Though orgeat got its start outside of cocktails as an early fever remedy and nonalcoholic party drink (“a necessary refreshment,” according to the 1824 book The Virginia Housewife), today it’s best known as a tiki drink modifier. Beyond just sweetness, the almond syrup adds richness in taste and texture and an aromatic component to classics like the Mai Tai and modern drink interpretations like Charles Phan’s Gin Fizz Tropical.
Based on the producer, orgeat can range in flavor from subtly floral and nutty to something more akin to liquid marzipan. Store-bought options such as Small Hand Foods and Orgeat Works are reliable choices, but making a DIY version brings a level of customization to the ingredient.
New York bartender Eamon Rockey’s version calls on bitter almonds—different from sweet almonds; they’re opaque white seeds (often the kernels of stone fruit) that are often used in almond extract—for their stronger tree nut flavor, and combines them with both rose water and orange blossom water. But almonds aren’t the only ingredient that can be turned into the syrup (in fact, orgeat was originally made with barley), and bartenders across the United States have turned to makeshift alternatives, especially considering almonds’ environmental impact. Leftover avocado pits, sunflower seeds and even almond croissants can transform into the modifier with the addition of hot water, sugar and the use of a blender.
The easiest substitute for orgeat, though, avoids the need for a Vitamix altogether: Simply combine oat milk with sugar, adding other elements, like amaretto liqueur or vanilla extract, for extra aromatics. Katie Stipe, bartender at Portland, Oregon’s Voysey, blends oat milk with cane sugar, vanilla extract and rose water. Her version is used in Voysey’s Peninsula Cobbler, a Sherry Cobbler variation that brings the homemade orgeat together with amontillado sherry and muddled orange slices. According to Stipe, oat milk “has great flavor and body [and] eliminates the possibility of cross-contamination behind the bar for those who have a severe nut allergy.”
Likewise, Natasha David turns to an “oat-geat” in recipes like the Color Me Dazzled, a pastis-based drink from her book Drink Lightly. Her version—made with oat milk, sugar, amaretto liqueur and amaro—is inspired by former Nitecap head bartender Arianna Daskauskas, who developed an alternative to orgeat for the bar after David expressed interest in finding a more environmentally conscious substitute. The resulting oat-geat was “sublimely delicious,” writes David. “So delicious that none of our guests missed the almonds.”