“The scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez”
Orgeat will, quite simply, change your life. Some people might think that’s overstating the case a little but it is a game-changer when it comes to making your drinks. Go out, buy a bottle, and write down the date, because from now on there’ll be B.O. and A.O. – Before Orgeat and Anno Orgeat.
At it’s most basic, orgeat is a sweet almond liquid. Originally it was made with barley but most modern recipes forego that and just focus on the almonds (although most nuts can be substituted – I’ve seen recipes that use walnuts, pecans, pistachios, or even macadamias, that one’s popular in Hawaii. You can make your own – and I’ll include a couple of recipes for it below – but basically it’s an almond simple syrup. You can add a little complexity with some brandy, some vodka, or a little rose water, but if you skip all that and stick with almonds, sugar, and water, you can’t really go wrong.
Looking back over a long drinking/cocktail-making history I honestly can’t recall ever tasting almonds in any of the most memorable beverages but that’s one of the great things about this – try a mai tai and you won’t really notice it unless you’re seriously looking for it, but try a mai tai without it, and you’ll know something’s missing. It’s the ninja of your bar ingredients. In fact, you may already have some, but it’s hiding behind the scotch or it’s perfectly camouflaged between the absinthe and the cognac.
I’ve tried making it myself and it’s ridiculously easy to make, but it never tastes as good as the one I can pick up. I’ll put in a completely unpaid plug here, but my favourite brand is Lab. It’s creamy and nutty and not too sweet. You could probably drink it all by itself – in Africa it’s served on its own at weddings as a symbol of the couple’s impending joy – but it just does so well when it plays with others. It has a unique talent for bringing out the best in other flavours. Rum tastes rummier. Cognac tastes tres more French. Bourbon drinks wash over you with a little more N’Awlins to them, like you’re enjoying them in Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, and it’s summer, and she’s beautiful, and you’re rich, and young, and Tom Waits is playing live on that piano in the back – that’s the power of orgeat.
There are other brands available: Routin, Fee Brothers, Monin, Small Hand Foods, Torani, and I’m sure there are others. But if you’re adventurous and sober enough to try your own, then here’s what you do:
500g (1 lb) blanched almonds, lightly toasted
750 mL (1 ¼ pints) water
30 mL (2 tbsp) brandy
5 mL (1 tsp) almond essence
2 drops of orange blossom water
Place the almonds and water in a large bowl and leave to soak for six hours. Transfer the mixture to a blender or a food processor and blend until smooth. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, pressing the almonds to extract all the water. Measure the volume of liquid, add an equal volume of sugar, heat and allow to dissolve. Add the brandy, almond essence, and orange blossom water. Allow to cool, and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
(recipe taken from Experimental Cocktail Club)
So without further ado, prepare to be taken somewhere tropical, somewhere exotic, somewhere where the servers wear little more than an inviting smile as they bring you any one of these delicious concoctions.
(click to open in new window)