Summer Syrup Series: Orgeat

When I first became interested in craft cocktails, orgeat was one of the first syrups on my “to buy” list. (Actually, the very first time I heard about it was when watching Amélie, in which one of the customers orders a Mauresque.) Strangely, though, I had never made it myself until recently.

Originally made from barley (“orge” in French), orgeat today is almond-based. I’ve learned more about cocktails from eGullet than any other single source, so naturally I went with the small-batch recipe from there, with a couple of minor tweaks. First, I couldn’t find blanched almonds at my local stores, so I bought raw almonds and blanched them myself by immersing them in boiling water for a minute, then cooling them off in ice water before removing the skins. Compared to most other nuts (filberts, I’m looking at you), almond skins are a dream to remove!

After that, I just had to grind and soak the almonds, then strain and sweeten the nut milk. For some reason, the stark white almond milk became slightly translucent and yellowish when the sugar was added; I’m not sure if this is from the sugar itself, or from heating, but it’s an interesting effect.

Pretty much every base spirit has a great recipe involving orgeat: brandy has the Japanese, whisky has the Cameron’s Kick, gin has the Gaby des Lys. The only exception I know of is tequila. If you know of a great tequila drink with orgeat, let me know!

My favourite orgeat drink, though, is rum-based: the Mai Tai. The story of the Mai Tai has been amply documented elsewhere, so here I’ll just provide you with the recipe.

How to make a Mai Tai

  • 1 oz. heavy Jamaican rum (I like Appleton Extra, but Appleton V/X is a solid, affordable choice)
  • 1 oz. aged, light-bodied rum (St-James is my favourite here, but you can try others such as the aged Havana Club offerings)
  • 1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. orange liqueur (I’ve used both Cointreau and Grand Marnier, depending on my mood)
  • 1/4 oz. orgeat
  • 1/4 oz. simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker, shake for 15 seconds, then strain into a double rocks glass or other decorative glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

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