Maraschino: all you need to know about the legendary cherry liqueur
Maraschino is an Italian liqueur that was popular in ancient Dalmatia. It is made by fermenting a must (wine) made from cherries called morello cherries and then distilling it.
Maraschino is a product of the great Italian tradition, born as an artisanal distillate and typical of a territory that for centuries was Italian; indeed, it was part of the Republic of Venice.
Today, industrial bottles are the norm, and it is often thought of as just a cheap sweetener for cocktails, but it is much more than that. It was the classic liqueur to be served as an aperitif to guests; it was a splendid way to finish a hearty meal and has always been a valid ally at home to help in the preparation of desserts and various dishes.
But it’s sweet; you might object! How can we serve it as an aperitif?
Just serve it at a low temperature, and its sweetness will be attenuated. 6 ° is the right temperature; try and rediscover a forgotten treasure.
The Origins of Maraschino
Maraschino was called cherry rosolio, a name that since the Renaissance has been used as a synonym for a liqueur since all liqueurs were rosili, that is, a solution of water, sugar, alcohol, and a flavoring.
Legend has it that it has been produced in Zadar since the dark times of the Middle Ages, obviously sheltered from the din of civilizations within the walls of the monks’ convents.
The oldest recipe, dating back to 1500, appears to be the result of experiments by the apothecaries of a Dominican monastery in Zadar.
How Maraschino is produced
The process of making this noble distillate is very complicated and takes a long time. For example, alcohol is made by distilling fruit, so this is not a simple liqueur made by maceration. Instead, it is a distillate that is turned into liqueur by flavoring it with cherries.
It is no small difference, especially if we compare it to Triple Sec, its more “dangerous” competitor and the other great sweetener used in mixing. The Triple Sec starts with an infusion of oranges in grain alcohol and is then also distilled three times, but the basic alcohol does not carry with it the aromas and flavors of cherries.
This is the main difference and this also means that Maraschino is a liqueur that you cannot make at home like limoncello: there are no home recipes. At most, you can make a rosolio or a cherry liqueur, but not the original recipe! also because, as we will see immediately, the production of maraschino is a very laborious process.
Most Morello cherries are picked in July, when the pits are removed and the juice is pressed into vats. The juice, pulp, and seeds will start to ferment because there are yeasts on the fruit and in the air. Nothing new: cherry wine has been produced and known all over the world for millennia.
The stones are important, so they are not removed immediately but only after a partial fermentation; they must help to give consistency and aromatic volume to the fermented product. We say partial fermentation because not all the sugar is transformed into alcohol, rather the fermentation is ended by adding alcohol.
At this point, the alcohol is filtered, and the cherries are pressed with typical horizontal presses until large discs are obtained, almost like compressed cherry tiles.
But they are not to be thrown away; on the contrary, they are essential! The famous cakes are put in alcohol and left to soak for a while so that the alcohol can get flavored by the cakes. Triple distillation is then carried out to concentrate the alcohol and make it purer, and the distillate rests for 3 years in large ash barrels.
The process of giving it away is tricky. It has to be long and not very flavorful, and it has to respect the distillate’s main quality, which is its purity. This wood makes the maraschino smoother, but it doesn’t give off tannins, so it stays clear and doesn’t have any strong or woody flavors.
After refinement, the maraschino is brought to an alcohol content of 32 degrees by adding pure water, then sweetened and then bottled.
Organoleptic characteristics of Maraschino
It is a sweet, velvety liqueur that smells like red fruit, currants soaked in alcohol, mint, and pepper. It is not very spicy and focuses on delicate floral freshness. On the palate, it is soft and greedy, with a decadent and round taste.
How to serve the Maraschino
It is an excellent liqueur to always have at hand. Serve it at a temperature of 6 degrees in small glasses as an aperitif or as a digestive.
What cocktails to make with Maraschino
We have said that it has the same sweetening function as the triple sec, but beware: the triple sec is smooth and spicy, while the maraschino is sweet but warm and smooth. It is an ingredient present in great cocktails such as Mary Pickford, Hemingway Special, Martinez cocktail, Last Word cocktail, Tuxedo, Casino, Brooklyn, Brandy Crusta, and Harvey Wallbanger.