Amaretto Liqueur: The Ultimate Guide

What is Amaretto?

Amaretto is a sweet liqueur with a bitter-sweet almond flavor that originated in Italy, made from stone fruit pits, sugar and botanicals; 21-28% ABV. Amaretto is drunk neat, over ice, in mixed drinks, cocktails or coffee. Premium brands of amaretto include Disaronno, Lazzaroni, Luxardo and Gozio.

Flavor Profile of Amaretto

Amaretto, meaning “a little bitter” in Italian, is a sweet liqueur with a strong bitter-sweet almond flavor and notes of caramel, vanilla and botanicals that tastes like marzipan, tiramisu or amaretti cookies.

Flavor profile of amaretto liqueur:

  • Bitter-sweet almonds
  • Toasted nuts
  • Brown sugar, burnt caramel
  • Vanilla
  • Cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and other spices
  • Herbs and botanicals
  • Dried fruit
  • Orange and lemon peel
  • Cocoa, coffee
  • Toffee, honeycomb
  • Marzipan, tiramisu, amaretti cookies

Amaretto is a sweet liqueur with slightly bitter notes of almond. The bitter-sweet flavor of amaretto is in its name. Amaretto means “a little bitter” in Italian, where “amaro” translates as “bitter” and the suffix “etto” adds “little” to the definition.

The tasting notes and sweetness of amaretto liqueurs vary from one brand to another.

Premium amaretti are generally less sugary and have more complex flavor profile with notes of herbs, spices and other botanicals.

The texture of Amaretto is thick, rich and syrupy because caramelized burnt sugar syrup is typically added into the liqueur to provide sweetness and its characteristic chestnut color.

What is Amaretto Made From?

Amaretto is made from kernels of stone fruits like apricot, almond, peach or cherry that contain benzaldehyde and give the liqueur its almond-like flavor; infused with flavorings and caramelized sugar for sweetness and its typical dark amber color; based on each brand’s bespoke recipe.

Ingredients in amaretto liqueur:

  1. Base: Kernels from stone fruits like almonds, apricots, cherries, peaches
  2. Additives: Sugar, flavorings, colorants

Surprisingly, even though amaretto is an almond-flavored liqueur, it is often not actually made from almonds.

Originally, the classic amaretto used to be made from bitter almonds.

Today, however, amaretto is often made from apricot kernels, peach stones, cherry stones or other stone fruits as primary components, which are all natural sources of a compound benzaldehyde that provides the characteristic almond-like flavor of the liqueur.

Each brand has its secret recipe blend that may also contain any number of added ingredients, such as flavorings and colorants.

Spice, herb and fruit essences as well as other botanicals are often used as aromatics to add flavor to the liqueur.

Caramelized sugar is added to sweeten the liqueur and create its typical dark amber color.

How Amaretto is Made?

Amaretto liqueur is made by maceration where flavorings, including extracts from stone fruit like apricot kernels and botanicals like spices and herbs, are infused into existing distilled spirit for weeks to months before being sweetened, filtered, hydrated to 20%-30% ABV and finally bottled.

Like many other liqueurs, amaretto is not distilled but macerated, which means that flavorings are steeped in distilled liquor, such as vodka, and then strained out after weeks or months.

Each producer has its own secret recipe, which may include any number of ingredients. One definitive ingredient is the essential oil extract from fruit stones which contain benzaldehyde, a chemical compound that results in the distinctive almond-like flavor, such as apricots, peaches, cherries and almonds.

Interestingly, these kernels naturally contain trace amounts of cyanide. Of course, this poisonous compound is eliminated during the liqueur-making process.

Other flavorings may include botanical ingredients like spices, herbs and fruit extracts.

After the aromatics are strained out from the alcohol, some sweetener is added into the mix, typically in the form of burnt or caramelized sugar syrup, in order to achieve the desired sweetness as well as the characteristic orange-brown hue.

Origins of Amaretto

Where is amaretto from?

Amaretto originated in Italy where families created their own unique almond-flavored liqueurs for centuries. The Disaronno and Lazzaroni brands are thought to be the first to introduce amaretto commercially in the 1900s in Saronno, a neighbor of Milan, in Italy‘s northern Lombardy region.

Although the true provenance of amaretto is lost to history, the two major brands, Lazzaroni and Disaronno, have been successful in popularizing their two origin stories:

  • Lazzaroni – 1851

In 1851, the Lazzaroni family introduced to the market a sweet alcoholic infusion that reproduced the flavor of their famous Amaretti cookies, bitter-sweet macarons with a signature almond flavoring called “Amaretti del Chiostro di Saronno” that the family was long known for and even presented to the King in 1786.

  • Disaronno – 1525

In 1525, a painter Bernardino Luini, who was a student of Leonardo da Vinci, received a gift of apricot kernels soaked in brandy from a local young woman whom he chose as his model to portray Madonna for a church fresco in Saronno. Her recipe was passed down for generations in the Reina family. The Reinas first started to commercialize the recipe in the early 1900s and it is now used in the Disaronno Originale amaretto, which displays the date 1525 on its label.

  • Amaretto in America

In 1960s, amaretto began to be imported to the United States. By 1980’s, amaretto was one of the most popular liqueurs in America. Amaretto even featured in the iconic movie The Godfather.

Where is Amaretto Made?

Amaretto liqueur is made by many companies all over the world, including the United States and Netherlands, as well as its ancestral home in Italy, such as the Lazzaroni and Disaronno brands that continue to be produced in Saronno, the birthplace of amaretto located in the region of Lombardy.

Even though the amaretto liqueur has an Italian origin, it is now produced throughout the world.

Nevertheless, two of the most recognized, historically significant, and commercially successful brands of amaretto, Disaronno and Lazzaroni, continue to make their product in the Italian Saronno, according to their original family recipes.

In fact, the Disarrono brand used to be called Amaretto di Saronno (meaning “Amaretto from Saronno” in Italian) until 2001, when it was rebranded as “Disaronno Originale” for marketing purposes.

Like Disaronno, the Lazzaroni amaretto is still made and bottled in Saronno according to the old secret recipe by infusing alcohol with the famous “Amaretti del Chiostro di Saronno” cookies that the family invented in the 18th century in Saronno.

How to Drink Amaretto

Amaretto can be drunk straight up on its own or over ice, as an ingredient in mixed drinks, cocktails and shots, or added to coffee, hot chocolate and milkshakes.

Amaretto liqueur is served in 7 different ways:

1. Neat

Amaretto is often served on its own as a cordial after dinner because it is an excellent dessert drink and digestif.

2. On the rocks

Alternatively, you can serve amaretto over ice, which dilutes its thick syrupy consistency, perhaps with a splash of lemon to balance out the sweetness of the liqueur.

3. Mixed drinks

Amaretto is very adaptable and can be paired with a wide range mixers, including carbonated drinks, fruit juices, coffee, chocolate, dairy, spices and other spirits and liqueurs.

The best mixers for amaretto are:

  • Spirits – whiskey, vodka, bourbon, rum, gin
  • Liqueurs – such as coffee liqueurs like Kahlua
  • Coffee and chocolate
  • Dairy – cream, milk, ice cream
  • Fruit juice – orange, lemon and pineapple juice
  • Carbonated beverages – ginger ale, sparkling water, cola and pepsi, sprite and 7-up

Fun fact: Mixing amaretto with cola creates a drink that tastes a little bit like Dr Pepper.

4. Cocktails

Amaretto is a popular ingredient in cocktails because it is very adaptable, combining well with a wide variety of flavors and textures, such as fruit, coffee, chocolate, cream, or spices like cinnamon and ginger.

Amaretto is often paired with other spirits like whiskey or vodka to refine their sharp burn and bring sweet almond notes to cocktails. Similarly, amaretto works well with other liqueurs, such as a coffee liqueur.

That is why you find amaretto as a common component of many sweet, creamy, fruity, spicy and coffee based cocktails.

There are 5 ways in which the amaretto liqueur is used as an ingredient in cocktails:

  1. Classic cocktails like The Godfather and French Connection
  2. Riffs on classic cocktails like Godmother, Amaretto Sour, Amaretto Martini, Amaretto Old Fashioned or Amaretto Manhattan
  3. Modern mixology cocktails
  4. Mixed drinks with other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages

5. Shots

Just like with cocktails, amaretto can be found in countless shooter recipes.

6. Coffee and hot chocolate

The sweet almond flavor of amaretto pairs exceptionally well with coffee, chocolate and even some teas.

7. Milkshakes

Amaretto also works perfectly in dairy-based drinks that contain milk, cream or ice cream.

Alcohol Content

Amaretto liqueur has between 21% and 28% ABV (alcohol by volume), depending on the brand. This is equal to 42-56 proof.

That is in line with other liqueurs. Compared to the 40% ABV of base spirits like whiskey, rum, vodka and gin, amaretto has a mid-ranged alcohol content.


The most recognized brands among the many amaretto producers worldwide are Disaronno, Lazzaroni, Luxardo di Saschira, Gozio, Adriatico and Di Amore because they produce a premium product and are based in Italy, the birthplace of the liqueur.

The best brands of amaretto liqueur for drinking neat, on the rocks, mixed into cocktails as well as in coffee:

  • Disaronno
  • Lazzaroni
  • Luxardo
  • Gozio
  • Adriatico
  • Di Amore

These premium amaretto brands are excellent for drinking neat, on the rocks or in spirit-forward mixed drinks because they provide complex flavor, optimal sweetness and minimal aftertaste compared to the less premium brands, which are more suitable for mixing into cocktails, coffee and other beverages with strong flavors and textures that may overpower the amaretto.

Disaronno and Lazzaroni are historically significant as they both claim to have created the original amaretto liqueur in 1525 and 1851, respectively. Both Disaronno and Lazzaroni amaretti are still being made according to their old, unique and secret family recipes in Saronno, Lombardy, which is a region in the north of Italy where amaretto was supposedly invented.

Disaronno is arguably the most popular amaretto brand worldwide. Lazzaroni amaretto is also world-renowned and made by the infusion of their famous “Amaretti del Chiostro di Saronno” cookies.

Gozio amaretto has been crafted using the same all-natural recipe and method since 1901 in Brescia, with no artificial extracts, flavors, colorants or other additives.

Adriatico is produced in Apulia and Luxardo is from Sicily.


Amaretto liqueur typically costs between $10 and $25 for a 750ml bottle in the United States, or between €10 and €25 for a 700ml bottle in Europe.

More expensive amaretti generally have more premium ingredients that lead to a more sophisticated flavor profile and better balance of sweetness and bitterness.

You get what you pay for. On the other hand, if you are going to mix amaretto with any strong flavored beverages, like complex cocktails with a lot of different ingredients or even coffee, there is no need to use a top shelf bottle, unless money is no object.


Amaretto is presented in different glasses, depending on how it is served:

  • Cordial glass: Neat
  • Lowball glass (rocks, old-fashioned): On the rocks
  • Highball or Collins glass: Mixed drink with carbonated beverage or juice
  • Martini glass: Martini cocktails like Amaretto Espresso Martini
  • Sour glass: Sour cocktails like Amaretto Sour
  • Irish Coffee glass: Added to a coffee or hot chocolate
  • Shot glass: Shot on its own or shooter combined with other spirits


Amaretto can be substituted with an almond extract or syrup, orgeat syrup, liqueurs with a similar flavor like chocolate (Creme de Cacao), coffee (Kahlua) or hazelnut (Frangelico), almond liqueurs sold under a name other than Amaretto, or homemade amaretto as a replacement for commercial brands.

There are 6 main substitutes that can be used as a replacement for amaretto liqueur in food and beverage creations:

  1. Almond extract
  2. Almond syrup (designed to flavor coffee)
  3. Orgeat syrup
  4. Liqueurs with a similar flavor, including:
    • Chocolate liqueur (Creme de Cacao)
    • Coffee liqueur (Kahlua)
    • Hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico)
  5. Almond liqueurs sold under a name other than Amaretto
  6. Homemade amaretto

Disaronno vs. Amaretto

There are 3 differences between amaretto and Disaronno:

  1. Amaretto is a type of liqueur, of which Disaronno is a one specific brand.
  2. Amaretto is produced by many companies worldwide, while Disaronno is made in Saronno, Italy.
  3. Some amaretti are made from almonds but Disaronno does not contain any almonds.

Disaronno is the oldest and arguably the largest brand of amaretto, claiming to have invented the liqueur in 1525, and still producing amaretto according to the original recipe in Saronno, which is the alleged birthplace of amaretto liqueur located in the Lombardy region in the north of Italy.

Other brands that make amaretto liqueur of premium quality in Italy include Lazzaroni, Luxardo, Gozio, Adriatico, Di Amore.

Interestingly, the Lazzaroni company also claims to have created the original amaretto liqueur, but three centuries later in year 1851.

Despite its almond flavor, Disaronno is not made from almonds but apricot kernels as the main component of the liqueur, along with burnt sugar, as well as essences from herbs and fruit.

Storing Amaretto

How long will amaretto keep?

An unopened bottle of amaretto liqueur can keep for over 20 years. After opening, amaretto lasts for 3-5 years if stored properly between uses in a bottle with a tightly sealed lid, kept in a cool, dry and dark place. After 6 months, the liqueur starts to slowly deteriorate in flavor, aroma and color.

If you enjoy drinking a premium amaretto neat or on the rocks, you might notice the liqueur losing its potency and starting to taste flat after about 1 year, or 6 months if you are a connoisseur. In cocktails and mixed drinks, this period extends to 2-3 years.

Amaretto has such a long shelf life because the liqueur has 21-28% ABV alcohol content that acts as a preservative and slows down the spoiling process. The higher the proof of an amaretto bottle, the longer it will keep.

Also, amaretto contains sugar but no other ingredients that are susceptible to rapid spoiling like cream or egg.

How to store amaretto?

Amaretto should be protected from light, heat, oxygen, moisture and contamination by being stored in a cool, dry, and dark place, with the cap of the bottle clean from sugar buildup that can cause bacteria and properly sealed to minimize air exposure.

Can amaretto go bad?

Amaretto can go bad in a matter of days if it is not sealed properly and stored in a dark, dry and cool place.

Even with good storage, amaretto typically starts to slowly deteriorate in quality after 6 months, with its color, flavor and aroma gradually changing and fading away. However, it is still safe to consume for years after opening until it actually looks, smells or tastes off.

Is amaretto safe to drink after the best-before date?

The “best before” date stamped on an amaretto bottle is not a date of expiration but the point in time when the liqueur will start to lose its properties. Hence, passing the “best by” date is technically not a cause for concern because it refers more to the quality of the liqueur rather than its safety.

How do you know if amaretto goes bad?

Amaretto is spoiled when it has acquired an unpleasant smell or taste, contains any visible contaminants, or simply is no longer to one’s personal taste in terms of its appearance, aroma or flavor.

So, store amaretto carefully and check its color, smell and taste before every use.

Depending on your judgment, stale amaretto can still be used as a cooking and baking ingredient.

Do you need to store amaretto in a fridge?

It is not necessary to refrigerate amaretto, storing the liqueur in a cupboard, pantry or basement, with a reasonable room temperature is sufficient as long as the bottle is kept away from any heat sources and direct sunlight.

While there is no need to keep amaretto in the fridge to prolong its shelf-life, the bottle can be placed into a fridge or freezer for a short period of time to chill the liqueur down before serving.

Can you freeze amaretto?

Amaretto does not freeze because of its alcohol content of 21-28% ABV. Amaretto with lower proof should only be kept in a freezer for a limited time period, under one hour, as it may turn into slush or crack the glass bottle as the liquid expands with changing temperature.

Homemade Amaretto

There are many advantages to making a homemade amaretto liqueur syrup:

  • Customize the sweetness and flavor to your liking as commercial brands tend to be very sweet
  • Cost savings compared to buying a bottle of amaretto from a store
  • Know the ingredients that go into the liqueur as the commercial brands do not make their recipes public, which may be problematic if you have allergies, for example.
  • Homemade amaretto makes for a great gift

Ingredients & Tools

The tools recommended are saucepan, whisk, funnel and a sealable glass container, such as a swing-top bottle or a mason jar.

The ingredients needed to make amaretto at home are vodka, white and brown sugar, vanilla pods or extract, and almond extract. The vodka should be plain, with no flavorings, and can be inexpensive but of a reasonably good quality.


Homemade amaretto liqueur syrup is made by dissolving white and brown sugar (1/2 cup each) in simmering water (1 cup). After the sugar syrup has cooled, stirr in vodka (2 cups) with almond extract (2 tbsp) and vanilla extract (2 tsp) or sliced vanilla pods (2 pcs).

This easy recipe only needs a few ingredients and takes about an hour to make.

In comparison, the traditional recipes are much more demanding and require you to soak apricot pits and/or almonds in alcohol with other herbs and spices for about a month.

Amaretto Liqueur

Homemade Amaretto Liqueur

Quick and easy recipe to make amaretto liqueur at home that only needs a few ingredients and takes about an hour to make.
Total Time 1 hour
Print Recipe Pin Recipe


  • 1 Saucepan
  • 1 Whisk
  • 1 Funnel
  • 1 Sealable glass bottle (e.g., swing-top bottle or a mason jar)


  • 2 cups Vodka (plain)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 cup Sugar (granulated, ideally 1/2 white and 1/2 brown)
  • 2 tbsp Almond extract
  • 2 tsp Vanilla extract (or 2 vanilla beans)


  • Combine water with sugar in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Alternatively, boil the water first and only then add the sugars. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar fully dissolves.
  • When the mixture reaches the consistency of a syrup, let it cool completely or for 10 minutes at a minimum.
  • Stir in the vodka, almond and vanilla extracts.
  • Let your homemade amaretto cool down, then pour it into a glass bottle and seal it properly.


Optional: Let the amaretto rest at room temperature for about a week and then strain it through a piece of cheesecloth before returning it into a glass bottle.
Keyword: amaretto
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