Many people think there is only one Maraschino liqueur and then sometimes get confused when they see different brands on the store shelves. In a way, this thought is not wrong, though. In the beginning, there was essentially one producer for Maraschino Liqueur with the name Luxardo. While Luxardo still is the most popular brand to sell Maraschino liqueur, you can find many different brands selling it today.
The thing here is that Maraschino is not a brand name. Instead, it refers to its main ingredient, the Marasca cherries. And this indispensable ingredient of Maraschino liqueur is growing on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Let’s find out more about those Marasca cherries and how the Maraschino liqueur initially was created.
The Marasca cherries
Marasca cherries, or sometimes also spelled maraska, have a dark red color, are small, quite firm, and astonishingly sour. Their origin lies in the coastal regions of Croatia, in the Dalamatia region to be precise. So, besides the famous dog breed, the cherries are probably the best-known export from there.
The term marasca is actually related to the Italian term amaro, translating to “bitter”. And indeed, besides being smaller and a lot darker than other cherries, the marasca is very bitter. And that makes them a perfect base for a cherry liqueur as the end product won’t be overly sweet.
The taste of Maraschino Liqueur
Maraschino liqueur does have a strong cherry flavor. It is bitter, slightly dry, and also carries notes of almonds. The almonds are particularly detectable when you drink the liqueur neat. And even though it’s a liqueur and therefore does contain a certain sweetness, it’s far less sugary than other liqueurs.
The exceptional bitter-dry flavor profile is celebrated all over the world. And this unique combination is also the reason why you’ll find this in many classic cocktail recipes. It’s one of those essential cocktail ingredients your home bar should always have in stock.
History of the Maraschino Liqueur
Already in the 1700s, Francesco Drioli, an Italian merchant from Venice, began to produce Maraschino liqueur on a larger scale. The place of production was Zadar, today part of Croatia, but back then, it belonged to the region of Venice.
It didn’t take him too long to gain recognition, as his Maraschino liqueur was famous in Europe by the end of the 18th century. And after Drioli successfully had made the liqueur popular, others started to establish their own Maraschino production. One of them was Girolamo Luxardo, now the probably best-known brand of Maraschino Liqueur. Luxardo was also part of “Maraschino industry of Zadar”, founded by Francesco Drioli.
After the Second World War, the bombing of Zadar, and other dire events, the three most important Maraschino producers moved their factories across the border to Italy. Amongst them were the ones from Drioli and also Luxardo.
And while Drioli made Maraschino famous in Europe, Luxardo played a vital role in bringing the cherry liqueur to the attention of worldwide customers.
How to drink Maraschino Liqueur
As I explained before, Maraschino is famous for its combination of dry and bitter. Together with the sweetness and the cherry flavor, it makes for an excellent digestif. Served straight on the rocks, Maraschino liqueur is just a delightful sip to enjoy post-dinner.
But it is for a good reason that it mainly became famous for its use in cocktails. As a matter of fact, some of the most iconic drinks in cocktail history are made with Maraschino. The reason is simple: Maraschino adds a delicately sweet and fruity note of cherry without being overly sweet. And it pairs extraordinarily well with many different spirits like Whiskey, Gin, Rum, or Brandy.
Maraschino Liqueur in cocktails
Numerous cocktail recipes require Maraschino. The delicious cherry flavor and its subtle sweetness make it a staple in any home bar. Iconic cocktails like the Martinez, the Aviation, or the Hemingway Daiquiri are famous examples of how to make use of the delicious cherry liqueur.
As unique as this marasca cherry liqueur is, you still can find many different products you can use to substitute it. The only thing you should keep in mind is that each substitute product has its very own flavor profile, which will impact your final results. They all do contain strong cherry notes, but nevertheless, most are far from the original.
Anyway, here are some of the products you can use to replace Maraschino:
Cherry Heering is another famous cherry-flavored liqueur. It’s part of the iconic Singapore Sling cocktail and is originally comes from Denmark. While Maraschino is clear, cherry Heering has a bold red color to it. Overall a good substitute but significantly sweeter than the original.
Another option to bring cherry notes to your drink is cherry Brandy. A lot less sweet than cherry Heering, the cherry Brandy will also add a typical Brandy taste to your cocktail. While this might work well in some cases, the oaky notes may not fit in every recipe.
Amaretto is one of these things that is either loved or hated. It’s a liqueur also coming from Italy that is known for its strong almond taste. And even though it doesn’t have such intense cherry notes, it can be a decent substitute product.
If you’re looking for an alcohol-free alternative, try cherry syrup. If you want to keep it authentic, you can also buy some marasca syrup or make your own one at home.