Greetings, true believers!  It’s that time of the month again.  This month MxMo is hosted by A Mixed Dram, with the theme of “Broaden Your Horizons”, and so I’m going to do so in a way that will shock the average cocktail geek to their core.  I’m going to talk about Maraschino, specifically the Luxardo stuff.  I know, Maraschino, right?  You thought that was part of the qualifying exam for cocktail geekdom; they make you an Aviation and if you make a face you’re ushered unceremoniously out through the back door.  But I have to admit that, until forcing myself to submit to the MxMo command, I never liked the stuff.  So I’m here, today, to talk about using Maraschino responsibly.

First, some basic info.  I was going to just quote extensively from Wikipedia, but the Marschino article, like so many of those written by fans, is nigh unreadable.  Since I do enjoy mocking things, check this out:

At the beginning, this noble liqueur of delicate taste to which even medicinal effects were attributed, was available only to some privileged. With the appearance of the first manufactural distillers at Zadar in the 17th century (Rota, Mola and Calcengio), the secret of Rosolj (Maraschino) taste could be spread.

The noble Wiki-contributor has apparently heard of neither a neutral editorial voice nor English grammar, so I’m just gonna go ahead and summarize.  Maraschino is a Northern Italian and Croatian liqueur of ancient invention, probably dating back to the 1600s.  It’s made from macerating the fruits and crushed pits of the Mascara cherry, probably adding some other botanicals, and then distilling and sweetening.  The fact that it’s a distilled liqueur is fairly unusual.  While Dave Wondrich cites a few different brands that should theoretically be available in the US in Killer Cocktails, the brand we’re all most likely to encounter is Luxardo, pictured above.  To be honest, the stuff tastes pretty odd on its own, with cherry and almond notes mingling with a deep, pickle-y funk.

Maraschino is a good example of an ingredient that has done well by the coat-tails of the recent cocktail revolution.  It’s certainly not going to appeal to your average Red Bull and vodka mouth-breather, but it’s in more classic cocktails that you can shake a… stick (what, you thought I was going to stoop that low?) at.  As I mentioned, I really never liked the stuff, preferring to use St. Germain as a substitute.  This has it’s advantages and disadvantages – St. Germain is really one of the best (probably the best) modern liqueurs, and it has a totally different taste, while at the same time having a funky twist that makes it so much more than just floral and sweet, the first two impressions you receive from it.  But St. Germain just isn’t as powerful, and so if you add enough St. Germain to really get noticed, you’ll also add enough St. Germain to significantly up the sweetness quotient of the drink.  While this isn’t a problem in a drink like a Last Word (more about which later), it means that St. Germain just won’t add that much too, for example, a La Floridita Daquiri, where you’re just looking for a dash.  Maraschino isn’t any less sweet than St. Germain, but it is much funkier, and so you can get away with using it in tiny quantities.

Which, as this month’s MxMo has taught me, is how I really prefer it!  So I’m going to do this month in Goofus and Gallant style: two cocktails, both with Maraschino, one of which I feel works fantastically, and one of which falls just (far, far) short.  And as I should probably have said earlier, enough wordifying!  Drinky time.

First off, for Gallant…

The Red Hook

Red Hook

  • 2 oz rye (Rittenhouse 100 proof)
  • 1/2 oz Punt e Mes (1/4 oz Cinzano Italian Vermouth, 1/4 oz Cynar)
  • 1/4 oz Maraschino (Luxardo Maraschino)
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters (Homemade Cherry-Vanilla Bitters)
    Stir all ingredients over ice.  Garnish with an orange peel and, if you’ve got one, a bourbon-soaked cherry on-a-stick.

As anyone can see, this is yet another variation on a Manhattan, but, to be honest, I don’t think I could ever get sick of seeing new ones.  This particular variation, according to Paul at The Cocktail Chronicles is by Enzo Errico, bartender at Sasha Petraske’s Milk & Honey in New York, and, with something this delicious, credit should definitely go where it’s due.  Now I love Punt e Mes – I love it so much that I drank the whole bottle I acquired in DC while I was in DC – but I have no source in central Illinois, so I made a quick and dirty substitution which actually worked just fine.  This tastes much like a fairly dry Manhattan, but the Maraschino comes in at the end with a funky twist that, in effect, makes you want to take another sip to try and figure it out.  The bitters I made based loosely on the recipe in The Art of the Bar really extend the cherry/cherry-pit taste from the Maraschino. Brilliant.

Now Goofus…

The Last Word

  • 3/4 oz gin (Plymouth)
  • 3/4 oz Green Chartreuse (Verveine du Velay Extra)
  • 3/4 oz Maraschino (Luxardo Maraschino)
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
    Shake all ingredients vigorously over ice.  Garnish with a lemon twist.

I didn’t even take a picture.

Now, the Last Word is a really, really classic drink.  It has been championed as a classic introduction to cocktails by no less a personage than Robert Hess, whose judgment I’m certainly not going to question.  Heck, it’s been featured in the New York Times.  But, and this is an important but, it tastes quite a bit like a pickle.  Like a sweet gherkin.  This is not what I want from a drink.  Perhaps with less Maraschino, to tame that funk… I don’t know.  But I do know that this point is where St. Germain swoops in, kicks ass, takes names, and saves the day (against a backdrop of explosions).

The Second to Last Word

The Second to Last Word

  • 3/4 oz gin (Plymouth)
  • 3/4 oz Green Chartreuse (Verveine du Velay Extra)
  • 3/4 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
    Shake all ingredients vigorously over ice.  Garnish with a lemon twist.

Now that, my friends (HENNH), is a cocktail.  The St. Germain drops down a little in the flavor-impression list, and suddenly everything is harmonious.  It’s floral, it’s herbal, it’s sour, it’s sweet – it’s everything you, I, your dog, and, damn it, mom, America, and apple pie want from a cocktail.  I mean, I guess the Last Word is harmonious too, it’s just a harmonious pickle.

So, what have we learned?  That, in small amounts, Maraschino does, indeed, elevate cocktails to the next level, but in large amounts it will take over, just like that annoying relative’s ten year old kid, who won’t eat anything but buttered pasta, which means your plans to go to that awesome out of the way Vietnamese place just got scrapped (hint: I was that kid).  And that, in cases where you find Maraschino overwhelming a drink, slip it a little St. Germain instead; that’ll get it nice and cooperative.  Did that sound creepy?  Damn, I think that sounded creepy.  It wasn’t meant to!

And, finally, we learned that this post would have been much, much cooler if I had thought of a way to switch the order in which I introduced the Last Word and Second to Last Word Cocktails.  I’ll… I’ll work on that.