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Today is National Amaretto Day. Here's why you should care about amaretto

April 20, 2022

As this Boothby article notes, there was a time when amaretto sour was THE cocktail of choice.

But then along came espresso martinis, and now it's margaritas that have cornered the market, as we talked about in this article.

So with today officially National Amaretto Day (yes, it's an American thing) we're asking the question - should you care about amaretto anymore?

As this Drinks International article notes, amaretto doesn't have a sexy reputation. For the most part, amaretto is just another spirit to be sitting at the back of the spirits shelf alongside the Benedictine & the Drambuie.

But aside from the romantic story of how amaretto was supposedly created - by a widow who posed for Renaissance painter Bernardino Luini in 1525 - this classic Italian spirit is more interesting than you'd think. What's more, there is a swathe of new amaretto out there now that is not just Disaronno, including a serious all-Australian version.

That local version is called White Possum Naked Amaretto and is, to quote the blurb, 'a stripped down version of the classic Italian amaretto, but with an Australian twist!'.

White Possum Naked Amaretto

Made from domestic bitter almonds, this gets its Aussie edge by using outback NSW strawberry gum leaves, which add a distinct aroma boost.

Where things get really interesting is that this Australian amaretto isn't made from 'almonds' at all...

Bitter almonds aren't technically almonds - they're actually stonefruit kernels, and with amaretto like the Wild Possum, it comes from kernels that are a by-product of the apricot industry. And 'bitter almonds' are actually poisonous raw, as they can produce significant amounts of cyanide.

What we eat as almonds are considered 'sweet almonds'. Bitter almonds, as a result, are banned for human consumption, but the production process of amaretto, which focuses on the extraction of oil from the kernel, ensures that it's fine for spirits.

Of course, it's not just almonds or stonefruit kernels that make amaretto. The word amaretto is a derivation of amaro - the Italian word for bitter - which we also know from the spirits world as its own category of traditional Italian bitter. The use of sweeteners (including sweet almonds or just brown sugar) makes amaretto less bitter than amaro., which all works nicely, as amaretto roughly translates as 'a little bitter'.

The biggest criticism levelled at traditional amaretto is that it is too sweet, although that is why it works so well as amaretto sour. Makers like Disaronno are also doubling down on the sweetness, as illustrated by the new Disaronno Velvet, a creamy, richer drink that takes amaretto into Baileys territory and to be served 'strictly over ice'.

Disaronno Velvet

But is it enough to reignite amaretto's popularity? It's probably worth a shot. The liqueur category grew enormously during the pandemic, up 24% YOY by December 2020 (Nielsen stats), fuelled by the stay-at-home cocktail craze. And with Baileys shifting 7.1 million 9-litre cases, you can understand why it's considered fair game.

As for classical amaretto itself, there is another avenue that is seeing some growth that is worth your attention, and that's the NOLO category. Lyre's gold medal-winning, non-alcoholic Amaretti is vegan, dairy and nut free. According to some reports (like this from a retailer, so maybe take with a grain of salt), it makes amaretto sour better than using the alcoholic version, which only makes it more intriguing (plus it's Australian).

Ultimately, amaretto is more interesting than just a dated nut drink that sits at the back of the shelf. Do you need an excuse for an amaretto sour today?