Although I recently wrote a little essay on why I’m not a fan of tiki drinks, one Tiki-related ingredient I AM a fan of is orgeat (pronounced OR – jhhhaaat, or something to that effect). A nutty, almond-based syrup, orgeat is sweet and complex all at the same time, lending both balance and great depth of flavor.
One of the reasons I’m so drawn to orgeat recipes and cocktails containing them is there’s this certain romance that comes along with orgeat… You can bet almost every self respecting bar makes their own if they offer it, and as such, “house” orgeat recipes are handed from barkeep to barkeep under intense secrecy, if handed along at all. The pride and seriousness that goes into creating a proprietary orgeat recipe makes them feel somewhat nostalgic as well, as if we were talking about a Mississippi gumbo recipe that my southern grandmother refuses to hand down until she’s on her death bed and not a cocktail syrup.
But what’s also lovely about orgeat is how simple it is to make! There are plenty of complicated recipes out there calling for soaking nuts and boiling barley and what not, but it’s really as basic as making a simple syrup, if you want a quick and painless version that is. In fact, it’s definitely up there with simple syrup on the list things you should never buy. Here’s my fool-proof starter recipe…
- 1 cup your favorite unsweetened almond milk
- 1 cup super fine sugar
- 1 tsp orange blossom water, rose water or both
- spices of your choice, optional… this is where you can get as creative or as lazy as you want. I like to add some warming baking spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or cardamom. Start with a 1/4 tsp at a time.
Combine all ingredients over low heat and VERY gently simmer until sugar is dissolved, 5 minutes or so. Adding one teaspoon or more of Angostura bitters is a popular move amongst bartenders, though this will make your orgeat darker, richer and considerably spicier. I prefer a lighter, more floral orgeat but that’s just me. Let cool to room temp, then strain through cheesecloth and store in the fridge for up to one week.
Perhaps the most famous classic cocktail to enlist orgeat is the Army & Navy. A simple gin cocktail, made anything but by the addition of nutty, intriguing orgeat.
Army + Navy
- 2 oz Old Tom Gin (I like using richer, maltier Old Tom for this cocktail, though your favorite style of gin will certainly do the trick)
- 1 oz lemon juice
- 1 oz orgeat
- 3 dashes black walnut bitters
- lemon twist, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass or straight into a coupe if you prefer your Army & Navy up. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Photos by Lindsey.