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Mastering the Amaretto Sour With Jeffrey Morgenthaler

In "Masters of X," we spotlight bartenders chasing perfection in one drink. Here, Jeffrey Morgenthaler tackles the oft-derided Amaretto Sour.

Since the early days of the cocktail revival, the Amaretto Sour has been regarded as little more than the butt of a joke. In fact, the widespread ridicule of the drink quickly became a banner cause for the movement, which was defined by fresh ingredients and a rejection of any cocktail created after 1950. For Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the blanket derision of what was once “just a drink that nobody had an opinion on” never sat well with him.

“I didn’t get into this business because I wanted to make fancy drinks. I just liked working in bars,” says Morgenthaler. “I thought it was pretty stupid to just say that all these drinks that we’d been drinking and making for the past however many years was just pointless.”

But even the staunch defender of the Amaretto Sour saw room for improvement. “What if,” he asks, “we applied everything that we’ve learned over the past 10 years of quote-unquote mixology and just make the drink the way it should be?” His updated version first appeared on the Pepe Le Moko menu five years ago and has since become something of an industry standard.

What truly sets Morgenthaler’s rendition apart—even from other contemporary versions—is his departure from the traditional sour formula, which results in too cloying a drink. Instead of using two ounces of amaretto he dials the bitter almond liqueur back to one and a half ounces, making up the last half ounce, and then some, with cask-strength bourbon. “The whiskey was the thing that makes it really different,” he says. “You can’t make that drink taste good without putting in a different spirit; amaretto is not strong enough on its own.” For this, Morgenthaler opts for Booker’s, but notes that Old Granddad 114 is also a good standard. “You just need something 100 proof or higher—the higher you go the better it’s going to be.”

In place of the typical sour mix, an ounce of fresh lemon juice stands in for brightness, and a small teaspoon-measure of rich (2:1) simple syrup accounts for the smaller pour of amaretto, adding additional roundness to the palate. For greater texture, a half-ounce of egg white is added. “I just think that the trend these days of putting like a six-inch egg white head on the drink is really, really gross,” says Morgenthaler. “Egg white was supposed to be just used as a dollop to give it a kind of rich creamy mouthfeel.”

Here, the proper texture is achieved by pre-whisking the egg white in lieu of dry shaking, before shaking with regular ice to chill the drink. Morgenthaler notes that to make it even fluffier, he’ll sometimes build the drink in a mixing tin and then use an immersion blender before shaking with ice. “All it does is just kind of make the shaking part easier, not to develop this giant stinky cake on top of the fucking drink,” he says.

For garnish, Morgenthaler typically calls on a lemon twist and brandied cherries, in a nod to the bright red maraschino cherries favored in ‘70s-era versions of the drink. “It really is like the best Amaretto Sour in the world.”

Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Amaretto Sour

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