In Honor of Orgeat

Eastern Sour, photo by Paul Senft

Eastern Sour, photo by Paul Senft

Cordial, mixer, and cocktail ingredient; orgeat pronounced (or-zhat) is a syrup with humble beginnings that date back to the 18th century.  The word "orgeat" has French origins and has been interpreted by scholars to mean "barley water."  As research revealed, orgeat began as a barley oil and water emulsion that over time had almond oil added to help with the bland flavor. In the days before refrigeration it was common to use water-oil emulsions because they were easier to keep at room temperature and lasted longer before spoiling.  Eventually the barley oil was replaced entirely with almond oil as it was discovered to be as shelf stable as a barley emulsion.

At some point in history someone began tinkering with this base ingredient and introducing other flavors, such as cinnamon, rose water and sugar. Because alcohol makes everything better it was not long before spirits like brandy and rum were added to create tasty cordials. Over time orgeat syrup was developed using a combination of almonds, water and orange flower or rose water.

Basic Orgeat Syrup

  • 2 cups toasted almonds
  • 1/1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/1/4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon orange flower water or rose water
  • 1 ounce/30 mL vodka or unaged rum


  1. Chop two cups of toasted almonds then grind in a blender.
  2. In a pan, cook the sugar and water on medium heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly.
  3. Add almonds and let the mixture simmer on low heat and stir until the mixture boils.
  4. Remove from heat, cover, and let it sit for three to twelve hours.
  5. Strain mixtures through three or four layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze cloth frequently.
  6. Stir in orange flower or rose water, as well as spirit of choice to liquid.
  7. Use a funnel to pour liquid into glass bottle.

Later in 1860, an American diplomatic event happened that would change the way orgeat was thought of forever.  That year, the first Japanese diplomatic mission to the United States arrived. Among the dignitaries was Tateishi Onojirou Noriyuki a.k.a. “Tommy.” He was known for enjoying the New York City hot spots, and was considered quite the infamous ladies’ man by the press of the day. Cocktail historian David Wondrich in his book Imbibe! suspects that Tommy was a regular at one of bartender Jerry Thomas' establishments which led him to invent the Japanese Cocktail to commemorate the delegation’s visit. This cocktail appeared in the Jerry Thomas 1862 Bar-tender’s Guide and is the first recorded cocktail to use orgeat as an ingredient.

 Japanese Cocktail (1862 version)

  • (use small bar-glass)
  • Take 1 table-spoonful of orgeat syrup
  • 2 dashes of Boker’s bitters
  • 1 wine-glass of brandy
  • 1 or 2 pieces of lemon peel

Fill the Tumbler with ingredients and add one-third of it with ice, stir well with a spoon and strain into a cocktail glass. Add lemon peel for garnish.

Fill mixing glass half way with ice, add ingredients, stir, and strain into cocktail glass. Add lemon peel for garnish.

When electrical refrigeration became more commonly used, orgeat was set aside for other easier to make products that could be stored in the new contraption. Then in the 1930s, Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron began using orgeat syrup in several of his tiki cocktails as part of the sweet component of his recipes such as the Mai Tai, Samoan Fog Cutter, and Scorpion cocktails.

An interesting example of orgeat syrup use is in the Eastern Sour cocktail recipe that was created by Mr. Bergeron when he opened the Trader Vic’s in Toronto in 1975. The hint of nuttiness balanced by the fruit syrups and bourbon creates a unique flavor that makes this a stand out for tiki enthusiasts who also enjoy bourbon in their drinks.

Eastern Sour

from Trader Vic’s 1947 Bartender’s Guide

  • 2 oz/60 ml bourbon
  • 2/1/2 oz/ 75 ml orange juice
  • ¼ oz/7.5 ml lemon juice
  • ¼ oz/7.5 ml orgeat syrup
  • ¼ oz/ 7.5 ml simple syrup

Shake well with crushed ice and pour unstrained into a double Old Fashioned glass, short stemmed goblet or tiki mug.

The introduction of orgeat syrup as a quality cocktail ingredient has made it a modern staple in many bars, especially tiki themed ones, around the world. Once hard to find, the syrup is now being produced by brands like BG Reynolds and Fee Brothers, making it easy to make cocktails that use orgeat at home. If you are interested in trying out cocktails that use this syrup, there is a wealth of resources online as well as Martin Cates Smuggler's Cove and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s line of books.

For Josh Powell's delicious pistachio-based orgeat recipe, please click here.