Saturday, 19 September 2015

Orgeat: The Scourge of the Cocktail World

Home-made milk Orgeat, with a dash of cinnamon.

Orgeat, an almond-based liqueur, is a source of much consternation in the cocktail world.

It is apparently essential (as the basis of the Mai Thai), but at the same time jolly hard to get a hold of. It lurks at the back of cocktail cabinets. Even bartenders mispronounce it (it's pronounced Or-ZHAT, apparently).

Wild Colonial Grandma, currently enduring a cold with all the grace of the usually healthy, declared it too rich. My wife reacted to a sip with an involuntary shudder and the dark verdict that it was for "the rice pudding set". My toddler literally ran screaming.

It seems that everywhere Orgeat goes it causes trouble, my home being no exception. But despite all this, I'm going to tell you to make it. And what's more, I'm going to tell you to make this particular recipe despite the fact that its inclusion of milk makes it a fringe oddity in the Orgeat family, and renders it not terribly good for keeping.

The recipe at hand is from an 1866 edition of The Australasian, but has much older pedigree. It is closely modelled (cough *plagiarised* cough) on Maria Eliza Rundell's 1808 recipe from her recipe book A New System of Domestic Cookery. This throws us back beyond the Victorian modernism that characterised most of the Colonial era, into the murky depths of the Georgian era and its lingering Medieval influence.

The early origins of this drink saturate the experience of consuming it. With the smooth texture of a creamy winter soup, but the jangling tastes of sweet almonds and spirits, this vintage Orgeat is a delightful oddity.

My Virgin Japanese Cocktail, made with milk Orgeat.

You can drink this home-made version neat, unlike its modern commercial counterpart. Though interesting on the palate it is also mild, and well suited  to being enjoyed in a cocktail glass with a stark dash of freshly ground cinnamon.

Orgeat is also the basis of the Japanese Cocktail, an 1862 invention credited as being one of the earliest modern cocktails. You can read more about its potentially scandalous origins, along with a recipe here. Scroll down for my recipe for a Virgin Japanese Cocktail.

Finally, here are a few serving suggestions straight from Australian Colonial era newspapers:

The Warragul Guardian and Buln Buln and Narracan Shire Advocate suggests in 1886 that Orgeat need only be diluted with ice water.

In 1924, with the world in the grip of the cocktail craze, the Adelaide Advertiser suggests the recipe of 1 measure Orgeat to 3 measures iced seltzer, and decorated with a slice of peach, pineapple or apricot. Exotic!

Orgeat a la Warragul Guardian and Buln Buln and Narracan Shire Advocate.

Here is the original recipe:

ORGEAT.-Boil a stick of cinnamon in a quart of new milk, sweeten to taste with loaf sugar; let it stand till cold; then take 3oz. of Jordan almonds ,and twenty bitter almonds, blanch them, and beat them to a paste with a little water; pour the milk to   these by degrees, well stirring as you proceed; then boil all together, continuing to stir the whole, till it is cold, adding half a glass of brandy.

Recipes. (1866, September 22). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 5. Retrieved July 27, 2015, from

Orgeat in the pan.

Pre-Modern Orgeat

1 stick cinnamon
600ml milk
¼ cup castor sugar
60g almond meal
¼ teaspoon almond essence
¼ teaspoon brandy essence

Cooking Time
1 hour, largely spent waiting for it to cool (twice)

Enough for 10 cocktails


Combine the cinnamon, milk and sugar in a saucepan.
Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
In a large bowl, with plenty of stirring room, beat the almonds with 1 tablespoon of water until they form a paste.
Add the almond essence to the almond paste.
Gradually add the cooled milk, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. If lumps simply will not be avoided, keep stirring vigorously until you have banished them.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and bring once again to the boil.
When cool, mix in the brandy essence.
You're now ready to make any of the cocktails described above or...

My Virgin Japanese Cocktail

Mix 1 part home-made Orgeat with 3 parts Lemon, Lime and Bitters. Stir to combine, and then pour into a large tumbler. Top with tropical fruit and a jaunty umbrella. If you don't have a shot measure, I've found the cap of a baby bottle works well and is about the same volume. You're welcome.

Orgeat mocktails as far as the eye can see.

Cookery friends, what do you think of this divisive drink? What was your favourite cocktail?