What Is Amaretto?

If you’ve dabbled in some of the classic spirit flavors of yesteryear, then you will have no doubt at least heard of amaretto.

It’s an older liqueur, probably hitting the peak of its mainstream popularity back in the 1970s, but it’s maintained a niche, though it’s still highly appreciated love from many people to this day.

What Is Amaretto?

For a drink of any kind to have that sort of appeal, it must either be doing something right or has the world’s best marketing team behind it!

Well, in this guide, we’re going to be taking a closer look at this almond-flavored beverage in a little more detail, some of the history behind it, and some of the ways that you can enjoy this drink more.

By the end, you’ll understand why it is definitely the former reason why Amaretto is still here as a drink, and is not going anywhere anytime soon!

What Is Amaretto Liqueur?

So, for those of you reading who don’t know what amaretto is, allow us to fill you in on some of the key details of this delightfully delectable drink!

Amaretto is, as we have mentioned a couple of times in this guide, a type of alcoholic (see also: What Is Moonshine?)liqueur, that comes from the city of Saronno in Northern Italy. It’s believed that the name for this particular kind of liqueur comes from the Italian word ‘amaro’, meaning bitter.

It’s believed that Amaretto is a diminutive of the Italian word, meaning that it is used to describe a lesser form of the full term.

Likewise, it’s the same way that in English, we might use the term ‘ish’ at the end of a word to describe a less distinct or pronounced feature. (i.e. ‘is this a bitter liqueur? Well, it’s bitter-ish’).

This is also helpful for us as liqueur connoisseurs, as it helps distinguish between amaretto and amaro, another Italian liqueur that can be much stronger in its alcohol content, and has a noticeably more bitter flavor to it.

Flavor Profile

However, interestingly enough, while Amaretto does tend to have a slightly bitter taste, on account of some of the bitter-flavored ingredients, the flavor that amaretto is probably best known for is its sweetness, as well as its iconic almond flavor.

(ironically enough, while almonds are often an ingredient used in making amaretto, they are a relatively small percentage of ingredients.

Much of the flavor comes from the apricot kernels and peach stones that are broken down and fermented as part of the brewing and distilling process. 

Brief History Of Amaretto

What Is Amaretto?

This liqueur was first officially invented back in 1851, and quickly became a popular spirit to add to mixed drinks around Europe.

Amaretto would first be imported into the United States in the 1960s, where it quickly became one of the most popular imported liqueurs in the country.

By the 1970s, it was featured in many of the most popular cocktails of the era, and by the 1980s, it would become the second most popular liquor in the country, behind only Kahlua.

Despite this hard date that we have for the first Amaretto distillery in Italy, several legends or stories have cropped up over the years to explain the creation of this tasty liqueur.

One particularly popular story that is told around the Saronno area is that Bernardino Luini, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most notable pupils, was commissioned by one of Saronno’s churches to paint one of its frescoes.

For a model of the Virgin Mary that was to be depicted, Bernardino turned to a young local widowed innkeeper, who (in many versions of the story at least), would become his lover.

While she wanted to present a gift to him, she was not wealthy, so created a drink from a mixture of brandy and steeped apricot kernels, which we would later describe as amaretto, to Bernardino.

Is this story based on reality? It’s hard to say. Still, it is certainly a touching romantic tale of how this world-beloved drink came to be!

Popular Amaretto Brands

As we’ve hopefully made clear at this point, amaretto is a type of liqueur, rather than the name of a brand in itself.

As a result, several major brands have cropped up for this sweet and almond-flavored drink.

  • Disaronno, from Italy
  • Bols, from the Netherlands
  • Lazzaroni, from Italy
  • DeKuyper, from the Netherlands

Taste Of Amaretto

As we’ve hopefully made clear by this point, good amaretto has an almond-like flavor, with elements of soft sweetness that have hints of vanilla, with just a slightly bitter finish or aftertaste to them.

Cheaper brands and makes of amaretto often go too strong on all of these elements, creating drinks that often taste too bitter, too nutty, and too sweet all at the same time, somehow.

For this reason, if you’re looking to get a decent amaretto bottle that has all of the best qualities that we’ve outlined, you’re probably better off sticking to mid-market brands and upwards to avoid the worst offenders to bad amaretto taste.

Best Ways To Enjoy Amaretto

Being both a liqueur and a sweet drink, amaretto has found plenty of uses as an ingredient in many recipes around the world, both for alcoholic drinks and as a dessert flavor.

In Cocktails

Many cocktails benefit from the somewhat sweet and nutty flavor of a good amaretto.

  • Amaretto sours combine this drink with lemon juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and a slice of orange or cherries for garnish.
  • The Godfather is a simple cocktail (see also: What Is Aperol?)that mixes scotch and amaretto (2 parts scotch, one part amaretto) that is served with ice, and usually in an old-fashioned glass.

In Food

Those same nutty and sweet flavors make amaretto one of the most popular spirits to use in recipes across the world.

  • Amaretto ice cream is a dessert that balances a classic vanilla flavor with just a hint of almond and bitterness.
  • Amaretto’s nutty flavor also makes a popular pairing with savory dishes, like chicken.

Final Notes

Hopefully, now, you’ve gained just a little extra appreciation for this adored Italian spirit that you have in the back of your pantry!

Kaitlyn James
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