I’ve been making orgeat for several years now, as this is an essential component in some of the most important tiki cocktails like the Mai Tai. Orgeat is an almond syrup that was originally made from barley (orge in French), hence its name. If you’ve only tried the common brands of commercial orgeat (Torani and co), then you are really missing the point. These commercial syrups are essentially sugar or corn syrup mixed with a touch of flavorings, and their artificial taste, which is reminiscent of the almond-scented Cléopâtre white glue that I used in kindergarten in France, won’t do much good in cocktails.
Trader Vic Mai Tai with homemade orgeat
Homemade orgeat has a fresh and vibrant almond flavor that shines in many cocktails. Its texture is rich and silky, not unlike gum syrup. Technically, orgeat is an emulsion and the process used to make it extracts the oils from the almonds to produce almond milk, a translucent liquid. Orgeat is obtained by adding sugar and orange blossom water to this nut milk. A similar type of syrup can be prepared from other types of seeds, as long as they are rich enough in oils, which opens the door to exploration. It’s possible to make walnut (see the end of this post), pistachio, hazelnut, or even sesame seed orgeat…
The orgeat recipe that I have been using is adapted from of the bibles of tiki cocktail books, Jeff Berry’s Beachbum Berry Remixed, and was originally developed by Darcy O’Neil from Art of Drink. I typically make a quarter batch – original quantities are noted in parentheses in the recipe below, with my notes in italics. When stored in a clean glass bottle in the fridge it can last for a couple of months.
500 g (125 g) blanched almonds
I use sliced blanched (skin removed) almonds, the freshest I can find. Some people prefer roasting them beforehand. I like the green/fresh almond flavor so I just use them as is and don’t roast them. My end result is milky white. With roasted almonds you get more of the caramelized flavor which can be distracting in certain drinks, and the resulting orgeat will be golden brown.
800 mL (200 mL) (filtered) water
700g (175 g) (white) sugar
100 mL (25 mL) vodka or brandy (I use Tito vodka which is neutral)
2 Tablespoons (1/2 tablespoon) (orange flower water or rose flower water (optional) (I use orange flower water)
- Place the almonds in a bowl with cold water, soak for 30 min. Drain and discard the water.
- Grind the almonds finely in a food processor.
- Transfer the almonds to a bowl with the 800 mL (200 mL) water. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours.
- Strain the almond and water mixture into another bowl using a metal strainer lined with cheesecloth. (I use a nylon cheesecloth that I get from a cheesemaking supply store. The mesh size on regular fabric cheesecloth is way too big and it does not work for that purpose.) Squeeze to extract all the liquid.
- Put the almonds back into the bowl and let stand for another hour, and then strain again. Repeat a third time if time permits.
- Pour the strained liquid into a pan, discarding the almond pulp. Add the sugar and heat very gently, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat as soon as the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Let cool as needed. Add the orange flower water and vodka. Transfer to a glass bottle.
Yield 1.5 L (375 mL)
Note: orgeat has a tendency to settle over time, so just make sure to give the bottle a good shake before each use.
Variation: walnut orgeat
Same as above, but instead of the almonds, use walnuts (Smith & Cross-soaked if you have been making walnut-infused rum for your Rum DMCs), and skip the first step.
I hope that I have convinced you to make your own orgeat, as it’s definitely worth the small effort. If not, you can always buy one of the artisanal orgeats that are now available. Small Hand Foods and B.G. Reynolds make good ones.
- Darcy O Neil’s recipe (2006, updated 2010)
- FXCuisine’s recipe (2007)
- Recipe posted by Jennifer Colliau of Small Hand Foods (2007)
- Kaiser Penguin’s recipe (2009)
- eG discussion on Orgeat