What Is Amaretto Liqueur?

An Essential in a Well-stocked Bar, Amaretto Makes Some Great Drinks

Panettone and bottle of Disaronno amaretto liqueur
Amarettos like Disaronno Originale are used to create some of the tastiest cocktails and shooters you will ever drink. Joff Lee/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Amaretto is a popular almond flavored liqueur that is used in a variety of cocktails and mixed drinks. It is commonly paired with a coffee liqueur or used as a soothing liqueur to tame the bite of many shooters. Amaretto should be considered an essential spirit to stock in the bar.

The History of Amaretto

Amaretto is a very old style of liqueur and there are a couple of different (though related) versions on the story of its creation.

As is often the case, each of the stories come from a popular brand that continues to produce amaretto today.

The first claim is that the first amaretto was created by the Lazaronni family of Saronno, Italy in 1851. The family had long been known for creating amaretto cookies and found that there was also a market for a sweet liqueur that took on the popular almond flavor.

The second story begins in 1525 with the Renaissance painter, Bernardino Luini, who was commissioned to create a painting of the Madonna. He found his model in a young widow who was an innkeeper and possibly Luini's lover.

The story continues that this fair woman gave the painter a gift of apricot kernels soaked in brandy. The recipe for this delicious liqueur was passed down through generations and ended up in the Reina family who, coincidentally, worked for the Lazaronnis in Saronno. Supposedly this is the same recipe used today in Disaronno Originale.

This is one of the most popular brands of premium amaretto and its label remains clearly marked with the date 1525.

Amazingly, amaretto did not make it to the shores of the Untied States until the 1960's and it did not take long for the American drinker to fall in love with its delicious flavor.

Amaretto Cocktails

Amaretto is a popular cocktail ingredient and it is used quite often to create delicious drinks that have a sweeter profile.

However, as you can see in the recipes below, it pairs with a great variety of flavors and it may surprise you the big difference that a small shot of amaretto can make in a cocktail.

Amaretto can be served on its own over ice. Another popular and easy way to serve it is to simply pour a shot of amaretto over ice in a tall glass and top it with cola. This results in a flavor reminiscent of Dr. Pepper and it's delicious.

You can also make homemade amaretto or an almond syrup as a non-alcoholic alternative.

Amaretto Shots and Shooters

How Is Amaretto Made?

The name amaretto is derived from the word "amaro". Amaro translates from Italian to mean "bitter" and it is often used to describe bitter aperitifs and digestifs like Amaro Averna. Amaretto is certainly not a bitter in this sense and the suffix "etto" adds "little" to the definition, so "amaretto" is often interpreted as "little bitter".

"Little bitter" is an appropriate way to describe many amarettos because it profile is a sweetened almond flavor with hints of bitter notes that vary from one recipe to another. Though amaretto is thought of as an amaretto-flavored liqueur, it is often made with apricot pits. Some recipes still use almond and others use a combination of the two.

It can vary from brand to brand, but most amaretto is bottled at 21-28% alcohol/volume (42-56 proof).

Brands That Produce Amaretto Liqueur

There are many brands of amaretto produced today and each company has their own methods and recipes. Though the base almond flavor prevails, no two amarettos have the exact same flavor.

When choosing an amaretto it can be easy to opt for one of the least expensive brands though many of these can be too sweet. While amaretto should have a sweeter profile, many of the cocktails that call for amaretto already include a sweetener like simple syrup and a drink's balance can quickly be thrown off by adding a very sweet amaretto.

To help navigate the diverse brands of amaretto, I have included an asterisk (*) next to those brands that are often considered to be of premium quality. Yet, like all distilled spirits, price does not necessarily dictate quality.

This is only a small sampling of the amarettos available.

  • Arrow
  • DeKuyper
  • Di Amore
  • *Disaronno
  • Dubouchett
  • Hiram Walker
  • *Lazzaroni
  • *Luxardo
  • *Marie Brizard
  • Mr. Boston
  • *Romeo
  • *Saliza
  • Trave