Orgeat...What's in a Name?
Perhaps the most mispronounced tiki cocktail ingredient (with falernum being a close runner up), Orgeat, is also perhaps the most loosely applied term to cocktail mixers. I'm here to lovingly help with that. Let's first start with the pronunciation. It's French! G, when followed by an E is pronounced soft, like the G in "gin" almost like a J sound. The combination "ea" is pronounced like "ahh." Put it together and you get "OHR-GAHT" or you could also phonetically spell it "OHR-JAHT" like Jacque.
So what is Orgeat? It's actually defined in the dictionary as "a syrup or drink made originally from barley but later from almonds, prepared with sugar and an extract of orange flowers." So it's not a category, it's a thing. So just like brandy is "a spirit distilled from wine or from the fermented juice of grapes or of apples, peaches, plums, etc." If I say I made rye brandy...no I didn't. I made whiskey or technically I made beer and then whiskey...the term brandy has a specific definition. If I say I made hazelnut orgeat, no I didn't. I made a hazelnut syrup. I may have even made a hazelnut syrup with some orange blossom water in it, but it's still not orgeat.
Let's put the concept to use. I am tasked with coming up with a personal riff on a Mai Tai. So I want to keep the essence of a Mai Tai formula but with a few creative substitutions. I look at "orgeat" and say to myself, "Self, I bet using macadamia nuts instead of almonds might be nice." And so I make a macadamia nut syrup and sure enough, this drink is even more "mai tai" than a Mai Tai! [editorial note: mai tai means "the best"] But when I go to list out the recipes, I do not list "macadamia nut orgeat" I instead list "macadamia nut syrup." Follow me on this?
Why, you ask, does it matter? Because why have a definition of something if no one follows it? Might as well call a fish a donkey. And because I'm a stickler for accuracy (okay I said it). But I will give you this, there's no agreement for orgeat on the specific ratios in the recipe: no consensus out there on how much sugar, toasted or untoasted almonds, how much orange blossom water, how viscous, etc. So when you go to buy it, you'll likely encounter variation. Embrace it and learn to leverage the difference to your advantage. For example: the 1944 Mai Tai recipe states to use orgeat AND simple syrup, but I have found some formulations of orgeat are sweet enough that you can skip the simple syrup. The really thick and sweet ones I find perfect for the 1960s tiki classic Cocoanut Grove.
There's plenty of recipes out there to make it yourself, but an important note. With the price per pound retail of blanched almonds, by the time you factor in for materials and time, you aren't coming out ahead in the cost category on homemade versus store-bought. But, if you like your own quality control, i.e. specific flavor/sweetness/texture, then it's a worthwhile endeavor. Bars make theirs all the time, but they are also making huge batches because they go through the stuff, so cost economy is way better than for the home tiki tender. That being said, the stuff does freeze well and can be stored there indefinitely.
What we CAN all can with is it's delicious (may not if you are allergic to almonds, bummer). Throw it in a random cocktail if you want to add that special mouthfeel your cocktail may need. Cheers!