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Originally made from barley (“orge” in French), orgeat today is almond-based.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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7 Responses to “Summer Syrup Series: Orgeat”

  1. Nice one. I’m going to make a batch of falernum this weekend. I plan to infuse the rum in an isi then add the syrup and hopefully get a good result without the wait. I’ve read about doing it that way but never tried it before. Maybe I’ll do a batch of orgeat as well. I wonder if there’s a way the isi could help with that one…

  2. Matthew Kayahara June 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Hi Tri2Cook, How did the Falernum go? I’ve found the nitrogen cavitation technique to be pretty hit-or-miss: worked great for infusing tea into rum, but less well for making allspice dram. As for doing orgeat that way, my gut instinct is that it wouldn’t help much, since you’re not extracting only high-impact aromatic molecules, but making a suspension of the nut oils. But I might be wrong!

  3. I’ll have an answer for you soon on nitrogen cavitation vs traditional processed orgeat. I was making a batch using the process from Imbibe (http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Homemade-Orgeat-Recipe) and had extra almonds, so I made a batch using the iSi technique. I did 1 part finely chopped almonds to 2 parts water in the iSi, pressurized with nitrogen for 30 seconds and released. Then I fine strained and mixed in 1/2 part sugar, vodka and orange flower water.

    When my original technique batch is ready I’ll do a side by side tasting and report back.

  4. Sounds great, Jeremy. Keep us posted!

  5. I just tasted the two orgeats side by side and both are quite good.

    Color: The nitrogen version of the orgeat is more opaque and is closer to a pearl white, while the traditional orgeat is a rich milky white.

    Aroma: Both versions are quite similar. They are clearly almond driven with floral overtones.

    Body: The traditional orgreat is the clear winner here. It is richer and more unctuous than the nitrogen version and has less of a tendency to separate while sitting on the bar.

    Taste: The nitrogen cavitation version is has a broader spectrum of flavors and is distinctly brighter than the traditional process. It is also substantially more floral, though that may be more the result of my having a heavy hand with the orange flower water as opposed to a result of the differing techniques.

    Overall I’d say both versions are quite good, better than what is generally available commercially. I’m definitely going to experiment with a blended version to try to get the superior flavor of the nitrogen version with the better color and body of the traditional, but if you need orgreat in a pinch nitrogen cavitation works great.

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