For our party this month themed around sakura, the Japanese cherry blossom festival, we were lucky to have some cherry-flavoured help from the venerable spirits company Luxardo. It’s a brand with a powerful sense of its own history, dating back almost 200 years to 1821 when Girolamo Luxardo was sent as a diplomat from Sardinia to Zara in Dalmatia, part of the Austrian empire. His wife Maria became interested in “rosolio maraschino”, a centuries-old traditional liqueur made in the area. The couple begin making their own refinements to the recipe, distilling liqueur from sour marascha cherries grown in their own orchard. When the Austrian emperor gave their maraschino his stamp of approval it opened the floodgates for worldwide appreciation.
The distillery’s fortunes were reversed during the Second World War when the factory and orchards were destroyed by bombing, but after the war Giorgio, of the family firm’s fourth generation, started up again in Torreglia, in the Veneto region of Italy, with the one sapling that was saved from the burned ruins. Today the sixth generation of the same family manages an orchard of cherry trees all descended from that same sapling.
Maraschino itself if made by fermenting crushed cherries, then distilling the resulting wine into a spirit, which has water and sugar added to make a liqueur. It has a delicate fruit flavour, but the inclusion of the cherry stones adds a subtle bitter almond flavour and Luxardo age the distillate in ash vats which add earthy, dry, aromatic wood notes too.
Luxardo maraschino featured in our Under the Ume Tree cocktail, blended with Prosecco, brandy, plum wine and vanilla.
Luxardo maraschino and Cherry Sangue Morlacco. The wicker wrapper was originally to protect the bottles when transported by sea and became a trademark of the brand
The cherry pulp left over from distillation of Luxardo’s maraschino is not wasted: it is used to make a drink called Cherry Sangue Morlacco. The fermented pulp is mixed with alcohol and sugar to make a dark purple-red liqueur that is then aged for two years in oak barrels. The curious name means “Blood of the Morlaccos” and was given to the drink by the poet Gabriel D’Annunzio in 1919 in respect of its striking colour. The Morlaccos were proud Dalmatian warriors who had defended their homeland against Ottoman invaders.
“Cherry brandy” is a traditional cocktail ingredient, and most of them are cloyingly sweet with a synthetic cherry flavour. Sangue Morlacco, on the other hand is more complex, with a wine-like aroma, a sweet-sour balance and drying tannins from the oak.
At our party Sangue Morlacco featured in our Sakura Fizz cocktail, along with sake, lemongrass and a cherry blossom tonic water.
David, the mastermind behind all our food and drink, was in the UK Luxardo cocktail competition finals a few years ago. See how he got on in this video…
The photo of the blossoming cherry tree was taken in Greenwich Park a few days after the party.