The sweet syrup is made from almonds, primarily, along with sugar and a bit of orange blossom water or rosewater.
Any patron of high-end cocktail bars has probably come across orgeat on a drink list, but might not know exactly what’s in it—or how to pronounce it, for that matter. Let us help decode for ya. The sweet syrup is made from almonds, primarily, along with sugar and a bit of orange blossom water or rosewater. It’s therefore sweet and nutty and just a hint floral—a common ingredient in tiki drinks, but with many other uses, too.
While there are recipes to make your own, there are excellent pre-made versions, too — Small Hand Foods makes our favorite. Pick up a bottle and give these three drinks a try.
Easy: The Japanese Japanese Cocktail
One of those little-known classics we love to dig out of the history books, the “Japanese Cocktail” is a simple combination of Cognac, orgeat, and bitters. (What is Japanese about that, honestly, stumps us.) But it begs the question: What would an actual Japanese version taste like? Great, as it turns out—Japanese whiskey and light, nutty orgeat are an incredible match.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of Japanese whisky (Nikka Coffey Grain is our go-to), 3/4 ounce orgeat, 1/4 ounce simple syrup, and 3 dashes of Angostura bitters. Stir until very well-chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a big, big lemon twist, squeezed over the surface of the drink to release its oils.
Intermediate: Modern Mai Tai
Everyone’s heard of a Mai Tai, but just about no one knows what’s supposed to be in a Mai Tai. It’s actually a simpler drink than many versions you may have come across—rum, lime, the orange liqueur Curaçao, and orgeat. We’re putting our own spin on this one, using grapefruit juice and a bunch of Angostura bitters. As with most tiki-inspired drinks, the more garnish, the better.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces Jamaican rum (we're using Appleton Estate Signature Blend), half an ounce of fresh lime juice, half an ounce of fresh grapefruit, half an ounce orgeat, 1/4 ounce Cointreau, 1/4 ounce simple syrup, and three big dashes of Angostura bitters. Shake that all up and strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with fruit (maybe a strawberry and a cherry?) and whatever decorations (umbrellas, straws, and the like) you can get your hands on.
Advanced: Scorpion, Reinterpreted
The Scorpion is another tiki-based drink, using light rum rather than dark, and a full ounce of brandy for something a little different. We’re switching that out for a dark spirit you’re a little more likely to have in your liquor cabinet — bourbon — and serving it over crushed ice, for a festive tropical feel. (You can crush ice in your blender, with a clean towel and mallet, or just make use of an ice crusher if you’ve got one.)
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces light rum (we like Brugal Extra Dry), an ounce of bourbon, an ounce of fresh lemon juice, 2 ounces of fresh orange juice, and a full ounce of orgeat. Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a big glass with crushed ice. Drop two big dashes of Angostura bitters on top, and garnish with straws and an umbrella.