Amaretto: Regaining romance

While amaretto may have a long and somewhat idyllic history, it has done little to capture consumers’ imaginations in recent times. But cocktail culture could be key to changing all that, finds Angel Brown


THE LOVE STORY between Italy and amaretto started back in the 1500s during the Italian renaissance. Legend has it that Leonardo da Vinci’s art student Bernardino Luini was gifted a drink made from apricot kernels soaked in brandy by a young, widowed innkeeper, after she became his model and rumoured lover.

Such a long way from its romantic history, today amaretto is more likely to remind consumers of their parents’ drinks cabinet – the sweet-almondey liquid that sits at the back of the shelf only to be opened occasionally for an after-dinner tipple. Despite this view, could its historic value appeal to modern consumers who increasingly crave classic brands and authenticity? Domenico Toni, global sales director at Illva Saronno, which owns Disaranno, isn’t sure that’s enough anymore: “Heritage and a long history in the industry are no longer enough to make consumers loyal to a brand. We tell our story to explain Disaronno’s success and to reinforce the fact that we are the original amaretto. But we are keen to offer to discerning consumers a more deep and intense drinking experience through bartenders.”

So, it seems bartenders could be the key to changing the fortunes of the category and set trends that will trickle down to the consumer. The challenge for amaretto is one that the wider liqueurs category also experiences, it’s surrounded by confusion. Amaretto is a sweet drink but the word in Italian means ‘a little bitter’, which lends itself to the use of the bitter almond flavour – albeit a mild bitterness. The base is made from either apricot kernels or almonds or both. Apricot kernels contain poisonous compounds but alcohol extracts the benzaldehyde (bitter almond flavour) so the toxic hydrogen cyanide is not present in the liqueur. The end product is then sweetened sometimes using sweet almonds.

Dan Bolton, managing director at Hi-Spirits, believes that the confusion facing amaretto is nothing new. “This is something other speciality liqueurs and spirits also experience. Amaretto is a niche product, so tends to get crowded out on the back bar or retail shelf by bigger-selling categories. Consumers aren’t necessarily familiar with the way it should be served so need support to make it their choice.”

The Amaretto Sour could be the key to success of the category, popularising the use of amaretto in cocktails. Mark de Witte, chief executive at De Kuyper Royal Distillers, believes there is a market for amaretto as consumption increases both at home and in bars.

“We believe that, with our Home of the Cocktail strategy, we are ready to win in the marketplace by offering relevant products and solutions to consumers and bartenders alike. Even though our amaretto is great to be consumed neat or on ice, it also works very well in an Amaretto Sour cocktail. Focusing on this hero cocktail will help to stay relevant and leverage on the trend of cocktails.”