Amaretto is a contentious spirit. For many, it conjures regrettable memories of sickly syrupy drinks at college bars and clubs, and the inevitable sugar crash-heightened hangovers of the following day. Admittedly, when mixed with the “sour mix” often used in the Amaretto Sour, it can be an unpleasant drink. But as an ingredient, there is plenty of purpose for the almond-flavored liqueur, as a number of bartenders around the country have determined (including Jeffery Morgenthaler of Portland, Oregon, whose Amaretto Sour recipe is a revelation).
One such bartender is Ryan Ward, who worked as the beverage director at Momofuku CCDC in Washington, D.C. “Amaretto isn’t just almond; it has notes of vanilla, citrus and some baking spice,” he says. In his variation on the classic French 75, he swaps the simple syrup for Amaretto, whose marzipan qualities imbue the drink with a “lush toasty note,” according to him.
Ward also says that the marzipan profile of the spirit lends itself well to mixing with citrus and spice flavors. This leads to the use of Nikka Coffey gin in his take on the French 75, which has lots of citrus and green pepper botanicals from sansho peppers, a relative of the Szechuan peppercorn. The Japanese gin’s name is a reference to the column still used in distillation and named for its creator, the Irish distiller Aeneas Coffey.
The French 75 is a rare drink in that its base spirit may have changed over the years. While some early recipes do include gin, others suggest that it was cognac that was originally used. However, using that or another brandy along with Ward’s inclusion of Amaretto may make the drink too sweet, especially without the bite of pepperiness and the citrus tang that Nikka Coffey Gin has.
For the brut sparkling wine portion of the drink, Champagne is, of course, never a bad call. However if that is out of reach, there are plenty of other sparkling wines on the market that would make a good French 75; just be sure to go as dry as possible or risk an overly sweet drink.
- 1 1/2 ounces Nikka Coffey gin
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/2 ounce amaretto
- 2 ounces brut sparkling wine, chilled
- Garnish: lemon curl
Add the gin, lemon juice and amaretto to a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Double-strain into a coupe glass.
Top with the sparkling wine.
Garnish with a lemon curl.