How To Use Maraschino Liqueur in Cocktails

A hard-hitting accent ingredient, Maraschino plays a key role in a number of classic cocktails and improved recipes.

Never the star of the show, maraschino liqueur is usually relegated to the role of supporting player, yet a wide range of cocktails wouldn’t be the same without it. 

The clear liqueur is made using the whole Marasca cherry (pits and all) in the distillation process, which yields a funky flavor profile that hints at fruity sweetness. Many find it a bit much when taken neat—it drinks more like a brusque eau de vie than a gentle liqueur. (Though Luxardo is the best-known brand, with its recognizable green glass bottle swathed in straw, Maraska and Lazzarroni can be spotted on shelves, too.)

Though typically used only sparingly—usually anywhere from a quarter-ounce to a mere teaspoonful—maraschino plays a key role in a number of classic cocktails from the Aviation to the Hemingway Daiquiri to the Martinez; many bartenders attest that it adds remarkable complexity to other ingredients. “I remember when Boston bartender Ryan Lotz taught me how a barspoon of maraschino can make berry and other fruit flavors pop in drinks,” says Fred Yarm, bartender at Our Fathers in Boston. Yarm also uses it to make the nutty flavors of Madeira or oxidized sherries pop, as in his Take The Long Way Home, a shaken mixture of aged rum, sercial Madeira, maraschino and grapefruit. Similarly, it’s a natural companion for orgeat in some tiki drinks.

An outlier in the canon of classics, the Last Word is one of few drinks that calls for maraschino not merely as an accent but as an equal component to the other ingredients. “I love the way that maraschino liqueur and Chartreuse play together,” says Troy Sidle, head bartender at New York’s ZZ’s Clam Bar, of the cult classic. “They don’t get in each other’s way and they harmonize with the base spirit, creating a lovely major chord.”

Sidle also calls on the combination of maraschino and green Chartreuse in his stirred Improved Genever Cocktail, a nod to the genre of Improved cocktails that point to the historic practice of taking established recipes and “improving” them with small measures of other ingredients, often spirits or liqueurs. (The 1876 edition of Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide included an appendix with “Improved” versions of familiar brandy, whiskey and gin cocktails.)

A riff on Jerry Thomas’s Improved Holland Gin Cocktail, Sidle’s variation gets its depth from just a quarter-ounce of green Chartreuse plus a barspoon of maraschino, alongside both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. “It usually takes a few straw tastes and minor tweaks to get the balance just right,” says Sidle, “but when all the ingredients come together, there is an amazing depth and richness.”

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Kara Newman reviews spirits for Wine Enthusiast magazine and is the author of NIGHTCAP, coming September, 2018, and Shake.Stir.Sip. (Chronicle Books).