Working from home is nothing new to me: I’ve been doing it for close to a decade now. But like every food and cocktail lover bored and stuck in quarantine right now, I’ve been embarking on elaborate cooking projects. While I’ve been working, as is my habit, I keep a big tub of mixed nuts on hand for snacking and inspiration.
One thing I’ve been wondering is, how do you combine nuts and booze? Then the answer came to me: orgeat, of course. What is orgeat? It’s an almond-flavored syrup with a long history. At some point in the distant past, orgeat was made with barley (orge in French), but the almond-based version was already common by 1862 when it appeared in a recipe for the Japanese Cocktail in Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks, the oldest known bartender’s guide. The Japanese Cocktail is essentially an Old Fashioned made with brandy instead of whiskey and orgeat instead of plain sugar. (What makes it Japanese? Thomas’ book doesn’t say, but cocktail historian David Wondrich theorizes in his book Imbibe! that it’s named for a member of a Japanese diplomatic delegation that stayed in New York near Thomas’ bar at the right time period.)
Fast-forward nearly a century, and orgeat had a rebirth in tiki drinks when bartenders discovered that its nutty and floral flavor goes well with rum and tropical fruits. The Mai Tai, one of the earliest popular tiki drinks and one that became an at-home favorite of the 1940s and ’50s, gets its “exotic” taste from orgeat and its kick from a combination of rums.
Since then, creative bartenders have expanded the definition of “orgeat” beyond almonds. I’ve had tasty drinks in bars around the world using nut syrups made from everything from pistachios to peanuts. So I looked at my tub of mixed nuts—it’s the Kroger store brand and contains peanuts, cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts—and thought, “If any kind of nut makes a good orgeat, why not all of ’em at once?”
Making orgeat is really a pretty simple process: Pulverize some nuts, simmer them for a while in sugar syrup, let them soak a few hours, then strain. The straining’s a bit of a pain as the nuts absorb a lot of the liquid. A nut milk bag would be the ideal thing to squeeze out as much liquid as possible, but if you, like me, don’t have one, you can also make a “bag” out of several layers of cheesecloth in a strainer (use more than you think you need) and twist to squeeze. You can also just put the solids in a coffee filter in a strainer and let it drip for a while, occasionally giving it a stir and a press with a spoon or spatula.
My mixed nuts don’t include a ton of walnuts, but that’s the flavor that comes through most clearly in this orgeat recipe. (For the cocktail pedants out there: Traditional almond orgeat contains a dash of orange flower water. In my mixed-nut recipe below, I left it out because it would be drowned out by all the other flavors anyway.) It’s a complex nuttiness that’s a bit more autumnal than tropical, but it’s a great fit in any cocktail calling for orgeat. Try it in the classic Japanese Cocktail and Mai Tai below, or enjoy it however you like.
Makes about 1½ cups
- 2 cups mixed nuts
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 12 oz. (1½ cups) water
- 1 oz. vodka (optional)
If the nuts are salted, place them in a strainer and rinse off the salt. Transfer to a food processor and process until very finely chopped. The texture should be similar to coarse-ground coffee.
Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves completely. Stir in the chopped nuts, cover the pan, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for three hours. (You can also refrigerate the covered mixture overnight.)
Strain the mixture through a nut-milk bag, a few layers of cheesecloth, or a coffee filter set in a strainer. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible by pressing with a spoon or spatula, or by twisting the bag or cheesecloth into a ball. (Save the partially candied nuts to use in banana bread, any kind of cake or pastry, or French toast.)
Stir the vodka into the strained liquid. (This helps preserve the orgeat for longer, but you can leave it out if you’d like.) Store covered in the refrigerator.
- 1½ oz. white rum
- ¾ oz. triple sec or other orange liqueur
- ¾ oz. lime juice
- ½ oz. orgeat
- ½ oz. dark rum
- Mint sprig and/or lime wheel for garnish
Add all the ingredients except the dark rum to a shaker filled with ice. Shake, and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Pour the dark rum gently over the top of the drink and garnish with a mint sprig, a lime wheel, or both.
- 2 oz. cognac or other aged brandy
- ½ oz. orgeat
- 2-3 dashes angostura bitters
- Lemon twist for garnish
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir, and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.