Bourbon, Almonds, and an Amaretto Sour: How to Make It

Bourbon, Almonds, and an Amaretto Sour: How to Make It
Courtesy of Delish‍

The version presented by bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler cannot be denied.

An article titled "I Make the Best Amaretto Sour in the World" was published on Jeffrey Morgenthaler's blog on February 9, 2012.

The situation would be like Jerry Seinfeld announcing that he had found the best way to smash a watermelon with a giant hammer. I think the easiest way to explain it is like Daniel Day Lewis being on Dancing With the Stars, or Thomas Keller coming out of the kitchen at The French Laundry and handing you Easy Cheese personally to the top of your hot dog while you were sitting there. There was something confusing about the Amaretto Sour. Who gave a crap about it?

Despite what you might think, amaretto isn't exactly what you think it is. Well, if I had to guess, I would say it's mostly what you think it's meant to be. But how it gets there is an interesting tale.

About 20 miles northwest of Milan, in the Lombardy region, there is a smallish city called Saronno, famous for producing flourless cookies called amaretti. This little macaron-like sweet was invented in the early 18th century with egg whites, sugar, apricot pits, and bitter almonds—amaretti means "little bitter ones" in Italian. In 1851, the Lazzaroni family, one of the many producers of these cookies, combined some of their delicious cookies with alcohol to make an amaretti-flavored liqueur called "amaretto."

The Amaretto brand was just a local phenomenon in this small corner of Italy for over 100 years. Disaronno (literally “from Saronno”) would not be imported to North America until 1968, just in time for it to catch up with all the garbage that would become the norm for American cocktails for the next 30 years.

In the same year that the film came out, the Godfather cocktail (scotch and amaretto) was invented, but everyone knew the Amaretto Sour—sweet, weak, garnished with a day-glo cherry and a headache—the drink invented in the same year as the film. The recipe was also known to them, since it's called Amaretto and sour mix.


Consequently, in 2012, when one of our leading lights claimed to make the best Amaretto Sour in the world, it was understandably puzzling. Despite using fresh lemon juice and adjusting the sweetness to perfection, it still lacks a certain panache. Morgenthaler made two changes to this cocktail that would change the drink for the better.

It was first added by adding an egg white, much like an egg white in a Whiskey- or Pisco-Sour, to create a cool, dry finish and a cool texture. There were two remarkable additions, however, and of them was the addition of cask-strength bourbon, which was described by him at the time as "an old friend" who knew Amaretto's strengths and weaknesses.

There are so many advantages to adding high-proof bourbon to the Amaretto Sour that it is almost impossible to overstate. It does more than just make it better than before. Bourbon gives the cocktail literally everything it lacks, including punching up its proof, adding a much-welcome dimension to its flavor profile, filling out the body, and adding a little sweetness that balances it out.

This changes the cocktail from a sweet and simple drink to a well-balanced drink, which anyone can enjoy at any time. As far as I am concerned, it is the best Amaretto Sour you will ever taste in your entire life, and he does deserve credit for that.

Amaretto Sour

  • 1.5 oz. amaretto
  • 0.75 oz. cask-strength bourbon
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.25 oz. simple syrup (to taste)
  • 1 egg white

The egg white should be whisked with the ice for five to seven seconds in a cocktail shaker before adding the rest of the ingredients to the shaker. Shake the cocktail hard for eight to ten seconds, then strain it over fresh ice in a large rocks glass or coupe. If you like, garnish with a lemon peel or a cherry.


Courtesy of Alkali Rye

Historically, amaretto has been used to get the almond flavor from the pits of stone fruits; however, some of those have been made using almonds as the raw material for the flavor. The quality of amaretto varies quite a bit, as well as how it is made. When it comes to brands, I have worked with Lazzaroni and Luxardo, and I am highly enthusiastic about them both. I have heard wonderful things about Gozio.

Disaronno is the most popular and is made more in bulk, but it is still totally acceptable in my opinion. Amaretto comes in hundreds of different brands, and some of them taste pretty bad, so in order to choose a brand that is good, I generally follow that imperfect rule that is mostly functional when it comes to liqueurs, which is that if you have an ugly bottle, you probably have an ugly liquid inside.

In the world of bourbon, barrel-strength is a term used to refer to the proof at which the whiskey is aged, which, for a normal bourbon, is much higher than what they will end up bottling it at in the end. In some cases, however, they will just pour it straight from the barrel to the bottle without any further dilution, and this is known as “barrel strength” bourbon, which is similar to cask strength.

The fact that these products are aimed at aficionados means that they are all pretty good; I don't know if they are any bad. There is no doubt that Booker's, which is a Jim Beam product, is the most widely available, and this works brilliantly here, just as will Elijah Craig Barrel Proof or the recent Stellum Bourbon, both of which are great bourbons.

It will taste great if you use a bourbon that is over 55 percent. If all that you have is a regular bourbon, you won't be able to get a perfect balance with it, but you can still make the drink really tasty by adding 1 ounce to the mixture instead of 0.75 ounce and going from there.

This recipe includes a simple syrup that can be made with equal parts sugar and water, and stirred until the sugar dissolves, and you are able to scale it up or down depending on what kind of alcohol you like. You may not even need this, depending on how much proof your bourbon is and how much acidity you can handle.

Aside from the standard disclaimer at the bottom of your dinner menu, drinking cocktails that include raw egg whites is generally considered safe. If you are concerned about the safety of raw egg whites, you can use in-shell pasteurized eggs. You can also use aquafaba, a liquid you strain out of chickpeas, if you are really worried about it (or vegan). This liquid works almost exactly the same way as aquafaba.

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