In my far from complete text on distillation I have a recipe for making maraschino liqueur which is a sweetened distillate of fermented sour cherries and a percentage of their pits which contribute the distinct aroma of bitter almonds. The really simple recipe is supposed to be a solution to a problem for people that live in areas that cannot access maraschino liqueur or in some cases cannot afford it. The recipe is constructed from hiram walker’s kirschwasser and a re-distilled amaretto. The alcoholic proof and sugar content are shaped to fit historically derived proportions. Because the recipe uses very small volumes, different ratios of cherry to stone pit aroma (benzaldehyde) are created using a gram scale to maintain accuracy when blending the two volumes to your own aesthetic. The recipe is simple and fun and makes a mean aviation. The distilled amaretto is astounding on its own. It is crystal clear and the divergence of the aroma from the color is relentlessly amusing. If any producer starts making a crystal clear amaretto, they will be met with instant success.
[I used this maraschino cheater in my nine round TKO and Ciroc vodka was directly inspired and has just released clear amaretto.]
The other day I just unearthed some more information about the role of benzaldehyde in maraschino liqueur in a paper titled: The Determination of Benzaldehyde in Maraschino Cherries and Maraschino Liqueur by A. G. Woodman and Lewis Davis. It was published in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, August 1912. I think the research was done right down the road at M.I.T. in Boston.
The paper applies new testing methods to maraschino that can determine the quantity of small amounts of benzaldehyde (5mg) as opposed to previous methods that could only handle comparatively large amounts (0.1g). Newly refined methods of this sort were constantly being applied to product analysis to protect consumers from adulteration and fraud. I’m in no position to put the chemistry to use (some day!) but these papers sometimes give us a great glimpse of what was on the market and what people were drinking. Their method is easy enough to follow that someone very ambitious or a small scale commercial producer could easily apply it. Even more refined methods have likely been created over the years and it should be known that there is a correction to one of their reagent figures in another article.
Okay so here is the good stuff; brands with numbers:
brand alcohol content benzaldehyde (Mg/100cc.)
G. Luxardo 32.60 3.57
Richelieux 25.94 17.02
Marie Brizard & Roger 28.97 0.0
Cusenier (cherry liqueur) 32.63 12.01
Cusenier (maraschino) 19.00 0.0
Nuyens et Cie 24.78 1.78
H. Shufeldt & Co., Peoria Ill. 30.60 41.3
According to the authors: “Genuine Maraschino, apparently, has a very low content of benzaldehyde.” The sugar and alcohol content I used for my faux rendering match luxardo’s from 1920, though I don’t think they have ever changed.
So what does this all mean? For starters I see these products as being all over the map, some have far more almond aroma than others and were all these brands really available in Boston in 1912? Without knowing exact numbers, I think the ratio of benzaldehyde to cherry I put in my faux maraschino was probably far higher than the genuine stuff and might have compared to the very last one in the list. I don’t really know which maraschinos in this list were premium brands at the time. I think at least luxardo and brizard but not cusenier because of their very low alcohol content.
If limited to small concentration but significant to the aroma of maraschino, I think it would be cool to have a known concentration of benzaldehyde so that renderings of “genuine maraschino” could accurately be assembled from great american kirschwassers like clear creek’s. To my knowledge they do not offer a maraschino. Who knows, if some bartenders create a market for a product that doesn’t really exist, maybe they will start making one and they will have a deep enough level of involvement that they can hit all the historically accurate numbers we now know exist.
Closing thoughts: You gotta earn that mustache and suspenders. Make your Ensslin era Aviations with historically accurate levels of benzaldehyde in your maraschino.