Kings ordered it, Balzac wrote about it, Hemingway and Hitchcock had a hankering for it. It even went down with the Titanic --Maraschino the clear spirit distilled from the marasca sour cherry has been a sought after drink by royals and celebrities for centuries.
The liqueur, first distilled by Dominican monks in Zadar in the 16th century for medicinal purposes, went on to become the official gift and souvenir of Zadar. A unique symbol of Croatia, the traditional liqueur is making its way back into the international market after years of interruption to production during the war.
Today, just outside of old town Zadar, the Maraska Company is producing Maraschino from their prized orchards of marasca sour cherries. Yet before manufacturing could return to normal, the orchards had to be restored. Unfortunately the orchards were planted with more than cheery trees during the war-- landmines were planted there too. But with the help of government grants and funds from UNESCO, the trees were saved and the historic orchards were cleared. Currently the Maraska plantation has over 100,000 trees producing fruit.
I asked our host Igor Zupancic if the landmines had been purposefully placed in the orchards to destroy a part of the heritage and cultural identity. He diplomatically answered—“You’ll have to ask the other side that question.”
The marasca sour cherry is known for it’s distinctive aroma and has a very tight harvest window. All the cherries must be picked within a few days of reaching their peak between 22 to 25 brix.
We tasted the many products Maraska makes today starting with the refreshing 100% fruit juices and moving up to the cherry brandies and liqueurs. The brandy was delicious and not overly sweet as I thought it might be. But the Maraschino was the real surprise. Clear and slightly viscous, it had a vivid cherry scent and was quite smooth for a 64 Proof beverage-- even at 11am in the morning.
The traditional woven wicker basket around the Maraschino bottles was developed to protect them in transport and give it a distinguishing image. We proved the protection factor theory as five bottles of Maraska Maraschino rolled around in the press van for six days without mishap. Well, four rolled around, one we drank.
Maraschino is best served well chilled in a glass with a high neck to focus its particular esters. It’s also great in cocktails. I tried several of their recommend cocktails found on their web site and invented one of my own I call the Cherry Bomb--
1 shot Maraschino
1 shot Gin
½ oz Cherry juice
Splash of Grenadine
Dash of Lime juice
Garnish with cherry
Serve over ice and Enjoy
For more information on the history of Maraschino and a wonderful archive of product labels, visit the Maraska web by clicking on the photo below.
Links to previous Croatia Posts:
Croatia Part 1: Bibich Dégustation
Croatia Part 2: The Splendors of Split
Croatia Part 3- Šibenik Caressed by the Sea
Croatia Part 4- Zadar, The Perfect Date
Croatia Part 5- Pilgrimage to Pag: Land of Paški SirCroatia Part 6: Istria--Truffles, Olive Oil, Prosciutto & Wine!
Croatia Part 7: A Taste of Zagreb