It’s irreplaceable in a Mai Tai and essential to the classic Japanese cocktail. Orgeat syrup, with its rich almond flavor and exotic touch of orange water, is matchless among cocktail mixers. You can pick it up at a well-stocked spirits shop, but serious almond lovers often prefer to make it in their own kitchens, where they can control sugar content and flavor. “There’s a brightness that fresh ingredients bring to it,” says Daniel Shoemaker, owner of Portland, Oregon’s Teardrop Cocktail Lounge. “In a cocktail, the almond and viscosity of homemade orgeat syrup shine through in ways that a store-bought product never would.” Shoemaker started making his own orgeat after being disappointed by the artificial-tasting flavors and high-fructose corn syrup he found in some store-bought brands. Inspired by a recipe that was originally conceived by Darcy O’Neil, keeper of the Art of Drink blog, Shoemaker eventually settling on what would become Teardrop’s house orgeat recipe.
Place 2¼ cups of raw, sliced almonds in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Cover with 3½ cups of tap water and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain, discarding the water.
In a food processor or blender, lightly pulse the almonds until they are coarsely ground. (You can also do this with a rolling pin—to reduce mess, put the almonds in a plastic bag first.)
Return the ground almonds to the bowl, cover with 3½ cups of distilled water and soak for 4 to 5 hours, stirring the mixture well every hour or so. Strain liquid into a 1-liter glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, pressing to extract as much as possible. Discard the almonds.
Add ½ cup of cane sugar to the liquid, close the lid tightly and shake the jar vigorously, repeating several times over 15 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved.
Add 1 oz. of vodka and ¼ tsp. orange blossom water and stir thoroughly. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes 2 to 3 cups of syrup.