Vintage Cocktails: DIY Orgeat

A few years ago, I was living in another part of the world without ready access to certain creature comforts, like good rum, limes and liqueurs. This called for a degree of ingenuity and experimentation. So when I came across a recipe for homemade orgeat syrup, I knew I had to give it a try.

See, many vintage cocktails use orgeat, and I had just been gifted a food processor. It was like the perfect storm of mixology. And once I had my first bottle of homemade orgeat I knew I could never go back to store-bought stuff.

Orgeat was originally made by cooking raw barley down with sugar water. Modern orgeat is a lot like almond-flavored simple syrup. I've also seen it referred to as non-alcoholic amaretto. But neither fully captures the buttery, silky flavor and texture of orgeat made from scratch. So here's what you need:

  • 500 grams blanched almonds
  • 800 ml water
  • 700 grams table sugar
  • 100 ml Vodka or Brandy
  • 2 Tbls Orange or Rose Flower Water (optional)

At the time, I couldn't find blanched almonds, so I blanched them myself. It was kind of fun. I also couldn't find flower water, so I went without. You could also go without the vodka or brandy, but because this batch makes about 1.5 liters, the alcohol is a good addition to help "preserve" the concoction.

Following the directions linked above, I soaked and then pressed my almonds (chopped in the food processor) three times, soaking them for about an hour or two each. The resulting orgeat was like liquid almond butter. In short, heaven. My mouth is watering just writing about it.

Once you've made your first batch of orgeat syrup, you can make the most famous cocktail to call for it, the Mai Tai. ("Mai tai" means "the best" in Tahitian, and the name is oh so fitting.) If you're really feeling fancy, you can make the $100 Mai Tai, so named because it uses only the finest of ingredients. Of course, replace the store-bought orgeat with the stuff you slaved over, and you'll come in just under a Benjamin.

Basic Mai Tai recipe: In your shaker pour 1 ounce each fresh lime juice, Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique rum, and Appleton Estate Extra dark Jamaican rum; 1/2 ounce orange Curacao; and 1/4 ounce each orgeat syrup and sugar syrup. Add at least 2 cups of crushed ice, then shake well for around 10 seconds. Pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass. Sink your spent lime shell in the drink, and garnish with a mint sprig.

Since you'll have plenty of the stuff left over, you can also use it to sweeten your coffee.

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