What Is Amaretto?

We’ve covered all the major types of liqueur this month in Happy Hour City, so it’s only proper that we leave the sweetest one for last- the cherry on top of the sundae if you will, amarettos. It’s such a popular liqueur it has its own sour type cocktail, the Amaretto Sour of course! We just discussed where Sours originated from in our last article if you’re curious! This Wednesday we’ll teach how to make something different than the usual with it. So stick around for that!


The etymology of Amaretto is quite fascinating on it’s own, it translates in Italian to “little bitter.” It derived from the word, “amaro” which translates directly to bitter. Given it’s ingredients the name was modified to represent how “little” bitterness is actually present. The distinction is important because you shouldn’t confuse Amaretto with Amaros, a completely different kind of Italian herbal liqueur that are indeed quite bitter. 

It’s current makers use almonds to make the sweet liqueur, but the original recipe calls for apricot or peach kernels, the goal is to extract the benzaldehyde which is produced from various sources (almonds included). It’s the benzaldehyde that gives it the almond-like odor and taste. Though it is commonly used for cocktails Amaretto can be perfectly enjoyed by itself, or if you’re brave enough add it to your morning coffee. 

The ABV of Amaretto differs from brand to brand but you can always count on it being between 42 proof (21% ABV) and 54 proof (28% ABV). Now just because you can put it in practically anything doesn’t mean it’ll taste all that great by itself, if you do drink it neat we highly suggest using ice or diluting it- it is quite thick in viscosity and a little similar to cough syrup. 

A Brief History:

According to many different sources on the web the origins of Amaretto began in the town of Saronno in the northwest region of Italy. (Hint: Disaronno) There are two tales of it’s maker and how it came about, the first one sounds more like a fairy tale so we’ll lead with that.

According to legend, in the year 1525 in the town of Saronno, a young man named Bernardino Luini was hired as an assistant to the great Leonardo da Vinci. Luini was was commissioned to paint a sanctuary with original frescoes of the Virgin Mary for a church’s interior. When he was searching for a muse, a local woman nearly fainted from the honor of being chosen. Since she was a common gal she had little to give thanks with so, she gifted him a steeped apricot kernels in some brandy and bada bing bada boom- Amaretto is born. 

Of course, the more accountable tale comes from the originators of the people who created it into a liqueur.

That’d be the Lazzaroni family who also comes from Saronno, Italy. They claim the title as the inventors of amaretto due to the fact they invented the Lazzaroni Amaretto cookies in the year 1786 for the King of the region at that time. But it wasn’t until 1851 that they created the actual Amaretto liqueur, their own infusion of the cookies, liquor, and with the addition of caramel for color. 

Random Fact:

The cocktail the Godfather is Scotch mixed with Amaretto and yes it's named after the 1972 movie. 

Italians have a certain talent for liqueurs and Amaretto has certainly gone down with enough fame in the history books to deem it a success.

How do you drink Amaretto? We don't recommend drinking a whole bottle, the amount of sugar will give you a nasty hangover! Until then, hang tight for Wednesday's Drink of the Week. Thanks for reading, and as always...

Cheers from,

Happy Hour City