Amaretto in a nutshell

There’s a buzz about Italian spirits in many markets. Campari and Aperol are kicking up a storm in aperitif drinking occasions through spritz and other mixer serves, while amaro is getting some love on the back of the wider trend for herbal, digestif-style liqueurs.

The stage would seem set for an amaretto revival. After all, its name translates into English as “little bitter” and all of those drinks are competing in what might be broadly termed a bitter segment of the liqueurs category.

But amaretto’s bitterness – derived from combinations variously of almonds and peach or apricot stones – is tempered with a sweetness that takes it in a different direction. Is amaretto simply too sweet for the modern, more sophisticated, international drinking tastes?

IWSR figures certainly suggest that the category isn’t setting the world alight in the way that some of its Italian compatriots have been, with volumes down slightly and value sales flat between 2014 and 2019.

Arguably, lack of serious competition to the global market leader, Disaronno, hampers dynamism in the category as a whole. That brand has injected some excitement with its launch of the Velvet cream liqueur spin-off this year, and an ongoing series of pack-design partnerships with international fashion brands including Diesel, Versace  and Moschino.

But often, an overly-dominant position for one brand doesn’t help create a consumer buzz about a spirits category as a whole. Think of white rum and Bacardi, advocaat and Warninks or cream liqueurs and Baileys: three great brands but indifferent categories overall in recent years, compared to, say, spiced rum, gin or tequila, where a proliferation of new brands and diversification have proven to be powerful currency.
Other amaretto brands have been trying to make their mark, however. Puglia-based, small batch Adriatico is made from organic almonds and has just entered the UK market.

Jamie Walker, managing director of Sip & Savour, which is distributing the brand in that market, thinks Adriatico “transcends the amaretto category”, with the use of less cane sugar and a pinch of sea salt being used to create a less sweet take on the traditional style. “If I’m honest, an amaretto was not top of our list as a category we were going to prioritise,” adds Walker, but “the product completely blew us away”.

Adriatico is planning to launch special edition aged and cask bottlings later this year. Walker says: “The biggest players in amaretto have been driving the status quo for a while. There is a peaked interest now with the best mixologists to reinvigorate the category.

“We are targeting both amaretto drinkers and non-amaretto drinkers due to the flavour profile which is much more refined, layered and not as sweet as other brands.

“Online is key at this stage but we want to partner with the on-trade to create serves and share their experience with the brand.”

The Amaretto Sour is the go-to amaretto serve on the cocktail circuit. Its signature balance of sweet amaretto and sharp lemon juice, given some body by egg white, is a consistent presence in the top half of DI’s annual chart of the world’s best-selling cocktails. It came in at number 22 this year, ahead of classics such as the Piña Colada, Cosmopolitan and  Tom Colllins. Some and 13% of the international bars polled said the Amaretto Sour was in their top 10 sellers and two of them put it as their bestselling cocktail of all.