Actor Marlon Brando—who played “The Don,” or Vito Corleone, in the classic 1972 movie The Godfather—is responsible for the namesake cocktail’s rise to fame, according to legend. 

A favorite of Brando’s, The Godfather first appeared on menus in the early 1970s, just as the Oscar-winning film was being made.

The Making of The Godfather

A simple, sophisticated tipple of Scotch whisky and amaretto served over the rocks, The Godfather’s inventor is a mystery. However, the Reina family—makers of the amaretto liqueur Disaronno for more than 425 years—backs the Brando story.

Like the fictional Corleone family, who can argue with a powerful Italian dynasty like that?

In the straightforward, two-ingredient cocktail, the drink’s cherry, sweet nut, and marzipan notes from the amaretto dance beautifully with the smoky notes of Scotch. What you’re left with is a stiff drink that’s smooth, yet not too sweet.

However, the recipe’s intended proportions are as hazy as its history. Some swear by equal parts scotch and amaretto, such as the International Bartenders Association.

Disaronno—the “Don” of amaretto brands, which, ironically, has dropped the amaretto from its name and is now simply known as Disaronno liqueur—advises a one-to-two ratio of amaretto to scotch. In the 2016 cocktail book Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic & Original Cocktails by Michael Dietsch, the sweetness is dialed down even more with a one-to-four (amaretto to scotch) ratio. Ultimately, go with what suits your own palate.

The Origins of Amaretto

So what is amaretto, and who invented it? According to Disaronno, amaretto originated from a homemade concoction gifted in 1592 from a widowed innkeeper to painter Bernardino Luini, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci. The innkeeper had posed as his Madonna for a mural he painted in the chapel of the northern town of Saronno, Italy. How the Reina family obtained the widow’s recipe is a mystery, but they started mass-producing amaretto (which means “a little bit bitter” in Italian) in the early 1600s. Even today, the formula remains a well-kept secret.

Although known as an almond-based liqueur, amaretto isn’t actually from an almond nut distillation at all. Interestingly, it’s made from bitter almond oil derived from grinding the pits of stone fruits, such as peaches, nectarines, or cherries, into a fine flour that undergoes a wet distillation process.

Amaretto in America

Amaretto didn’t make it to the States until well into the 20th century; perhaps that’s why it’s not a star player in many cocktails. But someone, somewhere, decided it paired perfectly with Scotch whisky. And for an era defined by “disco cocktails,” like Blue Hawaii, Piña Colada, and Pink Lady, The Godfather was a refined 1970s creation.

Though it may have fallen out of favor in the last few decades, there’s always a 21st century barkeep ready to resurrect an old fave. In The Godfather’s case, this revival has likely been boosted by a boom in Scotch whisky imports.

The Modern Godfather

MiniBar, a classy, leather-trimmed drinking den in Hollywood, California, is currently serving up its version as The Godfather 101, a twist that mingles scotch and amaretto with aged rum and aromatic bitters. On the East Coast, Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance restaurant is serving a combination of bourbon, scotch, amaretto, and sarsaparilla in its Godfather II.

There have also been a few popular riffs over the years in cocktail books, with amaretto being the one constant ingredient. The Godmother uses vodka in place of scotch; the French Connection swaps cognac for scotch; The Brooklyn Godfather replaces scotch with bourbon, then adds both dry and sweet vermouth; and The Godchild mingles vodka with amaretto and cream.

For a true Godfather experience that you really “can’t refuse,” kick back for a nightcap with the original in hand … and pray you don’t wake up with a horse head in your bed.

The Godfather Cocktail

The Godfather Cocktail

The Godfather

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. scotch whiskey
  • 1 oz. Amaretto liqueur

Preparation: In a rocks glass with ice, combine the scotch and amaretto. Stir.