I was kiddingly chastised by a friend and reader the other day for failing to properly acknowledge National Gin & Tonic Day, which is apparently celebrated on April 9. I confessed that, as much as I enjoy G&Ts, I did not know there was a day designated in that delectable concoction’s honor. In my defense, it turns out I had celebrated by imbibing the cocktail that day — unwittingly celebrating in spite of my ignorance.
On doing a bit of research I discovered that there are days designated for celebrating quite a number of cocktails, liquors and other libations. For example, just days prior to gin and tonic day, April 7 is National Beer Day. Additionally, perhaps due to the popularity of beer, the prior day — April 6 — is New Beers Eve. I kid you not.
Coming up in short order are: National Wine Day (May 25), National Mint Julep Day (May 30), and National Moonshine Day (June 5). We’ve come a long way from the Snuffy Smith era (Google him, young folks) of hiding stills and shooting at “revenooers” when there’s a moonshine day publicized on the internet. Some days are internationally recognized, such as World Rum Day on June 11 and International Scotch Day on Aug. 3. Since I missed the national celebration of gin and tonic I have hastened to add World Gin Day to my calendar — June 8.
I was particularly intrigued by National Amaretto day, just days ago (April 19) because I had just read an article about this Italian liqueur that was quite provocative. It started with the statement that most people buy a bottle of amaretto, use a scant ounce or so in a cocktail they were eager to try, and then return the bottle to their liquor cabinet to accumulate dust. It was like the writer had paid me a visit! I perused my liquor cabinet for several seconds before my eye settled on the amaretto bottle way in the back, and — sure enough — found it coated lightly with a layer of dust.
I recalled I had purchased the bottle to whip up an amaretto sour, probably the best known use of the liqueur, apart from possibly spiking your morning cup of joe. I found I didn’t particularly like amaretto sours. To me the almond flavor, similar to almond extract, which I once used to inadvertently ruin a batch of homemade peach ice cream, is, well, not to my taste. Amaretto (which in Italian translates to “a little bitter”) is a sweet liqueur that originated in Saronno, Italy. It was originally flavored with bitter almonds which, as any reader of Agatha Christie (Google her too, young readers) will recall is the source of cyanide. These days, sweet almonds (the domesticated varieties as opposed to the bitter wild ones) are used, along with apricot pits and peach stones.
Unlike myself, you might enjoy an amaretto sour so here’s a terrific recipe that uses fresh fruit juice instead of sour mix.
1½ oz. Amaretto liqueur
1 oz. simple syrup
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
1 orange slice
1 maraschino cherry
Pour the amaretto, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail glass with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into cocktail glass with ice and garnish with the orange slice and cherry.
Like most liqueurs, amaretto claims an interesting provenance. The most popular brand, DiSaronno, claims to be the original version, with a recipe dating to 1525. This is the brand in the distinctive oblong bottle with a big square chunky cap. The legend holds that one of Leonardo da Vinci’s pupils, Bernardino Luini, was commissioned by the town of Saronno to paint the sanctuary of its church with a fresco of the Madonna.
Needing a model for the Madonna, Luini chose a poor widowed innkeeper to pose for him. Eventually the artist became her lover, and as he finished his work and prepared to leave the town, the innkeeper wished to give him a present to thank him for immortalizing her as the Madonna (and presumably for his affections as well). Being of simple means, she simply soaked some apricot pits in brandy, and presented the bottle to Luini. The rest, as they say, is history.
Interestingly, DiSaronno, to this day contains no almonds — but of course the recipe is a closely guarded secret. Also interestingly, the 1525 fresco that started the whole legend — and the resulting secret recipe — can still be viewed in the church in Saronno (just ask for directions to Madonna dei Miracoli.
If the sour recipe didn’t hit the spot but you still have amaretto to use up, here’s a unique margarita that substitutes amaretto for the usual orange liqueur — and also adds a spicy note of jalapeño!
1 lime wedge
3 slices jalapeño
2 oz. blanco tequila
¾ oz. amaretto
1 oz. fresh lime juice
Rub the rim of a rocks glass with the lime and roll in salt to lightly coat.
Add the jalapeño slices to a shaker and gently muddle.
Add tequila, amaretto, and lime juice with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into the prepared glass with fresh ice and garnish with a lime wheel.
There’s no story behind this recipe — but you might find the combination of flavors legendary.
By the way, National Margarita Day won’t come around again until Feb. 22, but conveniently National Tequila Day arrives this summer — July 22. Or throw caution to the wind, and your calendar in the trash, and drink up — today!