Spirits & Liqueurs Liqueur

What the #$@! Do I Do with This? Amaretto: What It Is and How to Use It.

It’s time to dust off that lonely old bottle of amaretto.

Photo illustration of four various liquor bottles with their labels blacked out, one of which is emphasized with white hand-drawn lines on the far right of the lineup.

Liquor.com / Laura Sant

You bought a bottle of booze because a cocktail recipe called for a very minute amount. Now you’re stuck with the remaining 9/10ths of the bottle and wondering what to do with it. No worries. Thrifty bartenders weigh in with tips and recipes for getting every last drop out of an underutilized ingredient so it doesn’t gather dust on your bar shelf.

As Italian liqueurs go, amaretto might be the most misunderstood. When joined with commercial sour mix, it becomes the backbone to a two-ingredient sugar bomb with a hangover to match. While the original recipe was flavored with bitter almonds, they were abandoned when producers realized they were potentially chock-full of deadly cyanide. Modern versions instead use regular almonds or apricot or peach stones to capture that distinctive flavor. But how can we flip amaretto’s stereotype as cloyingly sweet? And what else can we do with that bottle in the far reaches of our liquor collection?

“Spicy and bold flavors work really with amaretto,” says Joan Villanueva, the beverage curator at BO-beau kitchen + caché in San Diego. Rye and mezcal drinks with a chile-heat component are her go-to inspirations for incorporating the liqueur. She also uses amaretto to spray or rinse glassware to enhance aromatics and as a substitute for sugar cubes or other sweeteners in a rye Old Fashioned. “I sometimes hear how people drank too much amaretto a long time ago, so I like to offer the option to reconnect with an old friend.”

Amaretto isn’t a one-trick pony reserved for sours, says David Velasco, the beverage manager at The Lanes at The Howard in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “Try pairing it with chocolate flavors, citrus, red and dark fruits, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla,” he says. The Macaulay Culkin cocktail features a healthy one-ounce pour of amaretto along with a few dashes of chocolate bitters for depth. “Even in red or white Sangria, it can add a dimension of complexity that will leave people wondering what that little something extra is.” As for anyone who can cite a bad experience in the past, he reminds over-imbibers that balance is important with amaretto, as the liqueur does contain a fair amount of sugar.

Ryan Ward, the beverage director at Momofuku CCDC in Washington, D.C., agrees that its marzipan profile makes amaretto a winning mixer with citrusy and spicy elements. Sub it for simple syrup in a French 75 to add a lush toastiness or swap half of the sweet vermouth for amaretto in a Boulevardier, he suggests. In the latter, amaretto “plays off the bitter orange of Campari and spice notes of rye while complimenting the vermouth’s dark cocoa quality.”

Finish that bottle of amaretto by trying your hand at these three cocktails at home.

A shaken yellow cocktail served up in a wide coupe and garnished with lemon zest

Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

Amaretto French 75

Replacing simple syrup with amaretto lends a “lush toasty note,” says Ward. He prefers Nikka Coffey gin, which has lots of citrus and green pepper botanicals from sansho peppers, a relative of the Szechuan peppercorn. “Amaretto isn’t just almond; it has notes of vanilla, citrus and some baking spice.”

Get the recipe.

A spicy Margarita served in a clear rocks glass, rimmed with salt and garnished with a lime wheel

Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

Spiced Margarita

Villanueva sees a lot of application for amaretto with bold and spicy flavors like mezcal, tequila and rye. In this Margarita version, amaretto stands in for orange liqueur, and muddled jalapeño slices lend a touch of lip-tingling heat.

Get the recipe.

A soft yellow tequila sour served in a classic coupe and garnished with a sprig of rosemary

Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

Macaulay Culkin

Velasco deems amaretto a “very versatile ingredient with a lot of missed potential” and especially likes the way it plays with chocolate, red and dark fruits, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. This tequila sour is hit with some deep cocoa tones from chocolate bitters.

Get the recipe.