The Amaretto Sour is a tangy, bittersweet Sour with a mild almond aftertaste. It is often considered an entry level cocktail since its sweeter and less alcoholic nature often gives it greater appeal to younger or female drinkers. As such it represents a window into the world of cocktails, and a door through which to enter. Once you can appreciate an Amaretto Sour, suddenly there are lots of other enticing options available to you.
The Amaretto Sour is the third and final entry of the truly iconic, classic Sours. The other two are the previously covered Whiskey Sour and Pisco Sour. Each of these three are simple Sours, in that they use a single spirit/liqueur as their primary flavour component. They have also been around and popular for a long time, and make use of most/all of the other components of a Sour.
But unlike Bourbon or Pisco, Amaretto is a liqueur. As such it is automatically both sweeter and less potent than a spirit. As the primary flavour component of the Amaretto Sour, we need to take a closer look at it.
Amaretto is an Italian liqueur which boasts a heritage of several centuries. Originally it hails from Saronno, a small Italian town in Lombardy, not far from Milan. Brands which are still made in Saronno like to tout this fact to enhance their credentials for authenticity. But it is fair to assume that “Amaretto” is now made all over the place. Though much of this produce will not be of the highest quality.
Amaretto is a peculiar liqueur in that it is bittersweet. The name comes from the Italian amaro, meaning bitter. Amaretto means “a little bitter”. So despite its almost sickly sweet taste, there is also an interestingly bitter aftertaste.
Also confusing is the flavour. Most people agree that Amaretto tastes of almonds. It certainly reminds me of the marzipan used to cover Christmas cakes. Yet many recipes have no almonds in them at all, instead using the kernels of apricots. Still, if you have a nut allergy you should read the packaging of the bottle carefully as some brands may sneak in a little almond too.
My favourite Amaretto, which I have worked with throughout my bartending career and which makes an excellent Amaretto Sour, is Disarrono. This brand is still made in Saronno, where it claims to have been made since 1525 using a “secret formula” of apricot kernels and numerous herbs and spices. It does not contain almonds.
It used to be called Amaretto di Saronno – Amaretto of/from Saronno. But to emphasize its historical and local origins it rebranded itself as Disaronno. You will occasionally see recipes for a “Disaronno Sour”. Once again, this is just marketing. A Disaronno Sour is merely an Amaretto Sour made specifically with Disaronno, nothing more.
Unfortunately, Disaronno have not gone all the way with their attempt to push the quality of their brand. They are also purveyors of a horrendous “Disaronno Sour Mix” which they continually try to foist on bars. Don’t touch the stuff. It’s vile.
While Disaronno is certainly not the best Amaretto on the market, it occupies that sweet spot of good-enough quality at low-enough prices to be well suited for cocktails.
Ingredients and method
The Amaretto Sour is a straightforward Sour. If you’re a little unsure as to what constitutes a Sour, refresh your memory here.
In order to produce the wonderful froth, the Amaretto Sour really needs to be shaken. Twice.
Note that since Amaretto is considerably sweeter than Whiskey or Pisco, much less sugar syrup is required to achieve the correct Balance of Sour.
First dry shake in order to emulsify the egg white. Then add ice and shake as normal. Strain out into a short glass, over ice.
There is no classic garnish for an Amaretto Sour, though lemon zest and/or cocktail cherries are quite common.
The Amaretto Sour is an excellent base for some extremely tasty variants. My own contribution to the genre is the Nutbuster, which I shall write up in due course.
Another good variant is the Blueberry Amaretto Sour. This was pre-existing on a cocktail menu when I arrived in one of my bars. And one of the few good enough to remain on it when I rewrote that menu. I have no idea who came up with it, but consider it a House cocktail. However, it’s also such a simple variant it doesn’t warrant its own post. It is made exactly the same as the Amaretto Sour, except using blueberry-infused Amaretto. This infusion is a highly technical process of pricking blueberries with a cocktail stick, then chucking them into the Amaretto for a few days. The Amaretto then takes on the colour and flavour of the blueberries, as does the Amaretto Sour produced.
Finally, Amaretto Sour recipes exist which call for one part Bourbon to two parts Amaretto. I can see the appeal in this to drinkers with a more mature palate to whom a pure Amaretto Sour is both too light and too sickly. Also as a transition cocktail towards Whiskey or Pisco Sours. But I think it should be judged as a variant and not as the original Amaretto Sour.