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What’s sweet, amber-hued, and loaded with flavors of marzipan, burnt sugar and almonds? That’s right, we’re talking about amaretto, the Italian, almond-flavored liqueur, equally beloved and misunderstood by many. Long underappreciated, amaretto provides the perfect pour for sweet, post-dinner digestivo moments amongst friends and family. Though what exactly is amaretto?
Amaretto, which means "a little bitter" in Italian, is an almond-flavored liqueur—that, contrary to popular belief, is most often not produced from actual almonds. Originally produced in Saronno, Italy, this sweet sipper once formerly made with bitter almonds now is generally produced with essences of apricot stones, peach and cherry stones to source its flavoring. “The almond taste typical of amaretto is produced by essential oils contained in various fruit stones,” explains Matteo Luxardo, export director (and sixth-generation) at Luxardo. (Note: These stones/pits naturally contain the compound benzaldehyde, known for its similar flavor.)
Popular in cocktail creations such as the Amaretto Sour and Italian Coffee, amaretto is equally delicious sipped neat, or served over ice as a post-dinner pour. Not sure where to start? We’ve chosen our favorite bottles for nearly every situation you’ll need. So grab some biscotti and get ready for some almond-flavored deliciousness. Here are the best amaretti to drink right now.
Best Overall: Disaronno Originale Amaretto
This OG Italian liqueur is as good as it gets. Produced in Saronno in the Lombardy region in Northern Italy, this 56-proof almond-flavored liqueur has used the same "secret formula" since 1535. As Disaronno states, the liqueur is produced with apricot pits oil, alcohol, burnt sugar and "pure essence" from 17 herbs and fruits.
Sweet, nutty flavors of dried fruits, marzipan, and caramelized sugar harmoniously collide on the palate. Disaronno’s distinct almond flavor and dried fruits come to life when added to the classic Amaretto Sour. Or simply pour over rocks and enjoy.
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Best Budget: Amaretto di Amore
Sometimes the night simply calls for a pour of something inexpensive—enter Amaretto di Amore. This mahogany-hued liqueur is loaded with flavors of burnt caramel and sugared almonds, which lead to a thick and intense finish, without being overly sweet. Sip solo, pour on the rocks or mix in a cocktail. For the price, you can’t go wrong.
Best Top-Shelf: Gozio Amaretto Liqueur
Produced at the Distillerie Franciacorta in Gussago (Brescia), Italy, Gozio Amaretto has been crafted using the same recipe and method since 1901. This all-natural amaretto is loaded with flavors of canned peaches, almonds and brown sugar. No artificial extracts or flavors are added. For a taste of Italian amaretto in one of its finest forms, look no further than this bottle.
Luxardo recommends sipping Amaretto solo in front of a fireplace on a cold winter day or drizzling the spirit over vanilla gelato for a seriously sweet dessert.
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Best Dessert Replacement: Caffo Amaretto
Speaking of dessert...this unctuous, full-bodied amaretto packs a serious marzipan punch. Produced from 100% macerated and infused Sicilian almonds (estate-grown), this delicious liqueur bursts with flavors of sweet brown sugar, marzipan and dried cherries. For a succulently sweet finish to a long meal, sip a pour of this neat and mentally transport yourself to the sunny shores of southern Italy.
“Personally, I think a bit of amaretto can be the perfect follow-up to a grilled lamb dish, or when a meal includes things like turmeric, mahlab, jasmine, cardamom, and fenugreek,” says Brooklyn-based bartender and bar consultant Gates Otsuji, noting that light sips of amaretto counterintuitively draw out the finish of said meals, readying the palate for a lighter dessert.
Best for Cocktails: Hiram Walker Amaretto
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—cocktail ingredients definitely shouldn’t break the bank, though quality should never be sacrificed. For delicious concoctions crafted at home, Hiram Walker Amaretto is where it’s at. This affordable and easy-to-find liqueur is loaded with flavors of almond, caramel and sweet spice. Simply mix into your favorite cocktail recipe or add a splash to your coffee for an elevated post-dinner burst of energy.
“Amaretto has a natural flavor pairing with cherries and mixes well with tart, round flavors,” explains Otsuji. “It adds a grounding element to cocktails that feature tropical juices, and can counterbalance delicate floral notes without drowning them out.”
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Best for Special Occasions: Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira Liqueur
Amaretto and special occasions go hand in hand. This premium, almond-flavored liqueur from Luxardo is perfect for celebrating in style. Produced from the pits of cherries, peaches, and apricots, this marzipan-flavored liqueur oozes with flavors of sugared almonds, vanilla, and baking spice. Sip neat or serve over ice.
“We do not use essential oils from almonds to prevent any potential allergy issues,” explains Luxardo, stating that the company uses vanilla bean infusions to sweeten the taste (and contrast the pungent almond flavoring) instead. “A great amaretto is a product that does not have only the bitter almond taste but something else that gives a pleasant velvety aftertaste—in Luxardo’s case, vanilla.”
Best for Gifting: Lazzaroni Amaretto
This delicious amaretto was first produced in 1851 by Palol and Davide Lazzaroni in Saronno (Lombardy), Italy. The unique method used to produce this exquisite liqueur involves infusing Amaretti di Saronno cookies rather than fruit/herb essence. Notes of sweet almonds, grilled nuts, and biscotti ooze from the liqueur’s pleasantly sweet palate. Authentic, one-of-a-kind, and complete with beautiful packaging – this bottle’s perfect for the Italian booze lover in your life.
“Where some brands can be heavy-handed, I find Lazzaroni Amaretto to be lighter on the palate, with a more pronounced citrus note,” says Otsuji. “From a mixology standpoint, it's quite flexible—it works in warm beverages, the full range of sours, and spirituous cocktails to equal effect.”
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Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Liquor.com, Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more. Denig is also the Content Manager for Verve Wine, a bi-coastal retail operation (New York & San Francisco).