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Beloved product of Dalmatia - Maraschino, a liquor adored by royalty

Beloved product of Dalmatia - Maraschino, a liquor adored by royalty

Maraschino - the noble liquor

If you have already visited Croatia, you have probably heard of Maraschino, a unique and fine drink, dating back the to 16th century. The recipe was noted down by a pharmacist of the Dominican monastery in Zara, now Zadar - Croatia, under the name “Rosolj” (“sunny dew”).
The pharmacist used the marasca cherries to produce a unique liquor, which was regarded as a delicacy, and a medicine as well. At the beginning it was available and adored only by the privileged, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, the British king George IV and many others, which you can read more about later in the text.

The first record of marasca cherry in Zadar area dates from 1399, but it wasn’t until the late 15th century that the cherry was used to produce the liquor, today known as Maraschino.
The name marasca comes from the Latin word “amarus” which means bitter, and it differs from other sorts of cherries in tree size and fruit color. The marasca cherry tree is smaller, and the fruit is almost black in color when compared to regular cherries.
The marasca cherry is highly valued because unlike with other fruits, in the production process of the liquor, every part of the fruit is used, even the leaves and the cherry pit.

The production increased in the 17th century when the Venetian government encouraged the production of brandies and liquors. In order to tell the full history of Maraschino, we have to start with the brief history of Zadar itself.

Zadar is the oldest continuously-inhabited Croatian city situated on the Adriatic sea. In the year 1202 Zadar was the capital of Dalmatia and was seen as a threat to the Venetians, who then reconquered it and finally took over. After that Zadar became an important stronghold, ensuring Venetian trade in the Adriatic, the administrative center of the Venetian territories in Dalmatia, and a cultural center.

Maraschino cherries with sauce in a glass bowl with a silver spoon on a tray

The story of Maraschino started while Zadar (Zara) was a part of the Republic of Venice. In 1759, the Venetian merchant Francesco Drioli moved to Zadar, took the idea of making a cherry liquor from the Dominican priests, combined it with the traditional and distinct rules of home distillation of grappa (grape-based alcoholic beverage), in order to create what we know today as Maraschino.
By the end of the 18th century his Maraschino had gained widespread fame and cornered the major markets in Europe, especially England. British kings and queens adored the liquor so much that Queen Victoria sent the Royal Navy to pick up a shipment of Maraschino in Zadar in 1871. Maraschino was adored by many other famous people as well, such as Napoleon, french king Louis XVIII, russian emperor Nikola I, Casanova, Baudelaire, Hitchcock, etc. It was on the bar list on the Titanic, Al Capone smuggled it in Chicago, and at one point the UK government set a 1000 GPB fine for those who were importing forged Maraschino, which comes to prove how popular it was at the time.

The appearance of Maraschino is just as iconic as the drink itself. It was stored in green glass bottles enveloped with reed brought from the islands and the coastal area. Bottle wattling was done by the women who worked for the factory, and it had a practical side to it as well. The wattled bottles were better at enduring rocky roads of the 19th century Croatia and Europe, since the land routes became as common as the traditional sea routes. The Drioli Maraschino was one of the world’s best known liquors until 1943, when the Drioli family left Zadar. Then the government unified several producers into one company, today known as “Maraska”, which still produces the well-known Maraschino.

In the common folk of the Zadar region exists a belief that Maraschino is a symbol of economic wisdom, centuries old experience, and the diligence and love of Dalmatian farm hands for its karst land.
If you haven’t tried Maraschino liquor, or haven’t even heard of it, we recommend you to visit one of our beautiful villas in the Zadar region, to try it yourselves and learn more about the rich history it has!

Lucia Butigan

+385 1 222 70 50