Orgeat (“ore-zha”) is one of the cornerstone ingredients in a Mai Tai, and while it’s not as important as the rum it nonetheless something you’ll need to consider when making your own Mai Tai cocktail. The word is French, which means no two people can pronounce it the same way, and it’s made with almonds, sugar, and either rose water or orange flower water.
Trader Vic himself, Victor Bergeron, was of French-Canadian heritage and likely learned about orgeat as a child. He subsequently used the syrup in a number of cocktails including the Fog Cutter, Easter Sour, Scorpion Bowl. And of course in the original 1944 Mai Tai recipe.
Does it Matter?
Just a half ounce of orgeat is in a Mai Tai. Is it really that important? Let me tell you a story.
The Bamboo Hut in San Francisco had reopened after about a year, complete with a more craft-inspired cocktail menu. Rather than touristy Island-style Mai Tai that was previously served, the new Mai Tai was made with high-quality rums and liqueur. I saw the bartender put in the Real McCoy and Plantation 3 Star rums. Then the Ferrand Dry Curacao. Then the orgeat and lime. Pretty good right? Wrong! This Mai Tai had a really funny taste. Except I wasn’t laughing.
But I saw the bartender prepare the drink! I saw the high-quality spirits being used. So, it had to either be the lime juice or more likely the orgeat that was wrecking the taste.
So I guess orgeat might be important.
Make at Home?
Can you make orgeat at home? Of course you can, and there are some great online resources for how to do this. Barfaith’s How to: Homemade Orgeat is a good video tutorial covering the basics.
Some readers have adopted the technique described by Dave Arnold in his book Liquid Intelligence. Arnold’s “Any Nut Orgeat” uses gum arabic and xanthan gum along with a blender to produce an orgeat-style syrup from any nut.
A simplified version that does not require blanching the almonds comes to us from San Jose-based home tiki bar owner Alex Fritch. I’ve had Mai Tais there and Alex’s orgeat is great.
Orgeat (Simplied) by Alex Fritch
1 cup Almond Milk unsweetened
¾ cup Sugar
1 cup Demerara Sugar
1 teaspoon Rose Water
2 teaspoons Orange Water
2 teaspoons Almond Extract
1 oz Demerara Rum
Over heat, combine Almond Milk with sugars and stir frequently. As soon as it starts to simmer, remove from heat. Add the rest of ingredients after cooling, then bottle and refrigerate.
If you’re lazy or trepidatious about cooking your own syrups, like we are, there are a number of good ones that you can get at retail locations.
We recommend Latitude 29 Formula Orgeat, with BG Reynolds Orgeat being a very close second. Both of these come with great pedigrees, with Latitude 29 being developed in conjunction with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, cocktail historian and owner of the Latitude 29 tiki bar in New Orleans. Meanwhile, BG Reynolds comes from Blair Reynolds who founded Portland’s Hale Pele.
There are a number of craft orgeat brands. I tried the Small Hand Foods Orgeat and after a couple different attempts have found it personally lacking. More floral than almond, and requires constant shaking to keep the ingredients mixed. If I’m buying retail, the last thing I want to do is to babysit my bottle of orgeat.
Rum expert Josh Miller tested a number of orgeat and orange curacaos on his Inu A Kena blog and rated the Latitude 29 higher than Small Hand Foods as well.
Other Brands Worth Seeking
These haven’t been tested at Ultimate Mai Tai HQ, but we’ve heard good things from people who’s opinions we trust.
- Giffard Orgeat
- Liber & Co Almond Orgeat Syrup