Next week is National Amaretto Day (19 April). Are you guys stoked?  

Regardless of whether you knew that, it’s a nice excuse to get some sweet amaretto in our glass and talk about this beloved liqueur. 

Its sweet, almond-like flavour has charmed the palates of people around the world, including this humble writer in his university days. And it says a lot about the spirit that I can still stomach it, unlike my other drink of choice in my reckless youth: sambuca. *Shudders*. 

Anyway, let’s talk amaretto: its rich history, how it is made, and the many ways to drink it.


Amaretto: the sweet, nutty delight

What kind of alcohol is amaretto?

Amaretto is a sweet almond-flavoured liqueur. There’s a super informative description of what a liqueur is here in our ultimate guide to liqueurs

A quick history of amaretto 

Amaretto is one of those drinks that doesn’t have an exact point of origin. We know it’s Italian and is thought to have originated from a small town near Milan called Saronno. 

The name derives from the Italian word ‘amaro’, meaning bitter, a reference to the bitter almond that’s often used to balance the flavour of the liqueur. Some say the name means ‘a little bitter’, others claim it’s a conflation of amaro and amore, the Italian for love, which is lovely. 

It also could be a reference to the most widespread legend that recounts amaretto’s inception. We are travelling back to Saronna in 1525. A local church commissioned one of Leonardo da Vinci’s pupils, artist Bernardino Luini, to paint its sanctuary with frescoes. The church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, so Luini was tasked with depicting the Madonna. He needed a model and found inspiration in a young widowed innkeeper. In most versions, she also became his lover. Is this the most Italian story of all time?

The widowed muse was keen to offer Luini a gesture of gratitude and affection but she was of humble means so could only offer him a liqueur made by steeping apricot kernels in brandy. Her gift was well met due to it being bloody delicious and the drink soon became widespread. 

This heartfelt gift is said to have laid the foundation for what amaretto would become. The next part of the story says that Giovanni Reina rediscovered that old recipe and began distilling it, passing down the secrets through the generations. Over the centuries, the recipe was refined and commercialised, notably by the likes of the Disaronno and Lazzaroni families, evolving into the smooth, sweet liqueur enjoyed today.

In the early 20th century, Domenico Reina opened the shop Domenico Reina Coloniali in Saronna, making amaretto using that secret recipe handed down through the generations. Disaronno Originale was first produced and marketed here with the brand’s iconic square bottle design following in 1942. By the 1960s, Disaronno was exported to the rest of the world.

Adraitico Amaretto

Amaretto is as Italian as it gets

How is amaretto made?

The traditional method of making Amaretto involves infusing alcohol with the essence of apricot kernels, which are the source of its distinct almond taste.

Depending on the brand, bitter almonds or peach stones may also be used. The most important thing is that a natural source of benzaldehyde is present because that’s what provides the almond-like flavour of the liqueur

Modern production may also incorporate a base of grape brandy, adding layers of apricot or almond pits for the signature flavour. This mixture is then sweetened with sugar, and depending on the producer, various spices or fruit extracts may be added to create a unique blend. 

The resulting liqueur is typically amber-coloured, with a rich, nutty essence balanced by sweet and slightly bitter notes.

How do you drink amaretto?

Amaretto is remarkably versatile.

You can sip it neat or on the rocks.  Amaretto also finds its way into coffee or hot chocolates as a flavour enhancer. Of course, mixing amaretto is common. I grew up drinking amaretto and Coke, a classic combo, while my sister remains partial to amaretto and cranberry juice. You could really pair all kinds of soft drinks, sodas, or tonic waters with amaretto. Have fun and experiment. 

Amaretto cocktails are very popular too. The ultimate must be the Amaretto Sour, blending the liqueur with lemon juice to showcase its ability to balance tartness with its inherent sweetness. Another popular concoction is the Godfather, a simple yet robust mix of Amaretto and Scotch. Here’s some cocktails with Amaretto liqueur as a primary ingredient.

Amaretto Sour

The Amaretto Sour

Amaretto Cocktails

Amaretto Sour cocktail recipe


60ml amaretto

40ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Cherry and/or lemon slice for garnish


Fill your serving glass with ice to cool it. Measure out 60ml of amaretto and pop this into a stirring glass half-filled with ice. Add 40ml of lemon juice (start with 30ml and taste, this step is about preference and the quality and style of your lemons will have an impact) then give the ingredients a quick stir over the ice. Strain into your ice-filled serving glass (there’s no rule on which one you need to use, have fun with it). Garnish with a cherry and/or lemon slice.

Alternatively, Coppa makes a pre-batched Amaretto Sour.

Godfather cocktail recipe


50ml Scotch whisky

25ml amaretto


Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Add both Scotch whisky and amaretto. Stir well then strain into a Rocks glass filled with ice.

Toasted Almond cocktail recipe


30ml amaretto

30ml coffee liqueur

60ml heavy cream


Fill a shaker with ice. Add amaretto, Kahlúa, and heavy cream. Shake well until well-chilled then strain into a glass filled with ice.

Amaretti biscuits

Amaretto has all kinds of uses

Amaretto in cooking

Amaretto is also frequently used in cooking and baking. Savoury recipes that call for amaretto include almondine sauce for fish and vegetables. But it’s much more common in the development of sweet treats.

Amaretto is often added to ice cream or whipped cream. You’ll also find amaretto in some chocolate truffle recipes and you can add a few shots of amaretto to pancake batter for a richer flavour.

The most famous example, however, would be the Tiramisu. The popular Italian cake is often flavoured with real amaretto or alcohol-free amaretto aroma. There’s also amaretti biscuits, sometimes made with amaretto. That’s a hell of a pairing if you really love that flavour. 

Notable amaretto brands

There are hundreds of brands of amaretto made not just in Italy but also across the world. There’s no GI for amaretto so it can legally be made in other countries and still be called amaretto. 

Disarrano remains arguably the most famous. The name was originally ‘Amaretto di Saronno’ which means ‘Amaretto from Saronno’, and the brand is still family-owned and making its amaretto in Saronno. It also remains the best-selling brand of amaretto and was probably your first introduction to the drink.

Here’s a list of some fine and delicious amarettos. Enjoy, and happy National Amaretto Day!

Disaronno 70cl

Disaronno 70cl

The original, the classic. It’s not made from almonds but gets its nutty flavour from apricot pits. 

Adraitico Amaretto 70cl

Adraitico Amaretto 70cl

A superb new Italian amaretto, made with almonds hand-picked in the Apulian countryside which are roasted, macerated and distilled, then combined with cane sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee and vanilla. The team also adds just a pinch of salt, too. Superb.

Lazzaroni Amaretto 70cl

Lazzaroni Amaretto 70cl

Another old classic Italian amaretto made in Saronno, Lazzaroni uses a recipe created in 1851.

Giffard Amaretto 70cl

Giffard Amaretto 70cl

From French syrup and liqueur experts, Giffard, this amaretto is made with the maceration of almonds, apricot pits, and cherry stones. 

Wenneker Amaretto 50cl

Dutch gin, genever and liqueur producers Wenneker created this tasty and cheap-as-chips amaretto. This is one you want for cooking and popping in coffees.