Please welcome Marcia Simmons, author of DIY Cocktails to Serious Eats: Drinks! Marcia will help us demystify the world of cocktail ingredients, and let us know what is better bought and what we can make at home. Today, she's starting with a Tiki classic: orgeat syrup.
Orgeat (pronounced "or-zsa," like Zsa Zsa Gabor) is an almond syrup enhanced with a touch of flower water. It's an essential ingredient in Tiki drinks, because it ties together the multiple spirits and juices that are the hallmark of tropical cocktails. But orgeat's sophisticated French origins also shine through in more minimalist concoctions.
What's Available to Buy?
Cocktail geeks have been going nuts for orgeat for ages, but there's a reason you don't see it in many home bars: the good stuff is hard to find. Small-batch producers Okole Maluna and Small Hand Foods use real almonds and sugar and don't use any fillers or artificial flavors. These syrups are delicious! But, at $12 to $18 for 250 milliliters, they're pretty expensive.
Some specialty stores carry these brands, but most people will have to order online and pay for shipping. No matter how amazing, these are still flavored syrups. Frankly, when it comes to my monthly cocktail budget, I'd rather put the cash toward a bottle of Punt e Mes vermouth. (Everyone has a monthly cocktail budget, right? It's not just me?)
Torani syrups, like the stuff you put in 'Italian sodas' are inexpensive and easy to find. However, take a look at the ingredients on the label of Torani orgeat: you'll see that somehow almonds didn't make it onto the list. Trader Vic's may be the home of the original Mai Tai, but their orgeat is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and preservatives—and yet no almonds. Since no almonds means no almond oil, these products never separate and are always a perfect milky white color. Most of the ingredients are there to control appearance and increase shelf life. Mmm, delicious shelf life...
Often people think that if something is pricey and hard to find, making it from scratch must be a pain. Not so with orgeat! Making your own high-quality orgeat with all-natural ingredients takes 15 minutes work and costs about $6. You can sip your cocktails with pride, knowing your almond syrup is actually made with real almonds and sugar and not ingredients created in a lab.
You'll be able to find what you need to make orgeat at most grocery stores. I've experimented with dozens of recipes, some requiring several kinds of almonds, special water and more complex techniques. So far this no-fuss recipe is my favorite. Bonus: Cleanup is minor, with only one sticky pot to wash.
For something more dry and urbane, try a classic Japanese Cocktail, a devastatingly tasty drink that will revolutionize your stiff-drinks repertoire.
You can also add a few splashes of orgeat to champagne or club soda. Once you try it, you'll be an orgeat lover for life.