Why Maraschino Liqueur Belongs in the Small Yet Mighty Bar

published Sep 4, 2014
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Roger Kamholz)

September is here, and with every new month comes another member of The 9-Bottle Bar to get to know. To recap, so far we’ve explored rye whiskey, London dry gin, light rum, sweet and dry vermouth, and orange liqueur.

Up sixth: maraschino liqueur. I know this pick may be the hardest sell this columnist makes to you fellow cocktail-lovers, but I really believe it’s a core part of the small yet mighty bar.

(Image credit: Roger Kamholz)

Admittedly, maraschino liqueur has an acquired taste, but one that is integral to the composition of numerous classic cocktails. In fact, of the 18 or so cocktail recipes we’ll cover in the course of our exploration of the 9-Bottle Bar, six include maraschino. In other words, it may be time to give this (sort of funky) stuff a chance.

The History of Maraschino Liqueur

The history of maraschino liqueur traces back to a coastal city in what is now modern Croatia. Zara (now Zadar) sits along the famously picturesque Dalmatian coast, facing the Adriatic Sea. The city was once part of the Venetian Republic, and it was during this period in its history when local families began to commercialize their homemade liqueurs derived from the marasca, a variety of sour cherry that happens to thrive in the area.

One of the most widely known and longstanding brands — Luxardo — was established back in 1821.

What Does Maraschino Taste Like?

Maraschino liqueur doesn’t really taste like your average fruit-based cordial. That has a lot to do with how it’s made. First off, maraschino liqueur is much drier than (meaning not so sweet as), say, some of the orange liqueurs we sampled in July.

More importantly, in addition to the flesh and the juice, the pits of the marasca cherries also play a part in the production: they’re crushed up and incorporated into the spirit infusion. The pits lend the final product an almond-like, subtly bitter inflection that is unmistakably maraschino.

Why Maraschino Adds Something Unique to the Bar

That nutty, almost savory element of maraschino liqueur’s flavor profile brings a distinctive additional dimension to cocktails that’s hard to replicate with other ingredients. The Hemingway Daiquiri, for instance, would seem overly dry and acidic without its small measure of maraschino. The Beachcomber would lack its alluring tiki-esque twist. Maraschino, I’d argue, fills a space on the flavor spectrum that you may not have known existed.

Next week we’ll highlight a few specific brands that I consider strong buys, but in advance of that discussion it’s worth noting that, in general, maraschino liqueur offers a great value to the home bartender — another reason to include it in the small yet mighty 9-Bottle Bar. Practically all recipes that call for maraschino do so in very minute doses (the stuff is quite strongly flavored, and too much can easily overpower a drink). In fact, at a 1/4-ounce measure apiece, a 750-mL maraschino liqueur can contribute to more than 100 cocktails! So this trusty bottle ends up being one you only restock once in a blue moon.