We’ve talked about orgeat syrup here at A Bar Above before; but today, we’re really going to get into this unusual ingredient with the nutty flavor.
First of all, what is orgeat syrup anyway? Although it’s a major player in one of the most classic cocktails of all time (the Mai Tai), you may not have heard of it. It’s a favorite of cocktail bartenders and a little-known baking ingredient as well.
But if you’re not familiar… Don’t worry! We have you covered. We’re about take a deep dive into this the (somewhat) popular ingredient in cocktails that packs the taste of almonds into every sip.
Warning to those with nut allergies: This sweet syrup is actually an almond-based product.
A Brief History of This Almond Liqueur & How It’s Used
Orgeat is a sweet almond syrup used for flavoring some of your favorite drinks and foods. It may contain alcohol or be non-alcoholic, depending on the brand, so make sure to check the bottle! This almond-based syrup has been a staple ingredient in many tropical drinks and tiki cocktails for well over half a century now– and it’s especially delicious in coffee-based drinks.
While orgeat is sometimes referred to as an “almond syrup,” it also normally contains some sort of sweetener and floral element through the addition of rose water and/or orange blossom water.
As mentioned, orgeat is typically used in classic and tiki cocktails to add more flavor and body to a cocktail than traditional sugar-and-water-based simple syrups. Since its use by Trader Vic in the original Mai Tai in the 1940s, orgeat has become an essential ingredient in many classic tiki drinks.
Apart from playing well with a variety of different rums, orgeat’s almond base can add a rich nuttiness to whiskey cocktails and makes for a great jumping-off point for many brown spirit-based and fall-inspired stirred cocktails.
Orgeat can also be used to add earthy notes to tequila and mezcal cocktails. The sheer volume of great cocktails you can make with orgeat is only outnumbered by the vast variety of different ways that people pronounce the word “orgeat.”
For reference, Jeff “Beachbum Berry”– considered by many to be the father of the modern tiki cocktail movement– pronounced orgeat as “Or-Zhaat” when he appeared on an episode of the Mixology Talk Podcast. And when it comes to tiki, if it’s good enough for Beachbum Berry, it’s good enough for me!
The Science & History of Almond Orgeat Syrup
Orgeat syrup is known as an emulsion, which is a mixture of two types of liquids that cannot blend because of their chemical properties. Instead, they form very small droplets that create a cloudy liquid and, historically, have a longer shelf life.
Common examples of emulsions are milk, butter, and mayonnaise. With orgeat, the oils naturally found in the almonds and the water from the simple syrup create an emulsion, making the syrup cloudy.
Current recipes for orgeat vary, but generally all contain the same core of ingredients: almonds in some form (either raw, blanched almonds or pre-made almond milk), a sweetening component, water, and normally a touch of rose and/or orange-flower water.
This aromatic syrup is of French origin and comes from the Italian word “orzata,” meaning barley water. Yes, the plant portion of orgeat was originally from barley, which also resulted in a cloudy and rich emulsion when mixed with simple syrup or plain water.
Over the years, almond-based orgeat recipes grew more common, and the syrup became popular in baking to add flavor and depth to baked goods.
So what does a French baking syrup have to do with cocktails? Well, it turns out that cocktails and orgeat actually have a long history.
The first recorded use of orgeat in cocktails was in 1862 when famed barman Jerry Thomas published the recipe for the Japanese Cocktail in his book How to Mix a Drink. A large component of this Cognac-based cocktail, the orgeat really shines through by adding a nutty taste & richness.
While orgeat has been used as a cocktail ingredient since at least the mid-1800s, its place in cocktail lore was secured when Trader Vic used it as a key ingredient in his famous 1940s Mai Tai recipe, really helping to define the drink’s distinct flavor.
Orgeat lends a lush depth to this classic Tiki cocktail that cannot be replicated with simple syrup alone. Try making a classic Mai Tai by adding more simple syrup instead of the orgeat, and you’ll really see the difference that this almond-based syrup makes in the flavor and balance of the cocktail!
Trader Vic continued to use orgeat in other famous tiki recipes such as his Scorpion Bowl (1946) and the Eastern Sour (1950s). The Saturn (1967– See below for our recipe), one of the few gin-based tiki cocktails of yesteryear, calls for ½ ounce of orgeat, along with passion fruit and falernum syrup.
At last count, Beachbum Berry’s Total Tiki recipe app contained at least 34 classic tiki drinks that utilized orgeat in some form. The use of orgeat (and other fresh-quality ingredients) is one of the reasons that classical tiki drinks have become so popular again lately.
Nowadays, most sizable cities have at least a few options for quality-made craft cocktails. The modern focus on sourcing high-quality ingredients and experimenting with traditional flavors in different ways is the same mindset and focus that helped barmen in the ‘30s and ‘40s create tiki classics utilizing orgeat, falernum, allspice dram, and other unique and interesting ingredients.
Many modern tiki and tropical bartenders continue this tradition by adding a healthy dose of orgeat to some of their newer variety of cocktail recipes as well.
Buy a Bottle or Orgeat from Grocery Store or Make Orgeat at Home?
Orgeat is made from fairly common ingredients and can be made at home with not too much effort (but definitely with some time). However, the internet has made high-quality, pre-made orgeat readily available as well– meaning you have your choice of whether to buy or to make this syrup.
Some common brands of commercial orgeat syrup include Liquid Alchemist, Liber & Co., Latitude 29, BG Reynolds, Small Hand Foods, and Trader Vic’s. The mouthfeel and sweetness levels of these orgeats vary quite a bit between brands, so you may need to try a couple to find your perfect pairing. For an alcohol-free product, pick up a Fee Brothers’ bottle of orgeat syrup.
Note: Generally, when it comes to pre-made orgeat, the buyer tends to get what they pay for. Try to stay away from brands that list almond flavoring and that do not list real almonds (or almond milk) as an ingredient.
Another note: While store-bought orgeat does have a longer shelf life than homemade orgeat, refrigerating even store-bought orgeat after opening is recommended.
Making your own orgeat at home can be time-consuming, but it gives you the ability to control all of the ingredients and “dial-in” the taste profile you are looking for. For example, if you want a more floral notes to your orgeat, you can add a touch more rose water. Or you can dial back the sugar component for a slightly drier, more almond-forward homemade orgeat.
Homemade orgeat recipes vary but generally fall into 2 categories: (1) orgeat made from raw almonds and (2) almond milk-based recipes. There are also several recipes out there for homemade almond alternatives to orgeat, like orgeat made with walnuts, avocado pits, hazelnuts, and pistachios. This gives you the flexibility to work around allergies or create different flavors as the base for this nutty concoction.
In contrast to the traditional syrup, almond-milk-based orgeat recipes are much easier and take much less time than the more complex recipes. When using ground almonds, you must turn the almonds into an almond-milk substance yourself and run it through a clean cheesecloth. However, when you use almond milk, this process has already been done for you.
Homemade Orgeat Syrup Recipe
If you do decide to make this almond cocktail syrup, we have a homemade recipe to get you started. The one below is similar to one we found on Liquor.com and is the favorite recipe of our resident bartender, Rob; it has some extra almond flavor and is a bit more complex & interesting than most of the ones we’ve found online, in our opinion.
Note: It can provide a richer flavor when you use roasted almonds, although we’ve seen plenty of recipes using raw, soaked almonds– including ours below.
And as mentioned before… If this homemade orgeat recipe is all too complicated, you can also make a version with unsweetened almond milk, almond extract, sugar, orange blossom water, and brandy/cognac. It doesn’t have that same complex flavor, but it’s an easy, fairly comparable dupe. Here’s a simple version from Thrillist:
“LAZY” ORGEAT INGREDIENTS:
- 1 cup Store-Bought Almond Milk
- 1 cup Sugar
- 1/2 tsp Orange Blossom Water
- 1/2 tsp Almond Extract
1) Add the almond milk and sugar to a saucepan and bring them to a simmer while stirring.
2) Once sugar is fully incorporated into the milk, remove from heat.
3) Let cool, and then whisk in orange blossom water & almond extract. Refrigerate prior to serving.
DIY ORGEAT RECIPE INGREDIENTS:
- 2 cups almonds (blanched almonds– See directions below)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water
- 1 ounce your favorite brandy or vodka
- 1/4 teaspoon of rose water
- 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract – gives it an extra punch of almond taste
- 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1. Pulse the almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Set aside while you prep the simple syrup.
2. Combine sugar and fresh water in a pot over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Boil for approximately 3 minutes, and then add the ground almonds to the hot syrup.
3. Turn down the stove to medium-low heat and simmer for about three more minutes.
4. Slowly increase the temperature to medium-high heat. Just before it starts to boil, remove it from the heat and cover with a lid. Set it aside to somewhere it can sit for 3-8 hours.
4. Allow the covered nut mixture to infuse for at least 3 hours, and up to 8 hours. After sitting, strain the cool almond mixture through 2 layers of cheesecloth, discarding the ground almonds– you can use them for something else if you’d like.
5. Stir the brandy, orange flower water, rose water, almond extract, and vanilla syrup into the almond pulp.
6. Use a funnel to portion the orgeat into bottles or a jar. Seal your creamy orgeat in an air-tight container, and store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Delicious Orgeat Cocktails
The Mai Tai is certainly the most famous orgeat drink; but while orgeat syrup isn’t the most common cocktail ingredient on the market by any means, there are definitely other yummy mixed drinks that use it, so it’s worth having some on your bar cart or in your fridge.
Here are some of our favorite cocktails:
Alcoholic Drinks with Orgeat
While this delicious almond syrup is most commonly used to add almond flavor to tropical cocktails, it doesn’t always have to be paired with coconut and pineapple. The Trinidad Sour is probably the next most famous orgeat cocktail after the Mai Tai, but it’s a rather unconventional cocktail in that it contains a whopping 1 1/2 ounces of aromatic bitters as the base ingredient.
- Combine all ingredients into a shaker tin with ice.
- Shake well for about 10 seconds
- Double strain with a Hawthorne and fine-mesh strainer into a chilled coupe glass.
Garnish: Lemon Twist
This gin cocktail offers a tropical twist and comes from the same Trader Vic’s era as the Mai Tai.
- 1 1/4 ounce Gin
- 1/4 ounce Falernum Liqueur
- 3/4 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/2 ounce Passion Fruit Syrup
- 1/4 ounce Orgeat
- Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker tin with ice.
- Shake well for about 10 seconds.
- Double strain into a tiki mug or tall bar glass (like a Collins).
Garnish: Orange Twist
Another tasty cocktail with tropical flavors from Rob Harrah (A Bar Above’s resident bartender), this one may be a little hard to make right now if you can’t find Green Chartreuse (although you can use an alternative liqueur instead).
- 1 1/2 ounce Clarified Aged Rum
- 3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
- 3/4 ounce Pineapple Juice
- 1/2 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
- 1/2 ounce Creme of Coconut
- 1/4 ounce Orgeat Syrup
- Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice.
- Shake well for about 10 seconds.
- Double strain into a tiki mug or Collins glass with crushed ice.
Garnish: Fresh Mint Sprig and Charred Pineapple Slice
- Orgeat Lemonade
- Virgin Mai Tai
- Orgeat Iced Coffee (and other coffee drinks)
- Orgeat Cappuccino
Want to make a cocktail now but don’t have orgeat on hand– or the prep time to make it from scratch? While this syrup really does have its own intense flavor profile, here are a few substitutes for orgeat syrup that you can use in a pinch:
- Crème de Noyaux: This is perhaps the closest substitute for the rich flavor of orgeat syrup, although not an exact match since it’s made from apricot kernels.
- Almond extract: Also an excellent substitute for the traditional almond-flavored liqueur, extract is made from bitter almonds and is often used in baking & other food recipes. It has a really strong almond flavor, so you may need to adjust your recipe accordingly. We recommend mixing it with simple syrup to add some sugar content to the bitter almond flavor.
- Amaretto liqueur: This Italian liqueur is also a worthy substitute, although it’s lacking that really distinct nutty almond flavor of the original because it’s also made from apricot pits rather than real almond nuts. It still produces an almond-like flavor but is more bitter than the original syrup, so taste & adjust accordingly.
- Non-alcoholic syrup: Another great orgeat syrup substitute is an almond-flavored sweet syrup like you would buy for coffee beverages.
- Orzata: A syrup with an almondy taste profile and creamy texture, this is great in Mai Tais and adds to the overall mouthfeel of any non-alcoholic or alcoholic beverage.
Do you have a favorite replacement for orgeat that we missed? Definitely let us know in the comments!
Orgeat: A Traditional Almond Syrup for Cocktails & More
If you are serious about making craft cocktails at home, a quality orgeat should be in your arsenal of ingredients; it adds a really unique complexity to drinks that just can’t be matched by another product.
Ultimately, the decision whether or not to make this fancy cocktail ingredient yourself will be based on several factors: How often you use orgeat at home, what flavors you are looking for in an orgeat, whether or not you like to tinker in the kitchen, and how much free time you have.
The important point here is to take the time to determine what you are looking for in an orgeat, and the only effective way to do that is to drink a lot of orgeat cocktails and to drink them often. If you don’t know what your favorite orgeat cocktail is, go try some and find out! Cheers to research!