This coming February will mark the 20th anniversary of the Fugees’ seminal album The Score, a hip-hop masterpiece that has continued to inspire rap and R&B artists for the past two decades.
In addition to pushing hip-hop forward musically, the album played with culinary references and humor in innovative ways, making food and drink vehicles for political commentary and colorful storytelling.
While there are plenty of memorable shout-outs to sushi, Burger King, licorice, and more, it’s the Amaretto Sour that really steals the show.
A cocktail more associated with Borscht Belt foxtrotting than contemporary tippling, the Amaretto Sour traditionally combines amaretto (a sweet, almond-flavored liqueur) with lemon juice (or sour mix), ice, and a twist of lemon. In its classic form, the drink is sweet enough to cause the onset of a diabetic coma. The Fugees, though, took this fusty (dare I say lame?) concoction and flipped it on its head. Before our very eyes, the Amaretto Sour became downright sexy.
Much like the group’s sounds, the Fugees-approved vision of the Amaretto Sour was simultaneously old-school and completely fresh—just as they did with dancehall riddims and sing-song rhyme schemes, they latched on to something completely unexpected and made it their very own.
On “The Mask,” Lauryn Hill raps about “taking sips of an Amaretto Sour with a twist” while fending off a scrub from her past:
Later, on “Manifest,” amaretto becomes a stand-in for holy wine as Wyclef reimagines the last supper:
Passed it down the table said:
“Today I’ll be betrayed by one you 12 Disciples”
Give me a clue who could do this to you?
Even after the inevitable demise of the Fugees empire (because, obviously, the center cannot hold on so much greatness in one place), Wyclef and Lauryn both continued to showcase their loyalty to the drink.
Equating the Amaretto Sour with the taste of love and lust, Lauryn serenades listeners on 1998’s “The Sweetest Thing”:
Your kisses taste like armaretto
Intoxicating, oh, so intoxicating
Almost 10 years after he first put the cocktail on a pedestal, Wyclef revisits the drink’s tart potency as a metaphor on 2007 “Sweetest Girl”:
Whatever, now she like sour amaretto
Now, after a decades-long hiatus, the Amaretto Sour is once again finding its way into the spotlight. The recent return of the cocktail to the menus and minds of bartenders everywhere is the latest step in the reframing drinks from the dark ages of imbibing (read: the 1980s and 1990s).
Portland-based bartending whiz Jeffrey Morgenthaler sang the praises of the Amaretto Sour in a 2012 blog entry, boldly proclaiming, “I make the best Amaretto Sour you’ve ever had in your life. No ifs, ands or buts about it, my Amaretto Sour dominates and crushes all others out there.” Morgenthaler attributes his drink’s champion status to the use of cask-proof bourbon and a reconfigured sour mix crafted specifically to offset the sweetness of the amaretto.
On the menu at Danny Meyers’ pizza hub Marta, the Amaretto Sour (Lazzaroni Amaretto, Elijah Craig bourbon, egg white, and lemon) takes center stage as a cocktail worthy of serious attention. During a recent visit, I found it all-too-easy to sip one down—then order another to take its place once my glass emptied. The beauty of the Amaretto Sour is its across-the-board accessibility as a drink, with a little something (sweet, sour, heft, lightness) for every cocktail palate.
If you’re looking for a summertime drink to call your own this year, may I suggest taking a cue from Ms. Hill, whipping up an Amaretto Sour, and bumping The Score into the wee small hours of the morning.