I've heard some serious trash talking about amaretto—how it's too sweet or how it's for people who don't like the taste of alcohol. To those people I say: back up and leave my baby alone. Then, try a real Italian amaretto. If all you know are the sugary, bottom-shelf Amaretto Sours from bad nightclubs or your first time at a happy hour, you will revel in the beauty and balance that is quality amaretto.
I've lived my life by the maxim that everything consumable with an Italian name is going to be hands-down fantastic. And amaretto is no exception. It's a liqueur that tastes like almonds, though it's made from apricot kernels. It's a happy marriage of bitter and sweet, equally at home in a brandy cocktail as it is in biscotti.
What's Available to Buy
Amaretto is easy to find in most liquor stores. For about $20, Disaronno Originale and Lazzaroni both have a delicate bittersweet taste. The usual suspects that make a variety of liqueurs also make amaretto—Bols, DeKuyper, Hiram Walker—for about half the price. These are great as a supporting player in a cocktail or for cooking, but they're not exactly sipping quality.
Since amaretto isn't a rare or particularly expensive liqueur, the reasons to make your own are more artistic than practical. It's fun to create a personalized mix of spices, nuts, and fruit for an amaretto that tastes completely different than anything you can find in a shop. In the case of liqueurs, controlling how much sugar goes in is the biggest advantage, too. Most storebought liqueurs are super sweet. When I was experimenting with a flavor profile, I wanted something with a more pronounced bitterness that would mix well with brandy and whiskey—edging closer to an amaro than a sweet liqueur. So in addition to apricot kernels, I also used cherry stones.
I also recommend singing "amaretto" to the tune of the French song "Alouette" as you prepare your ingredients. ("Amaretto, gentille amaretto ...") Sure, it's from the wrong country and is actually about plucking the feathers off a bird, but I'm pretty sure it enhances the flavor.
When you sip amaretto, maybe you to wonder what it would taste like with a bit of cinnamon or honey. Or perhaps in your imagination there's an even sweeter dessert amaretto with strong vanilla notes or a hint of chocolate. The beauty of DIY amaretto isn't in concocting a clone of the commercial stuff, but in indulging your fantasies of what your perfect amaretto would be. There's a bit of a waiting game when making amaretto, since it steeps for several weeks. However, it's really rewarding when you can take an unusual group of ingredients and unite them to make something special.
This is a good sipping liqueur or addition to Champagne, club soda, and even hot chocolate and egg nog. It's also a good companion for whiskey or brandy. If you like Amaretto Sours, you can mix your homemade amaretto with some DIY sour mix or lemon juice. I think adding a bit of bourbon into the mix makes for a much better version of an Amaretto Sour. (You can tweak this Whiskey Sour recipe by using a 3/4 ounce to an ounce of whiskey and a shot of amaretto in place of the whiskey.)
Your amaretto will also come in handy for baking, adding a little flair to scones, clafouti, and tarts.