What Is Amaretto Liqueur?

Production, Types, and Recipes

Panettone and bottle of Disaronno amaretto liqueur
Joff Lee/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Amaretto is a popular almond-flavored liqueur that is most often made with apricot kernels, though the flavor can come from almonds. It's Italian in origin and is produced throughout the world today, including the Netherlands and the U.S. It remains a favorite liqueur in Italy and has found a home in bars throughout the world. Amaretto is essential to making some of the most popular cocktails and shooters.

Fast Facts

  • Ingredients: Apricot pits or almonds
  • Proof: 42-56
  • ABV: 21-28%
  • Calories in a shot: 65-69
  • Origin: Italy
  • Taste: Sweet, nutty
  • Aged: At least 3 years
  • Serve: On the rocks, cocktails, shots

What Is Amaretto Made From?

The name amaretto is derived from the Italian word "amaro." It means "bitter" and is used to describe bitter aperitifs and digestifs like Amaro Averna. The suffix "etto" adds "little" to the definition, so "amaretto" is often interpreted as "little bitter."

Though amaretto is thought of as an almond-flavored liqueur, most quality amarettos are flavored with apricot pits. Some recipes do use almonds and others employ a combination of the two. The flavor is often from an extract added to a base liqueur. Some amarettos infuse or distill other botanicals, such as vanilla, into the liqueur. They're often sweetened with dark or burnt sugar and that gives the liqueur its dark amber color. It can vary from brand to brand, but most amaretto​ is bottled between 21 percent to 28 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 42 to 56 proof).

Amaretto is a very old style of liqueur and there are a couple of different (though related) stories regarding its creation. As is often the case, the stories come from a popular brand that continues to produce amaretto today.

The first claim is that 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. This fair woman gave the painter a gift of apricot kernels soaked in brandy. As is common in Italy, her recipe was passed down through the generations. It 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, which continues to display the date 1525 on its label.

Amaretto did not make it to the United States until the 1960s. However, it did not take long for American drinkers to fall in love with its delicious flavor.

What Does Amaretto Taste Like?

This liqueur is prized for its sweet taste of almonds as well as its slight bitterness. The sweetness varies from one brand to another and you might detect notes of herbs and spices in a few. Premium amarettos tend to be less sugary than many of the cheaper options, which can be cloying at times.

How to Drink Amaretto

Amaretto can be served on its own over ice for a delicious dessert drink. It's also popular to serve a shot of amaretto over ice in a tall glass then top it with cola. It's often paired with vodka, whiskey, and other liqueurs (especially coffee). Amaretto's very adaptable, mixing with a variety of flavors, from fruits to coffee and cinnamon to ginger. Amaretto is found in creamy cocktails, adds a sweet touch to martinis, and gives a nice depth to fruity highballs. You'll find it in countless shooter recipes as well. It's so versatile that amaretto is considered a staple in the modern bar.

Orgeat syrup, amaretto syrup (designed to flavor coffee), and homemade amaretto are good substitutes for commercial brands.

Cocktail Recipes

Amaretto is a popular cocktail and shot ingredient and used to create delicious drinks that have a sweeter profile. It may surprise you the difference that a small shot of amaretto can make in a cocktail.

Popular Brands

The popularity of amaretto means that it's produced by many different companies and they range greatly in price. For the best tasting cocktails, consider purchasing a premium amaretto; those from Italy are often considered the best.

  • DeKuyper
  • Disaronno
  • di Amore
  • Lazzaroni
  • Luxardo

Cooking With Amaretto

Amaretto is found often in food as well. The liqueur is added to baked goods such as cookies and cakes, used in sweet dessert sauces, and glazes for savory dishes. You can even simply drizzle amaretto over ice cream or a bowl of fruit.