Cherry Hoppin’: Exploring Missoula’s Cherry-Inspired Cocktails and Drinks


August marks the beginning of the cherry harvest in the Flathead Valley, and it could be a very good one this year they say. Sweet, plump and delicious, Flathead cherries are an annual local fare that we in western Montana salivate over for 11 months of the year. From pick-your-own farms, to roadside stands and local grocers, Flathead cherries will soon show up in abundance. So to honor their arrival, I present this week a few bars around town that are serving cherry-centric cocktails.

But first a little history lesson. The first cherry trees planted in Montana were actually planted in the Bitterroot Valley by Thomas W. Harris in 1866. According to the Stevensville Historical Society, Harris was our state’s first horticultural farmer. Later came the first commercially-grown cherries planted on the shores of Flathead Lake, cultivated by the Robbins Brothers, Oscar Moen, Mitchell Ratty and others. Moen is still referred to as the “father of the sweet cherry industry,” as 95% of the cherries grown in the Flathead Valley are sweet Lambert Cherries.

Throughout the early 20th century, Flathead cherry orchards continued to sprout up on the east side of Flathead Lake, with trees planted 26 feet apart in square patterns. In 1935 the Flathead Cherry Growers, Inc. cooperative was founded, and by 1948 over 1.2 million pounds of Flathead cherries were being processed and sold through the Great Northern Railroad processing plant in Kalispell. Today there are nearly 600 cherry orchards in Flathead County and 1,400 in Lake County, ranging from one to five acres in size. The average cherry tree lives between 25 and 30 years.

Now to toast your new cherry knowledge. In addition to some fine Flathead Cherry wines available from Ten Spoon Winery, including the Flathead Cherry Dry and their Cherry Blossom (80% cherry wine, 16% pear wine and 4% grape wine), a few local bars serve some cherry-inspired cocktails to help you and your friends celebrate the annual cherry harvest. It should be noted, however, that these drinks do not contain actual Flathead cherries, but I’ll leave you with a make-at-home recipe for Cherry Cordial that is best when made with Flathead cherries.

On a hot summer’s day, head over to the James Bar for a “Lemonade James,” blending EFFEN Black Cherry Vodka, cranberry juice, Rosie’s lime mixer and lemonade in a sugar-rimmed glass. The Bodega Bar serves up a perky “Ho-Fo-Sho,” which is simply Cherry Schnapps and Red Bull. And to really grab onto a fun cherry-inspired cocktail, the Silver Slipper Sports Bar & Grill features “Sweet Teets,” a cocktail of Three Olives Cherry Vodka, Vanilla Stoli and a splash of lemonade.

Now from the Flathead Cherry Growers, Inc. website, I present a simple and delicious Cherry Cordial recipe:

Cherry Cordial Ingredients:

  • 3 ½ pounds Flathead Cherries (unpitted)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup light rum
  • 3/4 cup brandy


Spread half of the cherries in a large pot or Dutch oven and mash until some of the skins split. Sprinkle with one cup of sugar. Repeat this with the other half of the cherries and sugar. Let the mixture stand for an hour so the sugar can draw out some of the moisture in the cherries. Cook the mixture on a low heat for 15 minutes; then continue cooking until the cherries are soft. Now press and strain the mixture to extract the juice. Cool the juice and discard the skins and pits. To the juice add the rum and brandy and then pour into glass bottles or jars. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Serve over ice or ice cream.


Like this Drink It blog?  Chances are you’ll like these blogs by Missoula’s Drink It expert, Ryan Newhouse:  Flathead Lake Brewing Company – Beer Pairing,  Tamarack Brewing Company, Montana Whiskey and Vodka.  And check out our Missoula Restaurants and Dining and Missoula Nightlife sections.

Click here to see Ryan’s “Drink It” archive.


Ryan Newhouse has lived in Missoula since 2002 and has tipped his glass in most of the town’s establishments. He is a full-time writer, husband and parent (in no particular order) and a part-time zymurgist. He makes a mean hard cider and pairs his cocktails with dishes from his blog, Cooked Animals: Recipes for Wild Game.