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Elements: Amaretto

Amaretto has a history as rich as its flavor. An origin story for the liqueur dates back to 1525, in Saronno, Italy, where it’s said to have originated. Artist Bernardino Luini, an assistant of Leonardo da Vinci, was commissioned by a church in Saronno to paint murals on their sanctuary. Luini needed a model to help him paint the Madonna and enlisted the aid of a local young widow who agreed to pose for him. As a gift of her appreciation, she gave Luini a batch of liqueur made from apricot kernels soaked in brandy. Thus, the story goes, amaretto was born.

Amaretto is a liqueur with an almond flavor, but interestingly, it doesn’t always contain almonds. “There’s a common misconception among consumers that amaretto is all made with almonds, but it’s not necessarily,” says Francesco Lafranconi, founder of Las Vegas–based bar Mr. Coco and vice president of beverage operations and hospitality culture at Carver Road Hospitality. Instead, he says, the almond-like flavor largely comes from the stones inside fruit, such as peaches, apricots, and cherries. Along with touches of baking spices or herbs, depending on the brand, amaretto offers a dose of sweet almond flavor with just a hint of bitterness.

Since the Renaissance, this liqueur’s been used as a key ingredient in cuisine and cocktails. It was a particularly big hit in the 1970s, appearing in cocktails such as the Amaretto Sour and the Godfather, mixed with Scotch whisky—but this popularity didn’t necessarily help its reputation. “Amaretto is still a victim of the ’70s and ’80s era, when fruity and cloying drinks were en vogue,” says Livio Lauro, an Italian bartender now based in Las Vegas and host of YouTube show Master Your Glass.

While most drinkers’ first encounter with amaretto may be through the Amaretto Sour, the liqueur also lends itself well to sumptuous, robust stirred cocktails perfect for a winter evening. “Amaretto is a crowd-pleaser for its versatility,” says Lafranconi, who uses the liqueur in place of apricot brandy in his variation on the classic Angel Face cocktail. Some bartenders use amaretto as a cocktail’s main flavor feature, but others like to use the liqueur as a complement. “I like using it in boozy drinks, where the main spirit such as brandy, whiskey, or gin gets to play a big role in the drink—and not just the amaretto,” Lauro says. Whether in the starring role or as part of an ensemble, amaretto is always dependable. “Consistency is always rewarded, and amaretto always shows up ready to be a protagonist of flavor,” Lauro says.

Starrett Cocktail

Amaretto meets a blend of base spirits in this robust cocktail.

1 oz. Cognac
1⁄2 oz. Demerara rum (King uses El Dorado 15)
1⁄2 oz. genever
1⁄2 oz. Cynar
1⁄2 oz. amaretto
3 dashes Bogart’s Bitters (or substitute chocolate bitters)
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Tools: barspoon, strainer
Glass: rocks
Garnish: lemon twist

Stir all of the ingredients with ice, strain into an ice-filled glass, then garnish.

Ned King, Gigantic, Easthampton, Massachusetts

Amaretto Old Fashioned

Drinks don’t get any simpler or more delicious than this easy spin on a familiar classic.

2 oz. rye whiskey
1⁄2 oz. amaretto
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Tools: barspoon, strainer
Glass: rocks
Garnish: cherry, orange twist

Stir all of the ingredients with ice, strain into an ice-filled glass, then garnish.

Livio Lauro, Las Vegas

Angel Blush

Swapping amaretto in place of apricot brandy takes a classic cocktail in new directions.

3⁄4 oz. Calvados V.S.O.P.
3⁄4 oz. gin (Lafranconi uses Plymouth)
3⁄4 oz. amaretto (Lafranconi uses Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira or Saliza Amaretto)
3⁄4 oz. Lillet rosé

Tools: barspoon, strainer
Glass: coupe
Garnish: lemon twist

Stir all of the ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled glass. Twist a lemon peel over the drink, then use as garnish.

Francesco Lafranconi, Las Vegas

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