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 Orgeat is an almond syrup that was originally made from barley (orge in French), hence its name.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.
Tiki cocktails are usually thought as complicated drinks with a lot hard-to-find exotic ingredients, various syrups, and esoteric rum mixes. While this is often true, many of them have a more accessible structure. Take Trader Vic’s Mai Tai for example, his signature drink created in 1944 and composed of six ingredients: aged Jamaican and agricole rums, lime juice, simple syrup, curaçao and orgeat. At the core it’s a daiquiri variation (rum | lime juice | simple syrup), with orgeat and curaçao added as modifiers.
It’s fascinating to see how Don the Beachcomber comes up with something completely different based on a similar structure. When I think of Don the Beachcomber I immediately think of his characteristic use of spice syrups. In his Donga Punch (1937), another Daiquiri variation, he uses lime and grapefruit juice for the citrus, similar to a Hemingway Daiquiri (~1935). This time, though, the sweetening agent, which also acts as a modifier, is the highly aromatic cinnamon syrup, an ingredient that we immediately associate with tiki drinks.