More Than Almond Syrup

Beach up any summer drink with orgeat.

Have you ever smelled amaretto? Orgeat syrup—that strange, stray, hard-to-pronounce bottle languishing in certain bars and cafes—is similar to the almond liqueur, minus the alcohol burn and with bonus mood-altering incense. There's no mistaking its enchanting notes of orange flowers and, if you're lucky, roses. This all-but-forgotten simple syrup can beach up any number of summer beverages. No umbrella required.A long time ago, orgeat syrup (OAR-zhyat) consisted of barley steeped in water (orge is French for "barley") with no sugar added. Not very appetizing. The original mixture, just like almond milk, was used as a type of milk for culinary purposes when cow's milk was not readily available. Nowadays the barley's out, and orgeat syrup has become a sugared decoction of almonds. Producers boil pulverized bits of nuts and collect the liquid for the base of the syrup, then add orange-flower water and sometimes rose water.You can make your own orgeat syrup, if you want to go through the long process of grinding nuts and soaking them. Premade versions from Monin or Fee Brothers are perfectly fine, and you always can add more orange-flower water, rose water, or bitter-almond extract to taste if their aromas are not exotic or intense enough for you.Orgeat syrup had its heyday during the midcentury tiki craze. The most famous cocktail employing orgeat syrup is the mai tai. Yes, before college bars everywhere collectively lost the recipe and screwed it up, the mai tai was a simple, classy drink—the least cheeky of the tiki. Created by the famous Trader Vic, the mai tai requires a healthy dose of good aged rum, some orange curaçao, a splash of orgeat syrup, and the juice of one lime, shaken and served over ice. It's just a fancified daiquiri. The play between a subtle-tasting rum, such as Mount Gay or Appleton Estate, and the fresh lime and orgeat syrup hits all the same emotional notes as does a good slice of Key lime pie on a flower-bedecked veranda.You can enjoy the modern incarnation of this recipe at the Bellevue outpost of Trader Vic's, but if you want to see what orgeat syrup can really do, order a Strega daiquiri at Zig Zag. You can achieve similar effects at home. Even a straightforward brandy on the rocks with a splash of orgeat has a mesmerizing smell. Substituting orgeat syrup for simple syrup in a sidecar takes that downtown cocktail to the beach. Grapefruit and orgeat is another great pair; just add the syrup to a rum-and-grapefruit highball.One of my favorite nonalcoholic summer beverages can be fudged easily at home with orgeat syrup: Add a teaspoon of the syrup to rice milk and you've got instant horchata. (Don't use regular milk. That way, you'll avoid too heavy a taste and a general feeling of ookiness.) More complex than the typical Mexican-American rice-and-cinnamon-based horchata, this version is more like the flavors you find in Sicily—like drinking marzipan. That doesn't mean orgeat only makes liquid dessert. The classic Italian soda tastes infinitely better with orgeat. Just add a teaspoon or so to a glass of iced seltzer.Trader Vic was on to something when he started messing around with orgeat, though the syrup may have fallen out of fashion because it became so identified with over-the-top tiki drinks. Too bad, because to me orgeat syrup tastes just like

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