Picture this: you get a craving for Mai Tais and search the internet for the perfect recipe. You find a great one that calls for something called "Orgeat Syrup." You buy the syrup, make a few delicious cocktails, and satisfy that craving — but you still have about a half a bottle of Orgeat left and now you don’t know what to do with it. What now?
Most of us know Orgeat as the sweet, milky looking stuff that they put in Tiki drinks. The reality is that Orgeat Syrup is so much more than that.
Orgeat Through the Ages
It has a long and storied history, even prior to being used as a cocktail ingredient. The name "Orgeat" is of French origin. "Orge" means barley, so the word roughly translates to “barley water.” That name actually comes from the Italian word Orzata, meaning barley water. Similar beverages exist in other parts of the world, such as "rozata" in Libya and "soumádha" on the Greek Isle of Cyprus.
In the last days of his life, Napolean was known to drink excessive amounts of Orgeat to quench his thirst. In fact, this may have contributed to his death, with cyanide from the bitter almonds in his Orgeat being used to poison him.
Orgeat was originally created as an emulsion of barley oil and water. An emulsion is a blending of liquids that do not naturally incorporate (so if your bottle of Orgeat Syrup looks like it has separated, it probably just needs to be shaken).
It was originally created as a sort of milk substitute. Prior to the invention of refrigeration it would be less perishable — and unless you were a farmer, you would not necessarily have access to milk. In time, almond oil would be added to it to give it some flavor. Eventually, almond oil would replace the barley altogether, essentially creating the earliest version of almond milk. Through the years ingredients such as sweeteners, cinnamon, and rose water would be added. As home refrigeration became more available, Orgeat became less and less of a staple.
Then, in 1860, the future of Orgeat would be forever changed. The first Japanese diplomatic mission to the US took place. A Japanese dignitary known as “Tommy,” who like to frequent the hot spots in New York, found himself at a bar being tended by the legend Jerry Thomas. Jerry created a cocktail using Orgeat, Boker's Bitters, and Brandy. This Japanese Cocktail became the first published cocktail containing Orgeat Syrup in 1862 in Jerry Thomas’s book Bar-Tenders Guide.
Later, in the 1930s, another legendary bartender named Trader Vic began using Orgeat Syrup in his Tiki Style cocktails. Over time, it became the signature ingredient in Scorpion Bowls, Fogcutters, and most notably the Mai Tai.
Making the Most of Your Orgeat
Now, craft cocktail bartenders are rediscovering Orgeat Syrup and finding uses for it far beyond Tiki Drinks. Because it is non-alcoholic, it also makes for a great additive to mocktails. It even makes for a delicious substitute for creamer in your morning coffee!
While there are some quality brands out there, it is also fairly quick and easy to make at home. So bust out some almonds and sugar and make your own Orgeat.
Once you've got the sweet drink ready, it's time to put it to use! Try one or two of our favorite recipes:
- 2 oz Courvoisier Avant-Garde
- ½ oz Carpano Dry Vermouth
- ½ oz Orgeat Syrup
- Lemon twist for garnish
- 1 ½ oz Bourbon
- ¾ oz Orgeat Syrup
- Diet cola
- Salted peanuts for garnish
- Mix Bourbon and Orgeat, add ice, top with cola
- 2 oz Courvoisier Avant Garde
- ¼ oz Orgeat Syrup
- 2 dashes Boker's Bitters
- 1 ½ oz Bourbon
- ½ oz Coffee Liquor
- ½ oz Orgeat Syrup
- ½ oz Heavy Cream
- Top with club soda