April 19th is National Amaretto Day – a day to celebrate that sweet liqueur with the nutty flavor and a nutty history. By far not alone in the cornucopia of holidays celebrating liqueur, amaretto just happens to be one of those underappreciated liqueurs with a sweet taste and a lot of history.
Origins in the Renaissance
According to legend, Amaretto has its origins in the Italian Renaissance. Supposedly a student of Leonardo da Vinci was gifted a drink made from apricot pits (some say almonds) soaked in brandy. Supposedly the gift came from a young, widowed innkeeper turned model (and rumored lover) of the art student. Amaretto’s fame, and Italy’s love story with the drink, took off from there.
The story, if not true, at least makes sense, considering today Amaretto is made from apricot pits, peach pits, bitter almonds, and others. While peach and apricot pits do indeed contain toxins, the alcohol they are soaked in absorbs the bitter almond flavor (benzaldehyde for those who want to know), while leaving the toxins harmlessly inside the pits. The name itself means “little bitter” despite its sweet flavor tendencies. But why on earth are we talking about an Italian liqueur, invented in the 1500’s, on a blog about visiting Cheyenne, Wyoming? Simple, my dear connoisseur: Celebrating this woefully under-utilized liqueur may be a perfect opportunity to explore the drink in its various forms throughout Cheyenne’s nightlife scene.
Our Cheyenne Amaretto Adventure
For our first stop in our quest to question the qualifications of this sweet liqueur, we head to a spot with its very own Amaretto cocktail. The Wyoming Rib and Chop House off of Lincolnway and Thomes isn’t just a great place to grab a filling bite to eat, it also has a popular bar as well. Rib and Chop’s own creation is called a Western Sour – consisting of Woodford bourbon, Disaronno Amaretto, lemon juice, egg white, and light syrup. Combine that with a cherry and orange twist and you have a unique and complex cocktail.
Next, we head to the newest watering hole in Cheyenne – The Railspur. Located in Cheyenne’s West Edge on Lincolnway and Bent, the Railspur offers coffee, cocktails, and food. More often than not you’ll catch the Los Conejos food truck on the premises as well. Here we spoke with Muriah Kilmer, a trained barkeep as well as Railspur’s Marketing and Events coordinator.
Muriah explained a few popular drinks with Amaretto include the classic Amaretto Sour and Amaretto Cranberry. Both cocktails take advantage of Amaretto’s flavor combined with fruit. The Amaretto Sour combines the liqueur with Triple Sec, Sweet and Sour, and often an orange and/or cherry garnish. Amaretto, cranberry juice, and a lime make up the Amaretto Cranberry.
Next, we stop at a popular bar spot down the road from the Railspur, taking 15th Street east, we hit Capitol and 15th, and the historic Albany Restaurant. At the Albany, where you can also find delicious dinner (seriously, try the prime rib) while exploring your way through the tastes of Amaretto, we find the drink is oft ignored, save for the occasional Amaretto Sour.
Up the street from The Albany on Capitol Avenue, you’ll find the Paramount Ballroom, known for its creative cocktails. One of the lead bartenders, Jesse Ruggio, tells Visit Cheyenne the Amaretto Sour is a popular drink here as well, but they also offer a classic simple cocktail called The Godfather. This cocktail is simply Amaretto mixed with scotch.
According to Jesse, Amaretto may not be the most popular spirit in the house, but it has its advantages and disadvantages.
“I appreciate it because good nutty flavors are hard to come by (in spirits),” Jesse tells Visit Cheyenne, adding that it does have one drawback, “Amaretto gets it right, but it can also be a dominating liqueur. It can really dominate the flavor of a drink.”
A New Take
This Amaretto adventure through our Cheyenne Nightlife and Cocktail scene got this author’s admittedly untrained mixology brain churning. If Amaretto can add a sweet and smooth nature to scotch, what might it do for some local spirits? This led to an alternate form of a Godfather, and in turn, a “new” cocktail: The Cattle Baron, a mix of our Italian sweet liqueur in question, a local Wyoming whiskey and finished with an orange twist. At the Paramount, this was a mix with Backwards Distilling whiskey. At the Railspur, you can mix it in with a local favorite, Pine Bluffs Distilling’s Straight Rye.
The Amaretto’s sweet, smooth nature takes the bite out of the whiskey, adding that nutty sweetness while complimenting the classic whiskey flavor. Served on the rocks with an orange twist, it becomes a nutty and citrusy sensation to the nose, with a sweet and smooth taste on the tongue. Those who have tried it have called it complex, sweet, and smooth while slightly reminiscent of an Old Fashioned.
It Doesn't End Here!
With that said, it may just be time for you to have an amaretto adventure of your own this National Amaretto Day. Of course it doesn’t have to be a special day to enjoy a special cocktail. Then again, there are plenty more fun days giving you an excuse to try something new at the local bar. May 9th is National Moscato Day, with National Mimosa Day arriving a week later. Summer sees lots of recognition for the harder spirits, with National Bourbon Day June 14th, National Tequila Day July 24th, National Scotch Day on the 27th, and finally, August 16th is the national day for celebrating rum.
Try hitting up the spots we dropped in on, or check out your own favorite bar. This article covered only three of our local cocktail corners, but there are plenty more to be had around Cheyenne. You can find the bars mentioned and many of the other popular watering holes at the Visit Cheyenne website, right here!