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The Amaretto Sour: A Refined Update to a Maligned Cocktail

The Amaretto Sour: A Refined Update to a Maligned Cocktail: Photo by David L. Reamer

Photo by David L. Reamer

It all began as a simple round of late night trash talking with some other bartenders. All of us, fed up with the current state of cocktail fetishism, were pining—somewhat—for the olden days of club bartending. We missed the fast pace, crazy nights, lots of girls, and lots of girly drinks. Concoctions like the Seabreeze, the Midori Sour, and every one of our favorite guilty pleasure cocktails, the Amaretto Sour.

The Amaretto Sour isn’t a classic cocktail, per se. It was likely never made with fresh lemon juice, was never published in any of those classic cocktail bibles such as Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide or The Savoy Cocktail Book. It was, as far as we know, always a concoction made with amaretto and pre-made sour mix, served in college bars and dance clubs. Nothing more.

But that conversation amongst a group of bartenders late one night led to a sort of verbal workshop about the drink. What if it could be made using everything we know now about classic cocktail construction and technique? Could the drink be made with fresh lemon? Would egg white help deliver a silky mouthfeel? Could the standby garnish, a bright red Maraschino cherry, be updated to an Italian Amarena cherry? The answer to all of these questions is, of course, a resounding yes.

So the following week I set out to build the world’s greatest amaretto sour. The problem with amaretto is that is isn’t strong enough, so my earliest attempts were weak and flimsy. A solution had to be found before I shared the drink with our guests.

The answer came in the form of cask-strength bourbon. Bourbon’s caramel and orange peel flavors were a natural affinity for the sweet marzipan and confectionary spices found in amaretto. The high alcohol content bolstered the drink and an updated version of this much-maligned modern classic was born.

Amaretto Sour
1½ oz. amaretto (preferably DiSaronno, Luxardo, or Lazzaroni)
¾ oz. cask-proof bourbon (look for Booker’s)
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. 2:1 simple syrup
½ oz. egg white, beaten*

Combine ingredients and shake well with ice cubes. Strain over fresh ice in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon peel and a brandied cherry.

*To use egg whites in cocktails, separate the whites, place in a small bowl, and beat until a uniform consistency. One large egg will yield approximately one ounce of whites.


Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.


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