Amaretto is an almond-flavored liqueur from the Lombardy region in northern Italy. As you might know, Italy is home to many famous liqueurs. Especially the popular representatives of the Amaro family are essential in countless cocktail creations. Campari, Aperol, Cynar, Amaro Nonnino, or Amaro Montenegro belong to the category of Amaro, and the list goes on and on.
Perhaps you already guessed that Amaretto also derives from Amaro. Amaro is the Italian word for bitter, so the Amaros are bitter liqueurs made of various herbs, plants, roots, and flowers. Consequently, Amaretto in Italian means 'a little bitter'. And indeed, the Amaretto liqueur is a lot sweeter than your regular Amaro. That's also the principal reason for it being a common ingredient in sweet treats and desserts.
What is Amaretto liqueur?
Amaretto is an almond-flavored liqueur from Saronno, Italy. The slightly bitter liqueur usually contains either apricot kernels, peach stones, bitter almonds, or almonds. In Italian cuisine, Amaretto is used in cookies (Amaretti) and sometimes even in the famous dessert, Tiramisu.
The love story between Italians and Amaretto started in the 1500s. Bernardino Luini, a student of Leonardo Da Vinci, had a drink made of apricot kernels soaked in brandy and fell in love with it. Since then, Amaretto evolved into a fundamental ingredient for many drinks and snacks. People love the small Amaretti cookies served with coffee and sometimes even spice up their coffee with a shot of the liqueur.
An interesting fact about Amaretto is, despite being dominantly almond-flavored, the main ingredient in most Amarettos isn't almonds. Instead, Apricot kernels and peach stones often build the base, which is then flavored by infusing other ingredients like vanilla, burnt sugar, and additional botanicals.
The history of Amaretto liqueur
The style of this liqueur is somewhat old-school and traditional. Depending on who you ask, its roots are in the 1800s or 1500s. Quite a difference, actually. In one version, a family of Saronno, the Lazaronnis, claims to be the inventors of the very first Amaretto liqueur. They're famous for their liqueur and, also, the sweet Amaretti cookies since 1851. And while this might indeed be the first time this liqueur was produced commercially, there are indications that it might be way older.
According to a legend, in 1525, Bernardino Luini was handed an old version of the almond-flavored liqueur when painting his famous painting of the Madonna. His model, muse, and potential lover, gave a drink to him made of apricot kernels soaked in brandy. And allegedly, this recipe was passed down from generation to generation. Today this original version is sold under the name Disaronno Originale.
And according to some sources, the original recipe from 1525 is still used in the Disaronno. If you check the bottle, you will also find that the label states "since 1525".
What Amaretto is made of
The method for making Amaretto is similar to the technique used for other liqueurs. The base is a more or less neutral spirit like Vodka. Depending on the brand's recipe, flavorings like apricot kernels, peach stones, and almonds get added and steeped. This procedure can take from a week to multiple months and is part of the secret recipes of any brand. After straining out the flavorings of the alcohol, burnt or caramelized sugar is added to sweeten the liqueur and give it its typical color.
The taste of Amaretto liqueur
The taste of Amaretto liqueur is rich and sweet with a slight bitterness. And depending on the brand, different botanicals and herbs complement the dominant sweet almonds aroma. Also, the level of sweetness can vary and is generally lower in high-end Amaretto liqueurs. More affordable alternatives often are overly sweet with an intense, almost artificial flavor.
Ways to drink Amaretto
Amaretto is enjoyable in countless ways. For one, the sweet almond flavor is perfect in sweet dishes. But as it is a liquid, it offers many more possibilities.
Drinking Amaretto straight
Amaretto works well when drunk straight over ice with just a splash of lemon. The ice dilutes the thick and syrupy consistency. The addition of lemon is not a must but can help balance the sweetness. I recommend using the lemon if you're generally not that much into sweet liqueurs.
Mix with coffee or hot chocolate
The sweet almond flavor works perfectly in coffee or hot chocolate. In coffee, it can replace sugar as a traditional sweetener and add a delicate note of almonds to it. But also in a hot chocolate, Amaretto works amazingly well. The sweet mix of cocoa and almond tastes a bit like liquid marzipan chocolate.
Use Amaretto in cocktails
Since the 1960s, the almond liqueur has become a common ingredient in cocktails. The most prominent representatives probably are the Amaretto Sour, The French Connection, and the Godfather cocktail. If you tried the first one and weren't convinced, check out our improved Amaretto Sour recipe. It's less sweet and more balanced than what was served during the 1970s.
The alcohol content of Amaretto
The Alcohol By Volume (ABV) of Amaretto liqueur is usually between 20% to 28%, depending on the brand. That is in line with many other liqueurs and well below the standard 40% that classic spirits like Whiskey, Rum, or Gin contain.
Nowadays, there are countless versions, and I cannot and don't want to mention each and every one. Instead, I want to focus on the -in my opinion- best ones and on historically influential brands.
Disaronno Amaretto Originale
Disaronno is the oldest and most notable brand to sell Amaretto liqueur. With a worldwide market share of around 70%, you can find it in almost every country. The taste is rich and reminds one of Christmas. Notes of marzipan, vanilla, lemon, and toasted almonds make this liqueur an excellent choice for drinking neat.
Being on the market since 1851, the Lazzaroni version is another historically significant representative. The taste is much sweeter than most others and carries notes of honeycomb and toffee.
A more modern producer of Amaretto is Adriatico. They produce in Apulia, and their version contains toasted almonds, cinnamon, cocoa, and coffee. The result is a less sweet liqueur with more pronounced bitter almond notes and hints of toffee.
Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira
Luxardo is famous for its Maraschino liqueur, but they can do a proper Amaretto, as well. The exceptional product, made in Sicily, tastes like Amaretti biscuits. It's a tad bit sweeter than your average Amaretto but has a stunningly rich taste of marzipan and almonds.