When you’re at the liqueur store, you’re exposed to many different liqueurs, brand names, flavors, and tons of pretty bottles. It can get quite overwhelming, especially when you don’t know what you want to get!
Two particular liqueurs people get confused with are the amaro vs amaretto.
We totally understand because they sound so much alike, so aren’t they at least very similar?
No, not really! Basically, amaro is a bitter liqueur similar to vermouth, while amaretto is a sweet liqueur made with almonds. But beyond flavor, there are more differences to note of. Before getting a bottle of amaretto or amaro, read on to learn what they are, their differences, and when it’s best to use them.
What is Amaro?
Let’s first start with amaro, a liqueur with a name that translates to “bitter” in Italian.
It is an herbal liqueur with different versions existing worldwide. But in general, this liqueur is made by infusing a base liqueur with a blend of herbs, spices, flowers, and roots. The base alcohol used is usually grape brandy, wine, or other neutral spirits.
Fun fact: Amaro is singular while amari is the plural form. We see people say amaros as the plural form, so we aren’t sure if there’s a right or wrong here! (*)
The history of amaro began in ancient Rome, where nobles imbibed herb-infused wine because of the therapeutic properties it was said to have. In the middle ages, monks swapped the wine for alcohol! Once the 1800s came, amaro was sold in pharmacies or by peddlers as a health tonic in Italy.
Fast forward to today, and you can now find amaro all over the world with different blends and variations!
Despite the name, Amari has varying bitterness levels. Some of them may actually have more sweet flavors than bitter ones! Some herbs include cinnamon, chamomile, rhubarb, saffron, gentian, aloe, and many more. Again, it really depends on the manufacturer and location the amaro is produced.
In most Amari, you will taste different flavor notes of herbs and spices, with some bitterness, which balances out the drinking experience. There are also fruity flavors here and there, usually citrus fruits like orange.
The combination of herbs, spices, flowers, and roots, which are determined by the different region’s varying plants, are made to stimulate our stomachs and aid in digestion after meals.
To consume amaro, we serve it neat and sip it slowly. You can also serve it with a citrus wedge, over ice, or mixed with tonic water. However, you can also find amaro mixed in various cocktails.
Fun fact: There are many kinds of amaro available, but the most common in cocktail bars include brands like Aperol, Averna, Campari, Cynar, Fernet-Branca, Lucano, Montenegro, and Nonino.
What is Amaretto?
On the other hand, amaretto is a famous almond-flavored Italian liqueur made from apricot kernels or almonds. It’s an old-style liqueur with many different, though related, stories of its origin. (*)
Fun fact: The name amaretto comes from the Italian word “amaro,” which means bitter. But wait! It has a suffix, “etto,” which translates to “little.”
One story shares that amaretto was created in Saronno, Italy, in 1851 by the Lazaronni family. This family was known for creating amaretto cookies, and it’s said they discovered there was a hot market for sweet almond-flavored liqueurs.
The second story starts in 1525 with Bernardino Luini; a Renaissance painter commissioned to create a painting of the Madonna. The model he hired gifted him apricot kernels soaked in brandy, with that recipe passed down through generations. This recipe ended up in the Reina family, who worked for the Lazaronni family.
Fun fact: That same recipe is supposedly used in the Disaronno Originale, which has the date 1525 on the label.
In definition, amaretto is a liqueur that is only a “little bitter.” While amaretto is known as an almond-flavored liqueur, many quality bottles are made of apricot pits. Some recipes also use almonds, while others combine the two for unique flavors.
That distinct flavor comes from an extract added to a base liqueur. Some producers would distill or infuse other botanicals like vanilla. They are also usually sweetened with dark or burnt sugar, which gives amaretto the dark, amber color.
As for its flavor, this liqueur is well-known for its almond flavor but with only a slight bitterness to it. The sweetness levels would vary from one brand to another, where you can also detect notes of spices and herbs in some. Premium amaretto brands aren’t as sugary as the cheaper options, which are sometimes cloying!
You can serve amaretto on its own over ice, which we like serving as a dessert drink. It’s also popularly served as a shot over ice in a tall glass, topped with cola.
You can also find amaretto paired with other beverages like vodka, and whiskey, among other liqueurs. Heck, you can even find it in coffee as a nutty sweetener with a kick!
As you can see, amaretto is versatile and can be mixed with various flavors, whether fruits, coffee, cinnamon, or even ginger.
Generally, you can find amaretto in creamy cocktails, adding sweetness to martinis or giving more depth to fruity highballs. They are also found in many shooter recipes, and because of their presence in numerous cocktails, it’s a bar staple!
Amaro vs Amaretto: Their Differences
Now that you know what amaro and amaretto are, you can already tell their key differences!
For starters, their origins. Based on the origin stories mentioned above, amaro is the older of the two, with beginnings in ancient Rome. However, it officially began production in Italy. As for amaretto, it most likely began in Saronno, Italy, in the 1500s or 1800s.
Amaro tastes sweeter and has an almond flavor, whereas amaro is prepared from a diverse set of herbs, spices, alcohols, fruits, and flowers. The former has a broader range of flavors, so the flavor would greatly vary, whereas amaretto would have a similar base flavor to almonds.
Amaro tastes more bitter than amaretto and can contain up to 40% ABV. Amaretto would taste sweeter and with just a slight bitterness, having a 21-28% ABV.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you still have a few questions about the amaro vs amaretto comparison? Here are frequently asked questions to satisfy your curiosity!
1. When is it best to use amaro or amaretto?
It all depends on your tastebuds and the recipe or cocktail you’re preparing. Amaro and amaretto are served as a digestive, meaning you can enjoy them after a meal to help with digestion. You can also serve amaro as an aperitif, meaning it’s consumed before meals to stimulate the appetite.
2. What cocktails feature amaro and amaretto?
Here are cocktails you can find amaretto in:
- Amaretto Sour
- Café Amore
- Kool-Aid Shooter
Here are the cocktails that feature amaro:
- Black Manhattan
- Lucky Lucano Cocktail
- Vertigo Cocktail
- Amaro Spritz
3. Can you use amaro and amaretto for cooking?
Yes, using these two liqueurs for cooking or baking is possible. It’s popular in sweet desserts like cakes, cookies, or sweet dessert sauces. They also make excellent glazes for savory dishes.
Pro-tip: Try drizzling a bit of amaretto over a bowl of fruit or ice cream for an extra kick of flavor and booze!
Wrapping It Up
Amaro and amaretto may sound the same, but they have distinct differences that make them unique and with different uses.
We hope our comparison guide of amaro vs amaretto helped you out!
We’ve got you covered in our many blog posts if you would like to learn more about the different liqueurs and food ingredients.
Check them out and let us know what you think!