In last week's column, introducing our friend maraschino liqueur, I noted that the stuff strikes some drinkers as an acquired taste. So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that the universe of brands of maraschino liqueur — available in the U.S., at least — just ain't that big. It's barely a solar system, in fact. Yet within this small world exists some notable variety. In other words, it still pays to be picky.
Luxardo Maraschino — $30 for 750 mL
When most people think of maraschino liqueur, Luxardo's tall, basket-clad bottle is likely what comes to mind. It's the Kleenex of the maraschino liqueur market, in that the brand name has grown synonymous with the product category. It's probably the most ubiquitous brand available in America, and its history dates back to the origins of commercial maraschino liqueurs.
I admittedly struggle to find the right words to capture its flavor profile. It's just...funky. There's a sharpness to the cherry flavor, underpinned by an unmistakable play of sweet and sour. Also in the mix is the hint of something confectionary, like marzipan. It's fascinating and complex.
Maraska Maraschino — $26 for 1 L
Unlike Luxardo, which relocated its production to Italy in 1947, Maraska Maraschino is still produced in Zadar, Croatia, the birthplace of maraschino liqueur. Its flavor profile is quite different from Luxardo's, demonstrating that this smallish category indeed has some variety within it. On the nose, Maraska presents a brighter, more high-keyed sweetness than Luxardo does. (It also smells more spiritous — belying the fact that both products are 32 percent ABV.)
It also tastes more strictly sweet than Luxardo, offering more cherry notes and less of that brooding, near-svaory je ne sais quoi. In cocktails, I would slightly favor using Luxardo, but I find Maraska a more pleasant tipple on its own.
Lazzarroni Maraschino — $22 for 750 mL
The Lazzaroni family of Saronno, Italy, is best known for inventing (it claims) the amaretto cookie during the early 1700s. The family went on to launch a cookie company and commercialize the product. In the mid-1800s, one of the family members — a Paolo Lazzarroni — started a liquor company that would go on to develop a cookie-infused liqueur that we know today as amaretto. Of course, other amaretto brands also claim to be the inventors, not least Disaronno. (Get it? Di + Saronno.)
But more germane to our discussion here is the Paolo Lazzarroni & Figli liquor company's longtime production of maraschino liqueur. The production doesn't see wide distribution in the U.S., but you can find it online. At 25 percent ABV, Lazzarroni Maraschino is the lightest in alcohol of this group, and presents relatively dry and just a touch bitter. In Italy, it's not only marketed as a cocktail ingredient and general sippable, but also as a handy baker's flavoring for making pastries. Who'd expect anything less from a company with such close ties to Big Cookie?
Do you have a favorite among these three brands?