Kirsch is a clear brandy with a bit of a split personality. It is either served neat, with a strong punch, as an aperitif, or associated with indulgent desserts and rich cheesy fondue. Making one 750 ml bottle of kirsch takes 20 to 30 pounds of fruit, which is why it is not a cheap drink to have around.
Whether your prized cherry brandy has run out or you are looking for a cheaper alternative, this guide will help you choose the best substitutes for kirsch to match a sweet or savory recipe.
The option you choose will depend on what you are cooking or baking since all kirsch substitutes are not equally suitable for all applications.
What Is Kirsch?
Kirsch, originally named in German as kirschwasser (cherry water) is clear unaged brandy. The colorless liquid has a high alcohol content of 40 to 50 percent. The drink was originally made from double distilled morello cherries, however other types of cherries are now also used in its production.
The cherries and their stones are fermented giving the brandy a somewhat bitter taste with subtle cherry accents and an acidic aroma. Kirsch is not sweet like other brandies and cherry liqueurs and has the opposite profile to sweet and syrupy Creme de Kirsch.
What Is Kirsch Liquor Used For?
Kirsch is used as a drink, in desserts, or savory fondue. As a drink, it is either served neat in a small glass as a cold aperitif or after a meal as a digestif. It is also used to make cocktails such as Florida and the Ladyfinger.
In savory dishes, it is most popularly added to fondue to aid digestion of the rich cheese. The alcohol burns off during cooking. Although the kirsch does impart flavor and there may be a slight alcohol taste, most of the alcohol is cooked out.
In sweet dishes, kirsch is well known for its use in Black Forest cake as well as the flambeed cherries jubilee. Kirsch is also used in very small amounts as a kirsch chocolate filling, surrounded by a hard sugar layer and dark chocolate dome.
Best Kirsch Substitutes for Baking Cakes and Desserts
Calvados is also a fruit brandy but is made from apples or a combination of apples and pears. It comes in different varieties of which some are sweeter than others. Calvados can also vary in color from light golden to caramel depending on how long it has been aged.
To closely mimic kirsch, opt for a more bitter variety. If you want the alcoholic fruity taste without the bitterness of kirsch, use a sweeter variety of calvados.
Chambord is a liqueur made from raspberries and blackberries. It has a much lower alcohol percentage than kirsch at around 16.5%. Chambord’s deep purple-red color and sweet-tart flavor profile pair well with berry and chocolate desserts as well as cocktails. This is a superb option for a Black Forest cake.
Framboise is a brandy made from raspberries. It has a well-balanced sweet and tart flavor with little to no bitterness. It is available in a deep-red color or as a clear liquid and is great for desserts, sauces, and cocktails.
#4. Liqueur de Mirabelle
Liqueur de Mirabelle is made from cherry plums and has a golden color. It is much sweeter than kirsch so you may need to make some adjustments when using it in cocktails. Its sweet fruity flavor is a delightful replacement in desserts if you don’t mind foregoing the bitter contrast that kirsch provides.
Amaretto has a rich caramel color and a combination of sweet and bitter flavor profiles. Its intense flavor comes from almonds and bitter almonds, peach stones, and apricot kernels. It can be used in cocktails, cakes, cookies, sauces, and a variety of desserts.
#6. Cherry Schnapps
Cherry schnapps is a reddish color and features a strong sweet-sour flavor profile with artificial cherry characteristics. Schnapps is available in a variety of flavors including peach, banana, cinnamon, lemon, orange, strawberry, and sour apple.
Essentially it is a neutral spirit with fruit or other flavorings and added sugar. Cherry flavor is the obvious go-to when replacing kirsch.
Keep in mind that the sweetness level will be different, especially when using it as a replacement in cocktails. Cherry schnapps also won’t provide the same bitterness as kirsch.
Cassis or creme de cassis is a dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants. It has a sweet and rich dark-berry flavor which makes it an indulgent addition to cocktails and desserts. Keep in mind that it is a lot sweeter than kirsch.
#8. Cherries and Vodka
This requires a little more effort but is fabulous in Black Forest cake, trifles, or cocktails. You can use fresh or frozen cherries. Mix vodka and cherries in a blender or food processor until smooth and use the mix as a kirsch substitution.
If you don’t have cherries, cherry juice, and vodka mix will also work. Cherry juice may however be sweetened so you may have to adjust other sweeteners in the recipe.
If you have a lot of time you can soak cherries in vodka or rum for around two weeks. The infused cherries are delicious in festive puddings, sauces, and boozy trifles.
As mentioned above, rum is another tasty option to use instead of kirsch. You don’t have to use the cherry-soaking method but can use the rum straight instead of kirsch in cocktails, puddings, cakes, and sauces.
Made from fermented and distilled sugarcane, it lacks the bitter notes of kirsch but with its remarkable flavor, you probably won’t miss it. The molasses or sugarcane juice offer rich caramel notes that bring a comforting flavor to any dessert.
Best Non-Alcoholic Kirsch Replacement for Desserts
#10. Cherry Preserve
If you need an alcohol-free alternative to kirsch, cherry preserves will do the trick. It won’t necessarily have the bitter kick but is a good option for cakes, especially Black Forest Gateau. Dilute it slightly with warm water if you need a thinner consistency.
Best Kirsch Alternatives for Fondue
We already mentioned calvados as a substitute for kirsch in desserts and cakes, however, this versatile brandy makes a good replacement in a cheese fondue as well. Here are some other alternatives you can use in cheesy fondues.
Grappa has a high alcohol content between 30 to 60%. The Italian brandy is ideal for fondue as it brings a slight grape-based aromatic flavor and a bit of punch which is perfect to balance the richness of the cheese. Grappa can be dry or sweet depending on the quality.
Vermouth is a fortified wine and comes in a dry and sweet variety. For a fondue, the dry version is a better option offering a hint of herbaceous fruitiness.
#13. White Wine
Dry white wine is a common addition to fondue and you may even find that its addition gives your cheesy pot a more authentic flavor. The alcohol will even out the texture and eventually evaporate as the sauce heats, leaving only the enhanced taste.
#14. Cherry or Lambic Beer
Lambic beer generally has sour flavor notes which makes it an ideal addition to balance the richness of the cheese. Add in the hint of cherry from the flavored beer and you have an epic kirsch substitute for fondue. Whoever said no to the comforting combination of beer and cheese anyway?
Best Non-Alcoholic Kirsch Alternative for Fondue
Non-alcoholic apple cider with a few drops of lemon juice is the best option if you need to avoid alcohol. The addition of the lemon helps to cut the rich fattiness of the cheese, but you can skip it if preferred. Replace kirsch measure for measure with the apple cider.
Whether using a kirsch substitute for cocktails, sauces, fondue, or desserts you can replace the liquid measure for measure. When your replacement is a lot sweeter than that of kirsch you may want to adjust the sugar content in your recipe or sugar syrup in a cocktail accordingly.
Kirsch and cherry liqueur certainly brings a bit of an adult attitude to any dessert. Let’s face it, Black Forest cake and fondue just aren’t the same without that light boozy touch that gives it an authentic bitter and aromatic flavor.
Luckily there are plenty of other options to choose from if you’ve run out, so there really is no excuse for subpar gateaux or cheesy fondue.
*image by t.sableaux/depositphotos