Make your own Orgeat
"Oh, and by the way, it is properly pronounced "OR-JHAH" - its a French word and the "T" is silent."
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about having a home tiki bar is the lack of availability of crucial ingredients. There is nothing worse than coming across an incredible exotic cocktail recipe only to find out that its made with something that you can't find anywhere in your hometown. In Halifax, where I live, the list of highly sought after, but unavailable, ingredients is a long one.
One answer is to become a low-level importer. This works especially well for rum and other spirits. Bring back as many bottles as you can any time you go out of town. You can also hit up your friends to do the same when they travel. This is how I was able to build a rum collection of nearly 100 bottles in a city where selection is kind of pitiful.
Another answer is the internet. While ordering online booze is next to impossible in Canada, many companies will sell you a wide variety of cocktail ingredients from their websites.
But sometimes the only answer is to do it yourself. If you want to make high quality tiki drinks, you are going to have to learn how to make some of the ingredients in your own kitchen.
Orgeat is at the top of this list. Central to the creation of so many classic exotic drinks, no Tiki bar is complete without a good quality orgeat. How can you call yourself Tiki if you don't have the ability to make a Mai Tai??
While I was able to find a French orgeat (Paquito) at my local supermarket, and order it from BG Reynolds online, neither met my expectations when it came to flavour and freshness, or Tiki authenticity. Neither appears to have any ingredients beyond almonds, sugar and water - tasty but not in line with what was traditionally used to make original exotic drinks.
So, the only answer was to make my own…
Orgeat is traditional French almond based syrup that has been used in Tiki drinks going all the way back to the days of Donn Beach (Don the Beachcomber) and Vic Bergeron (Trader Vic). It is a key ingredient in the Mai Tai, which was first created in 1944 by Trader Vic in Oakland, California.
Oh, and by the way, it is properly pronounced "OR-JHAH" - its a French word and the "T" is silent.
Before jumping into any "make your own" Tiki project, do your research. You might be an amazing cook or bartender, but there is a good chance that someone has already done what you are trying to do - and they've probably done it better. Also, if you are trying to re-create classic and traditional flavours, it's probably worth your while to look at the classic and traditional recipes. For me, this means researching how Tiki icons like Beach and Bergeron did it, and how modern legends like Jeff Berry and Martin Cate are doing it. Books like Smuggler's Cove and Beach Bum Berry Remixed (Intoxica and The Grog Log) are essentials for any Tiki bartender. Another great resource for make-your-own cocktail ingredients is Josh Sullivan's website: Post Prohibition.
Based on my research, I found and tried three different recipes. They were all good and I borrowed from each to come up with the following recipe that works best for me based on taste and ease of production. Here is what I recommend:
- 2 cups of blanched, sliced almonds 3 cups of water of water
- 2oz. of neutral spirit (I prefer an unaged rum)
- 3 cups of sugar
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of rose water (to taste)
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of orange flower water (to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract (to taste)
- 1/8 teaspoon of xanthan gum (optional)
- Bring almonds and water to a boil over high heat in a medium sized saucepan
- Strain almonds from water (keep the water)
- Grind almonds in a food processor or blender until pieces are the size of rice grains
- Slowly add the almond water to the ground rice until it takes on the consistency of watery oatmeal
- Let the almond mixture cool
- Strain the liquid from the almond mixture using a fine-mesh wire strainer or cheesecloth
- Measure the almond liquid and put it into a medium saucepan with twice the amount of white refined sugar
- Whisk over low heat for approximately 20 minutes or until sugar completely dissolves
- Remove from heat and let cool
- Add rose water, orange flower water and almond extract to taste
- You may add xanthan gum (optional)
- Strain into sterile bottles and refrigerate
The result is a rich and sweet flavourful syrup that you can be proud to add to any exotic cocktail. The almonds should be the star of the show, with the rose and orange flower waters as subtle background performers. Too much of either, or the almond extract, will give your orgeat a perfumey flavour. Keep in mind that a little goes a very long way and can make a huge difference. One of my early attempts was ruined by a heavy hand on the rose water.
The xanthan gum is to keep your syrup from separating. Use it very sparingly as it will thicken your final product, and be aware that it take some heavy duty whisking to fully incorporate into the orgeat. Even 1/8 of a teaspoon can leave behind small lumps, which can be removed if you strain your orgeat one last time into the bottle.
Now grab some Jamaican rum, a bottle of orange curaçao and some fresh lime juice and you're ready to make an authentic Trader Vic's Mai Tai.