One of the happy side effects of the recent enthusiasm for classic cocktails is the accompanying enthusiasm for classic cocktail ingredients. In addition to the rise of micro-distilleries producing small-batch gin, whiskey, and vodka, there is increased attention being paid to the other ingredients as well. New brands of bitters like Hella Bitter and The Bitter Truth are popping up every month it seems, and Art in the Age has released Root, Snap, and Rhuby liqueurs (root beer, ginger, and rhubarb flavored, respectively) that are opening new doors for a world of original cocktails. Seeing as maraschino liqueur is one of the great classic cocktail ingredients – once appreciated by rulers and conquerors along with 20th century barmen – it seems only a matter of time before some Brooklyn or San Francisco-based upstart does something creative and wonderful with it. So to beat the rush, let’s cover the basics.
Most people these days are more familiar with maraschino cherries than with the liqueur, and why not? They go in a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, you can put them on a sundae, or even stick ’em all over a ham if you go for the Betty Crocker thing. If you’re a regular reader here at IPTB, odds are good you’ve got a jar in your fridge right now. And though the cherries are now more common, they originated as a by-product of the liqueur.
Maraschino liqueur was developed in the 16th century in Croatia, made from the native Marasca cherries – hence the name. In the process of making the liqueur, cherries would be crushed en masse, fermented, and distilled (along with the plants’ sprigs, honey, and other ingredients). After the process was complete, workers would find the few whole cherries left in the mash – now boozed up and thoroughly delicious – and sell them as a delicacy. Modern versions are completely different – sweet, unboozy, and not made from Marasca cherries – but the name stuck.
The most classic and still most common brand of maraschino liqueur is made by Luxardo. The company was founded in 1821 in Croatia by Italian immigrants and maraschino liqueur was their very first product. In 1945, in the closing days of World War II, the family relocated back to Italy and took their business with them, where it remains today.
Though maraschino liqueur is less common in contemporary cocktails, it is very important to a lot of classics. We’ll post some of these over the next few days, such as the Mary Pickford, Aviation, Diplomat, and some versions of the Martinez. In sum, maraschino liqueur is an essential addition to your home bar if – like myself – you’re really dedicated to history, craft, and drinking like a septuagenarian.