The almond syrup known as orgeat has long been a key player in classic cocktails, from Trader Vic’s Mai Tai to Jerry Thomas’s Japanese Cocktail, not to mention the ever-widening array of modern concoctions. But as bar programs continue the trend towards environmentally-friendly practices, the water-wasting almond—the core of the syrup—has come under scrutiny, and a number of alternative orgeats are stepping up to the plate.
Among these alt-orgeats, which are cropping up at bars across the country, are syrups made from day-old pastries, seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and even avocado pits.
Kelsey Ramage, who has began making avocado pit orgeat for her Trash Tiki events, which focus on using upcycled “trash” from bars and restaurant kitchens to make cocktails, started turning the pits into syrup for several reasons:
“My basic bitch tendencies mean a couple of avocado toasts in the morning,” she says, “and it only takes four seeds to make one liter of the stuff. Plus, almonds are hella expensive, not to mention take a lot of natural resources to grow. Why wouldn’t we use something more abundant and free?”
It’s these sorts of sentiments that put efficiency—of time, resources and cost—at the forefront that have become the driving force behind the budding crop of alternative orgeats. Here are five innovating examples being served across the country.
While this recipe yields “a lovely warm toasted flavor” on its own, sometimes Ramage uses almond extract or a little orange flower water to “bump up the flavor.” She also uses this as a base for making falernum, adding spices (cinnamon, allspice, clove, anise) to the pan to toast with the pits, and then tossing in a leftover orange and lime husk to the overnight infusion.
For those who can’t bear the thought of going without almonds, Trash Tiki has a compromise: upcycled day-old almond croissants. “Just just hit up your local cafe and ask them to not throw out what they don’t sell,” the team suggests. The sugar, butter and oil are the functional ingredients, so don’t worry if the pastries aren’t perfectly fresh.
“I like sunflower seeds for a lot of reasons,” says Sprouse, the owner of Brooklyn’s Hunky Dory. They’re drought-resistant, have deep root systems that reach untapped nutrients in lower soils, they gobble up excess nitrogen in the soil, the market is GMO free, they’re relatively low-carbon intensity to harvest and process, and the flowers can be used to feed animals or as a fertilizer for other crops. Plus, “they are delicious!”
Kevin Diedrich, Pacific Cocktail Haven, San Francisco, CA
At PCH, the menu is full of tropical cocktails. While some use traditional orgeat, Diedrich frequently experiments with a wide variety of syrups—including salted pistachio, macadamia nuts and roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)—to expand the flavor profile possibilities. He typically combines this pepita syrup in a colorful drink with blanco tequila, pumpkin puree and citrus: “We found the tequila works really well with pepitas,” Diedrich says.
Luis Hernandez, Lost Hours, New York, NY
Though not necessarily more environmentally sustainable than almond-based syrup, this alt-orgeat offers a seasonal rendition. Created for The Eddy, now closed, it filled out a tiki-style drink made with a split base of Cachaça and aged rum, plus a dose of cold brew coffee. The robust flavors demanded an equally assertive sweetener. Roasting the walnuts created a bolder, darker profile that fit the bill, and works well in recipes with other bold, dark flavors.
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