Recently at work, I found a bottle of amaretto in the back stock of liquor. A co-worker piped up, "Oh, yeah, that's the almond-flavored liqueur, isn't it?" I could only reply, "Au contraire, my friend! Everyone thinks it's an almond liqueur, but it's not."
So if amaretto isn't almond flavored, what gives it the distinctive nutty taste? The answer is simple. Apricots and almonds are both stone fruits, just like cherries and peaches. If you take the kernel out of the center of an apricot pit, you have a seed that's similar to an almond. It's those apricot kernels that flavor amaretto.
Once my little lesson was over, another question presented itself. What the hell do we do with it now that I've found it? There are precious few cocktails that feature it. Never mind that according to the folks at Disaronno (by far the most popular amaretto out there, even if Disaronno doesn't call it amaretto anymore) the recipe dates back to 1525; it was unheard of here in the States until decades after Prohibition. Therefore, it gets no love from vintage cocktail enthusiasts.
I know off the top of my head a whopping four well-known cocktails that involve amaretto, and bartenders haven't made most of them in years. Alabama Slammers (equal parts amaretto, sloe gin, Southern Comfort, and orange juice) are hyper-sweet shots best left to college parties. Bocce Balls (a highball of amaretto and orange juice) are an improvement, but I find them boring as hell. One that deserves to be brought back is the Godfather, a nightcap that mixes scotch and amaretto. But that's another column.
That leaves us with one amaretto drink, the one any bartender can whip up, an Amaretto Sour. I know more than a few people who had an Amaretto Sour as their very first drink. After that first one, people usually don't order one again. I don't blame them. Between well-grade amaretto and neon yellow sweet and sour mix, your average Amaretto Sour is a ghastly concoction. Good news, it's quite simple to make an unforgettable Amaretto Sour.
Amaretto is a very sweet liqueur. It's sweet enough that it doesn't need any help from the sweet part of sweet and sour, so go ahead and leave out simple syrup entirely. If you make one and find it's a little too tart, go ahead and add a little syrup; a barspoon full should do the trick.
Next, as the Godfather cocktail shows, amaretto has a strong affinity with whiskey. So, you can further cut amaretto's cloying sweetness by adding just a bit of whisky. I usually reach for bourbon, but scotch works better than it has any right to in this drink.
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All that's left now are grace notes. An egg white adds body to the drink and creates an attractive foamy head. Some people squick at the mention of raw egg white in a drink, so don't fret if you want to leave it out.
I'll let you in on one of my little secrets when I make a basic sour. If I have the opportunity to juice lemons to order, I'll throw one of the spent lemon shells right into the shaker. The shaking releases some of the rind's essential oils, adding extra dimension to the drink.
Upgraded Amaretto Sour Add an ounce of orange juice to make an Amaretto Stone Sour, a very fine variation. 1 1/2 ounces amaretto 3/4 ounce whisky 1 ounce lemon juice, spent lemon half reserved 1 egg white (or 1/2 ounce pasteurized liquid egg whites), optional
Combine amaretto, whisky, lemon juice, and optional egg white in a shaker glass. If using egg white, shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Add spent lemon half, and fill glass with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain over fresh ice in a double rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge and cherry.