keep a couple of weeks in the fridge, or a couple of months in the freezer. (The exception to the rule is if you've used frozen cherries to make your cherry brandy. In this case, they should not be refrozen!)
Freezing: sour cherry liqueur should not be frozen.
There are several kinds of cherry liqueurs from Europe.
The most popular ones are višnjevača or višnjevac from the Balkans (Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, etc.), and ginjinha from Portugal.
Yes. However, due to sweetness, it's underestimated how strong it is. Our tart cherry liqueur (cherry brandy, višnjevac) is meant to be sipped out of small shot glasses.
Absolutely. Check out these 20 cherry brandy cocktails.
Serve them with the brandy, or use them for desserts. They're great for desserts like cheesecakes, and pies.
If planning to use them soon, keep them in the fridge, otherwise, they keep great in the freezer. However, if you used frozen tart cherries to make cherry brandy, you can't refreeze them!
Here are some other amazing beverages we have on the blog.
If you made our višnjevača, višnja, or sour (tart) cherry liqueur), and liked it, please consider giving it a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5-star) rating. This helps others find the recipe more easily!
Also, feel free to leave a comment (I read each one!), and don't forget to tag a photo #balkanlunchbox, or us @balkanlunchbox, on IG.
Prijatno and bon appetit!
Višnjevača Cherry Brandy (Sour or Tart Cherry Liqueur)
- A couple 64-ounce jars with wide brims. Sizing is optional. All jar sizes work, but you may need more if choosing smaller.
- A couple of liquor bottles with caps. These are for storing the cherry brandy after fermentation.
- 2.2 pounds granulated white sugar
- 2.2 pounds sour or tart cherries preferrably fresh
- 11-16 ounces clear neutral liquor fruit brandy like plum brandy šljivovica is the best, otherwise use vodka or similar clear liquor with neutral flavor
- Destem sour (tart) cherries. Get rid of damaged cherries or the ones with worms. Wash the remaining, destemmed cherries. (Optional: keep the stems for making cherry stem tea. Look in the accompanying text for insturctions.)
- Layer sour cherries and sugar in the jar. Start with sour cherries, then generously cover with a few tablespoons of sugar. Repeat until you fill the entire jar.
- Slowly pour liquor into the jar over sugar and tart cherries, as much brandy as the jar will take. This process takes a few minutes as the alcohol needs time to work through the cherries and sugar to fill up the remaining jar. Once you're done fasten the lid. Repeat for the remaining jars.
- Take the jars outside, and leave them in a relatively (or partially) sunny place for at least 40 days, and up to 4-5 months. (The longer you ferment, the sweeter and better the liqueur will be!)
- Once a week, stir the ingredients so that the sugar dissolves more easily. Open the first jar, and transfer a cup of cherries out of the jar. (Taking a cup of the cherries out first ensures the mixture doesn't spill out, as the jar is usually filled to the max.) Mix the remaining ingredients well with a long-handled spatula. Return the cherries to the jar and fasten the lid. Repeat with the remaining jars and return them to your fermentation spot.
- After it's fermented, strain the cherry brandy into glass bottles. Keep the remaining sour cherries (although you can transfer a couple to each bottle with the liqueur) to use in a dessert or serve with the liqueur.
- Serving: serve višnjevača with dessert, coffee, or as an aperitif. Storing: store for up to 2 years in a cool, dark place. Freezing: no!