Maraschino liqueur bottles and Marasca cherries on green background

Maraschino Liqueur - What it is and how you can substitute it

By Timo Torner / Last updated on November 18, 2022 

First published on August 23, 2021 

Maraschino is a liqueur made of Marasca cherries from the Croatian coast. And it is an elementary ingredient for many classic cocktails.

Some people believe there is only one Maraschino liqueur and get confused when they see different brands on the store shelves.

In a way, that thought is not entirely wrong, though. In the beginning, there were only a handful of producers for Maraschino liqueur. And of those, only Luxardo stayed in business until today and is therefore viewed as the original.

While Luxardo still is the most popular and doubtlessly one of the best brands to sell Maraschino liqueur, you can find quite a large selection of this cherry liqueur in liquor stores today.

What is it? | Facts | Marasca cherries | Taste | How to drink | Cocktail recipes | Best brands | Substitutes | History

What is Maraschino Liqueur?

Maraschino is a clear, high-ABV liquor made from cherries. The thing is that Maraschino is not a brand name. Instead, it refers to its main ingredient, the Marasca cherries.

This indispensable ingredient is growing only on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. So, let's find out more about the liqueur, the Marasca cherries, and how Maraschino was invented.

Quick Facts

  • Producer: Various, with Luxardo being the Original
  • Type: Cherry liqueur
  • Origin: Italy / Croatia
  • Color: Clear
  • First released: 1700s
  • ABV: between 25% and 35%
  • Price: $17 - $39
  • Main Ingredients: Marasca cherries
  • Taste: Cherry, almonds, bitter, dry

The Marasca cherries

Marasca cherries, 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, these cherries are probably the best-known export from there.

Marasca cherries on tree in Croatia

The name marasca is derived from the Italian word amarasca and is related to the Italian term amaro, which translates to "bitter". And indeed, besides being smaller and a lot darker than other cherries, the marasca is very bitter. That characteristic makes them a perfect base for a liqueur, as they won't make the end product overly sweet.

The taste of Maraschino Liqueur

Maraschino liqueur does have a slight cherry flavor. Yet, first and foremost, it is bitter, slightly dry, and also carries notes of almonds. The almonds are particularly detectable when drunk neat. 

Even though it's a liqueur and, therefore, does contain a degree of sweetness, it's far less sugary than the average. The exceptional bitter-dry flavor profile is celebrated all over the world. And this unique combination is also 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.

How to drink it?

Maraschino is famous for its combination of dry and bitter. Together with the subtle sweetness and the cherry flavor, it makes for an excellent digestif. Served straight on the rocks, Maraschino liqueur is simply a delightful sip.

Yet, 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: It 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.

Cocktail recipes with Maraschino

Numerous cocktail recipes require Maraschino. The delicious almond-cherry flavor and the slight sweetness make it a staple in any home bar. Some truly iconic cocktail recipes ask for the cherry liqueur, and here's a list of our favorites:

Aviation cocktail with Maraschino cherry

The top brands

Luxardo is, without a doubt, right on top of that list. It has a history that goes back more than two centuries, and the renowned producers know what they are doing.

However, the number of brands joining the market grows constantly, and there is quite some worthy competition. All have their own recipe with an individual set of ingredients, so you might want to try some of these to find your favorite:

  • Lazzaroni
  • Briottet Maison Edmond Marasquin
  • Maraska
  • Leopold Bros
  • Schladerer Black Forest
Maraschino Liqueur bottles from various brands on red background

The best Substitutes

As unique as this marasca liqueur is, you still can find some products you can use to substitute it. Yet, keep in mind that each has its own flavor profile, which will impact your final results. Despite the similarities, some are quite a stretch from the original.

Cherry Heering

Cherry Heering is another famous cherry-flavored liqueur. It's part of the iconic Singapore Sling cocktail and originally comes from Denmark. 

While Maraschino is clear, cherry Heering has a bold red color. Overall a good substitute but significantly sweeter than the original.

Cherry Brandy

Another option to bring cherry notes to your drink is cherry Brandy. A lot less sweet than Heering, it adds a typical Brandy taste to your cocktail. That works well in some cases but the oaky notes do not fit every recipe.

Amaretto

Amaretto is another also from Italy known for its strong almond taste. It lacks the cherry notes, but occasionally the almond-flavored liqueur can make for a decent substitute.

Cherry syrup

If you're looking for an alcohol-free alternative, try cherry syrup. If you want to keep it as close to the original as possible, consider getting marasca syrup or making your own at home.

History of Maraschino Liqueur

As early as 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 product was famous in Europe by the end of the 18th century. And after Drioli successfully made the liqueur popular, others began establishing their own production. One of them was Girolamo Luxardo, now the best-known brand for Luxardo was also part of the "Maraschino industry of Zadar", founded by Francesco Drioli.

Antique Bottle of Drioli Maraschino Liqueur on white background

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.

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