Here at The Drunkard’s Almanac we’ll be mixing an Amaretto Sour for National Amaretto Day on April 19th. Sure, we we’ve also got National Garlic Day on April 19, but that’s not too helpful in terms of mixing a drink. it’s true that the Amaretto Sour appeared during the 1970s, the start of an era that brought us abominations such as disco, premade sour mix and the Harvey Wallbanger. But it’s also a drink that’s delicious when properly prepared, so we’re going to roll that way and introduce an Amaretto Sour recipe created by Jeffrey Morgenthaler that takes the drink to a new level.
So what exactly is Amaretto? It’s an almond-flavored liqueur from Italy that dates back to the 1500s.
There are, of course, a couple of stories. One has it that in 1525 the painter Bernardo Luini selected a young innkeeper as his model for a fresco of the Madonna of the Miracles. She was grateful for that and gave the artist a gift of her family’s secret blend of almond and brandy. That Di Saronno family then presumably started producing for a broader market in the 20th century.
Another story says a couple in Lazzaroni was blessed by the Cardinal of Milan in 1718. They honored the Cardinal’s visit with a unique and fabulous amaretto cookie that also happened to come in a bottle. The Lazzaroni family started selling the juice in 1851.
Regardless of which story, if either, is correct, Amaretto pretty much defines the category of almond liqueurs. Although immediately thought of as almond flavored, it’s typically made from crushed apricot kernels macerated in brandy then sweetened. Almond kernels contain benzaldehyde, the same aromatic compound as almonds (as well as cyanide, but we’re not poisoning our readers). Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise as apricots and almonds are closely related members of the drupe family of stone fruits.
Several brands are readily available. Amaretto di Saronno uses apricot kernels along with various herbs and fruits in its recipe. Interestingly, Lazzaroni sticks with the cookie concept and apparently uses an infusion of Amaretti di Saronno cookies. Either way, they both taste good and do double duty – you can use Amaretto in both drinks and cookies.
The Amaretto Sour
The Amaretto Sour was introduced by the Amaretto di Saronno brand in 1974 and became a 1980s staple. Originally just Amaretto and lemon juice, it was one dimensional and overly sweet, and considered something of a ‘girly’ drink or something Grandma might order if she was feeling fancy. That time being the Dark Ages of drinking, most bartenders probably used sour mix rather than fresh lemon juice, taking bad to worse.
Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler decided to do something about this in 2012 and rejuvenated the Amaretto Sour recipe. His version, about which he humbly states, “I make the best Amaretto Sour in the world,” does more than get rid of the sour mix and use real lemon juice.
As he puts it, “Amaretto isn’t strong enough on its own to stand up to a bunch of other ingredients. It’s weak. It needs help”. And for that he goes to bourbon, specifically cask-strength bourbon. He uses a small dose, but it transforms the drink. Morgenthaler also likes to add a bit of egg white, something we’ve seen here before in the Million Dollar Cocktail and Rattlesnake Cocktail. A bit of egg white is common in sours, and beyond adding a frothy cap to the drink it enrichens the mouth feel significantly.
- Old Fashioned Glass
- 1½ oz Amaretto
- ¾ oz Bourbon Preferably overproof, cask strength.
- 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp Simple syrup
- ½ oz Egg white Good to have, but optional.
- Garnish: Lemon twist and two cocktail cherries.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
- If using egg white shake vigorously (i.e. "dry shake") without ice.
- Add ice and shake to chill.
- Strain into Old Fashioned glass over ice.
- Garnish with lemon twist and two cherries.