Everything You Need to Know About Amaretto

Craig Barritt
Craig Barritt

It’s possible the only amaretto you’ve ever encountered is the dusty old bottle in your grandparents’ liquor cabinet. Even though it’s been around for centuries, the Italian, almond-flavored digestif is one of several sweet liqueurs that experienced its heyday in America during the mid-20th century. But today, inventive bartenders are rediscovering the nutty spirit, so if you see it on a menu, don’t be afraid. Here’s what you need to know about amaretto.

What Is Amaretto Made Of?

It tastes like almonds, but most amaretto actually gets its flavor from apricot kernels, or pits. That means that, according to the American Association of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, even if you have a nut allergy you can drink it. Disaronno (the amaretto brand with which you’re most likely familiar) claims to use the very first amaretto recipe, which dates back to 1525. Aside from apricot kernels and sugar though, the recipe is a secret.

If you’re making amaretto at home and you don’t want to go to the trouble of finding apricot kernels, you can cut the process short by using almond extract instead.

Where Does Amaretto Come From?

The real origin of amaretto may be lost to history, but the legend of its creation is alive and well and dates back almost 500 years. In the town of Saronno in northwest Italy, Leonardo da Vinci’s assistant, Bernardino Luini, was commissioned to do a fresco of the Virgin Mary inside a church. He chose a local woman to be his model and she was so honored she wanted to give Luini a gift. She couldn’t afford to buy him something expensive, so she steeped apricot kernels in brandy and the first bottle of Amaretto was born.

Today, amaretto is made all over the world, from the Netherlands, to the United States, to its ancestral home in Italy.

How Much Alcohol Is in Amaretto?

It varies by brand, but amaretto comes in between 42 proof (21% ABV) and 54 proof (28% ABV).

What Can You Substitute for Amaretto?

In a pinch you could use orgeat, the almond syrup called for in many tiki drinks, but it doesn’t have any alcohol in it, so you’ll want to cut back by as much as 50 percent to avoid an overly sweet drink. That said, there is a new orgeat liqueur that is 20 percent ABV, coming close to amaretto, which acts as a delightful replacement.

What Does Amaretto Taste Like?

Amaretto is sweet with an almond flavor. Without something to balance it out, be it bourbon and lemon or just a cube of ice, it can be thick, cloying and taste a bit like cough syrup. So make sure you mix it or at least dilute it with ice.

What Can You Do with a Bottle of Amaretto?

Amaretto is a fundamental ingredient in many cocktails that were big in the ‘70s. But those same drinks are making a comeback. If you have a bottle of amaretto, try mixing up a stiff lowball like an Amaretto Sour or a Godfather. Or, if you just want something easy and sweet to sip on after dinner, pour some over a big cube of ice.