Thanks, Ham, but the folks at Amaretto really didn't need your help.

About five years ago the Italian liqueur was introduced quietly to the American public by the importers of Amaretto di Saronno, which bills itself as Originale . Slowly the drink become more popular as Americans made Amaretto after-dinner chic. They were doing what Italians would never do, mixing it with any liquid that struck their fancy. For the trendy. Amaretto hit the spot.

Now there are approximately 20 domestic brands ($4.6 a fifth) and as many as 15 imports ($9.11). "Sales are going through the ceiling," says Don Bayle, president of Foreign Vintages Inc., importers of the originale. Last year, there was a 30 percent sales increase; this year 100 million cases of all amarettos are expected to be sold.

After the recent unpleasantness, sales have increased in Washington, and local restaurants and bars have been having trouble keeping it in stock.

"We have been using about two bottles every three or four days." saysbartender Hugh Kelly of the Guards, "and now we are using a bottle a day. Look, I'm out of it now." In most watering holes, amaretto sells for $1.7 to $2.50 a drink.

Innocent, sneaky, 40 to 50 proof alcohol, amaretto is an almond-flavored, sweet-tasting, syrupy liquer that dates back to 1525.

That's when a poor young widow created Amaretto as a gift to artist Bernadino Luini. He then immortalized her in a madonna fresco in the church of the Madonna dei Mirioii at saronno, a village 14 miles northwest of Milan. Saronna is famous for macaroons.

Amaretto has been sipped on festive occasion in Italian-American homes for many years. It wasn't easy to find a bottle in a liquor or grocery store but it could be found in Italian neighborhoods. No one was left out at the table when a toast was in order. even a 6 year-old was allowed a half-ounce.

Some more enterprising Italians would make their own. Al Demao, who has been a liquor salesman in Washington for 32 years, remembers his father mixing up amaretto in their kitche

It has recently become an "in" drink in the bars around Washington, and Demos says, "Oh, my goodness, it's still moving. The drink hasn't reached its potential." It can give the would-be deb or part-time playboy the proper touch of smob appeal. "I think it's great on top of coffee ice cream." one secretary said. "It sort of helps settle the stomach after a heavy Italian meal."

Of course, there is a dissenting view. Bartender Kelly volunteers:

"When I work a place and the people begin to come in and ask for a drink like amaretto, I feel the place is in trouble.

"The funny-dressed disco set, the kind who like the sweet drinks, you know, with manicured nails, and maybe drive Chevy Malibus, they like the stuff.

"The same type of person who asks for Sambucca at $2.25 a hit."

Amaretto is a bipartisan liquid.

Ron Nessen tasted Amaretto one night in a hotel bar in Palm Springs and talked about it. "I had an office in a hotel where the White House press hung out.

"Someone ordered Amaretto - who I don't remember - the hotel people sent someone out to a package store and he came back with a pint.

"It was gone in a half hour, and they sent for more.

"That was the first time I was introduced to Amaretto." It was November 1976, just after Gerald Ford had lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter.