The 1970s brought about a slew of famous—some infamous—cocktails like the amaretto sour. This sweet and slightly nutty amaretto sour made a comeback over the past decade. If you’re a fan of sweet and almond flavors, the amaretto sour is perfect for you.
In its most basic form, it features a sweet component, the amaretto, and a sour component, usually lemon juice. You can make it slightly sweeter with simple syrup, stronger with a harder liquor, like whiskey, or give it a silky texture and smooth mouthfeel with an egg white.
It’s traditionally garnished with a lemon wheel wrapped around a maraschino cherry. If I’m feeling fancy, I garnish it with brandied cherries and a lemon wheel.
What is Amaretto?
Amaretto is an Italian liqueur that gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1970s, though it’s been around for hundreds of years in Italy. The 70s was a time when sweet drinks reigned supreme stateside. Amaretto is sweet, with a familiar sugary almond flavor. It means “a little bitter,” while amaro means “very bitter” in Italian.
While there are hundreds of amaretto brands in Italy, you’ll only find a handful here in the U.S. There’s Disaronno, which claims to have made the original amaretto and has been producing it since 1525. Luxardo and Gozio are other high-quality and flavorful brands.
The Flavor of Amaretto is Distinctly Bitter and Sweet
Amaretto has a distinctive burnt sugar and almond flavor—not the sweet almond we usually associate with almonds, but rather bitter almonds. You can’t buy bitter almonds in the United States due to the presence of prussic acid, otherwise known as cyanide. But not to worry! Bitter almond oil, which is the flavoring agent of amaretto, is legally required to have all the toxins removed.
Amaretto makers sometimes turn to stone fruit seeds, mainly apricot, which taste like bitter almonds.
For a Silky Cocktail, Add an Egg White
In the 1990s, bartenders rethought cocktails and egg whites made their way into them. While optional, an egg white adds body, a nice mouthfeel, and a silky top, without a funky egg taste. In fact, I find that it cuts the sweetness back a bit, creating a more balanced drink.
If you’re concerned about salmonella, pasteurized egg whites sold in cartons can be found at your local grocery store, usually right next to the eggs.
For those looking for an alternative to eggs, try aquafaba. It’s the liquid found in canned chickpeas, and it has a similar texture to egg whites when shaken. And nope, there’s no weird chickpea taste.
A Modern and Common Variation
The modern variation of the amaretto sour—one that is often listed on cocktail menus as an amaretto sour—came about during the cocktail renaissance of the early 2010s. Bartender and author Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s introduced cask-strength bourbon into the mix, alongside egg whites and simple syrup.
Cask-strength refers to liquor bottled straight from the barrel without adding water to lower the overall percentage of alcohol—cask-strength bourbon is about 60% alcohol by volume (ABV) compared to a typical bourbon that’s about 40% ABV. In sum: it’s strong stuff! If you prefer a punchier and stronger cocktail, try this variation, with 1/2 to 3/4 ounce of cask-strength bourbon.
More Tasty Variations to Try
- Make it NA! With the ever-growing nonalcoholic options, it’s possible now to make a wonderfully complex amaretto sour minus the booze. Instead of the amaretto, use Lyre’s Amaretti or Beckett’s ‘27 Amaretto.
- No lemon? No problem! Lime juice gives the cocktail the same sourness with a floral twist.
- Make it sweeter by adding a teaspoon of simple syrup.
Sweet Treats that Call for Amaretto
Want to batch this cocktail for a crowd? Skip the egg white and combine 12 ounces amaretto, 6 ounces fresh lemon juice, and 3 ounces high-proof bourbon in a pitcher filled half-way with ice. Stir to combine. Serve the cocktails in rocks glasses filled with fresh ice and garnished with a lemon wheel and a brandied cherry.
- 2 ounces amaretto
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 1 egg white (optional)
- Ice, for the shaker and for serving
- Lemon wheel, for garnish
- Brandied cherry, for garnish
Shake the ingredients together:
If using the egg white: Combine the amaretto, lemon juice, and egg white in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously until frothy, 20 to 30 seconds. Then, gently add ice until it fills the cocktail shaker by half. Shake again to chill the cocktail, at least 20 seconds.
Without the egg white: In a cocktail shaker filled two thirds with ice, pour in the amaretto and lemon juice. Shake hard for 20 seconds.
Strain and serve:
Strain the cocktail into a rocks glass filled with ice, giving the shaker a few hard shakes to get as much foam out as possible. Garnish with a lemon wheel and brandied cherry.
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