Indulge in a little Maraschino, the drink of kings and queens

Philip Salter
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The pleasure of drinking alcohol transcends the rise and fall of civilisations. Pottery dating back to the Neolithic period proves our ancients were fermenting a mixture of rice, honey and fruit to take the edge off their toilsome days; while Mesopotamian clay tablets, ayurvedic Hindu texts and the Hebrew bible all show that the pastime of imbibing unites the globe. In the history of alcohol, every spirit has a story to tell, but few are as dramatic as that of the Luxardo family.

The Luxardo family is famous for its bittersweet maraschino liqueur. Maraschino is made from a distillation of cherries from the Marasca cherry tree, and a version of the liqueur was made in the Dalmatian apothecaries of Dominican monasteries from at least the seventeenth century. Can you imagine a better pastime while fermenting in a monastery?

Maraschino has been a liqueur fit for kings (and at least one queen). Its A-list admirers could double up as a historian’s fantasy dinner party guest list: The French side of the table would be populated by Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis Philippe; while Nicholas I of Russia would no doubt be forced to make an Anglo-Russian entente with George IV, Queen Victoria and George V. It would make for a tempestuous dinner party, but at least they could agree on the booze.

In Behind the Rocks of Zara (Dietro gli Scogli di Zara), Nicolò Luxardo De Franchi has recorded the history of his family’s trials and tribulations. Luxardo was founded by Girolamo Luxardo, a Genoese businessman in 1821 in Zara (now Zadar), a port city on the Dalmatian coast. The company went from strength to strength but WWII changed everything. Allied bombing raids in 1943, possibly based on misinformation from Marshal Tito, resulted in the Luxardo factory catching fire: it (the alcohol) burned for three days. At the end of the war, Tito seized the city and drove the Italian population into exile (three out of the four Luxardo brothers were executed in the process).

The only brother of the fourth generation to survive was Giorgio Luxardo, and he set about the Herculean task of rebuilding the distillery from scratch, which he did in Torreglia, just outside Padova in the Veneto region of northern Italy. The family now own and manage over 22,000 Marasca trees. Nicolò, the author of the book, was the fifth generation, and the sixth generation, including Piero, Franco, Guido, Matteo, Filippo and Giorgio (all Luxardos) run the business.

Many cocktails throughout the ages have used maraschino, but three gin classics stand out – The Martinez, Aviation and Last Word – all of which are seeing resurgence. More recently, Elliot Ball, the bar manger at Shaker&Company (a New Orleans inspired cocktail saloon near Euston) won first prize in the Masters of Maraschino competition with The Torreglian Accord, which is served in Belle&Co, Shaker&Company’s new bohemian drinking den.

The Luxardo family has been making maraschino for nearly 200 years. And although the monks got there first, the Luxardos, like all the best guests, turned up to the party a little later loaded up with the best booze.


■ 15ml Luxardo maraschino
■ 25ml Buffalo trace bourbon
■ 25ml Remy Martin VSOP cognac
■ 5ml homemade lemon-grapefruit cordial
■ 1 dash Grande Elixir de la Chartreuse

● Long stir all the ingredients
● Strain in to a coupette
●Garnish with a Marasca cherry