The Nutty Secret to Cocktails

You know the secret to making Trader Vic’s signature Mai Tai? Almonds.

Seriously. One of the drink’s key ingredients is rich, cloudy orgeat syrup, which is usually flavored with chopped almonds. The nutty concoction, which had all but disappeared, has recently been rediscovered by bartenders across the country. And what they’ve found is that you can make the syrup from a range of nuts. Luckily, the recipe is simple and works with everything from walnuts and pecans to cashews and macadamias.

No matter which nut you choose, the syrup is an excellent match for complex brown spirits, so it’s especially appropriate for cold-weather drinks. Kevin Diedrich, head bartender at Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen in San Francisco, incorporates a walnut version in his sophisticated Tender Nob (pictured above), which also calls for cognac, rye whiskey and a pair of Italian liqueurs.

But orgeat doesn’t have to be highfalutin’. At Birmingham, Ala., gastropub Ollie Irene, mixologist Zak Kittle riffs on the Southern tradition of tossing a handful of salted peanuts into a can of Coca-Cola (trust us, it’s tasty). His Tallulah combines peanut syrup with a Jack & Coke, resulting in a one-of-a-kind cocktail.

And David Kurka, wine & beverage manager at Brabo in Alexandria, Va., even uses a pistachio orgeat in his Orange You a Pistachio?, which turns a Margarita into an autumnal classic. Not bad for a simple nut.

Orgeat

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lb Unsalted nuts
  • 20 oz Water
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 1.5 tsp Salt
  • 2 oz Brandy or vodka
  • .5 tsp Orange flower water (optional)
  • .5 tsp Rose water (optional)

PREPARATION:
Place the nuts and water in a large bowl and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid, and grind the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped but not pureed. Place the nuts on a square of cheesecloth, tying the corners together to form a bag. Place the bag in the reserved liquid, cover and let stand for 2 hours. Remove the bag and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Return the bag to the liquid and let stand for 6 hours more, squeezing every 2 hours. Strain the liquid, discarding any solids, and pour into a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar and salt, and stir until fully dissolved. Remove from the heat, let cool and stir in the brandy or vodka, as well as the orange flower water and rose water if using.

More stories about the craft of today’s cocktail movers and shakers right this way.

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