Orgeat

Orgeat is an almond-flavored sweet syrup with a little orange flower water, most often used in Mai Tais. I’ve made several batches of it over the last year, but I’ve never really studied it. I made it, tasted it, gave half away and made random Mai Tais for a while. Recently I decided to do some serious studying of the Mai Tai – more on this later – and needed some orgeat. I grabbed the ingredients and followed this recipe over at FXCuisine.com. When I was done, I compared it to the memory of my last batch, which was Darcy’s recipe over on his Art Of Drink blog. And I thought further back to the experiences I documented the first time I made Orgeat. That experimentation was based on KukuAhu’s thread about Home Brew Orgeat over on Tiki Central.

And these memories made me feel unhappy about the batch of orgeat that I had just finished.

Every time I made orgeat, I felt that it was too sweet and that the almond flavor was too weak. These thoughts were after tasting the orgeat, on its own, not in a cocktail. I also didn’t care for the mouthfeel or texture, since these recipes made for a mildly almond-flavored simple syrup. A Mai Tai made with any of these orgeat recipes always seemed to have very little almond taste, to the point of being unnoticeable. I wanted more.

A part of me struggled with this. The recipe at FXCuisine cites some old French cookbooks, so it’s a historical (though the author does mention that the recipe is a modern interpretation). Darcy is a professional bartender with a chemistry background and knows what he’s talking about. KukuAhu and The Gnomon have made more orgeat than I probably ever will. A part of me felt that it was wrong to break away from these orgeat recipes, and thus break away from a classic, “correct” Mai Tai recipe.

So I took a batch of the FXCuisine orgeat and made up a Jeff “Beachbum” Berry $100 Mai Tai. My first thought was that there was way too much lime (I just don’t like overpowering lime or tartness, and tend towards sweeter cocktails). My second thought was that the cocktail was too sweet, though it might have been because of my homemade Rock Candy Syrup, following The Gnomon’s recipe. Finally, on my third sip, I was studying the tastes contained within, and I could not detect any almond.

After making 5 more Mai Tais using slightly different variations, I came to a couple conclusions. The first was that the $100 Mai Tai was not the Mai Tai recipe that I liked. Oh, it’s a damned fine recipe, very authentic, and makes for a damned fine cocktail. But I grew up on very unauthentic Mai Tais made in New England Chinese Restaurants, and those taste very different from the $100 version, so this was simply not the Mai Tai that I loved. (Call me a heretic, its OK.) The second conclusion that I came to was that I wanted an orgeat with more almond flavor, less sweetness, and a better mouthfeel (even though I’m not so sure that last point will affect the cocktail very much).

So I bought some more almonds, replenished my supply of Orange Flower Water, and got to work in the kitchen.

Ingredients

1 lb whole blanched almonds (slivers don’t produce as much almond taste)

3 cups filtered or spring water

1 cup sugar (preferably organic cane sugar)

1 teaspoon high-quality almond extract

1 tablespoon orange flower water

You’ll also need

3 more cups filtered or spring water (for cleaning/soaking)

1 medium (1.5 liter or 2 quart) saucepan

1 medium plastic bowl, with cover

Stirring utensil

Cheesecloth or nylon straining bag

1-liter bottle for finished product

My Orgeat Recipe

Take 1 pound of whole blanched almonds. Let them soak in 3 cups of filtered or spring water for a half-hour, swish them around a bit in an attempt to clean them, and drain (throwing out this water). Grind them up in a food processor until they’re about as fine as coarsely-ground coffee (or something close to that if you have a cheap food processor and a lack of patience, like me). Toss the ground almonds into a plastic bowl that has a lid, and heat 3 cups of filtered or spring water heated to about 150F. Add the water to the ground almonds, cover, and let sit for about 2 hours.

Strain the mixture through a piece of cheesecloth or a nylon straining bag, saving the liquid (almond milk) in the saucepan. (By the way, I highly recommend nylon straining bags. They are a washable, reusable form of cheesecloth that are far stronger and far superior to cheesecloth – all this for $1 more. You can get them at most wine-making stores, whether walk-in or online. I get the Small Coarse Bags from beer-wine.com – they’re plenty big enough and fine enough for this.)

Squeeze the almond mash to get every last drop – or until your hands get tired and you give up. Toss out the almond mash. Heat the almond milk on a very low flame until it reaches about 105F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, stick your finger into the liquid. When it’s so hot that you really want to pull your finger out, that’s hot enough.) Pour in 1 cup of sugar – preferably organic unbleached cane sugar, but you could use the highly processed, bleached stuff if you want a pretty white orgeat. Stir constantly until all the sugar has dissolved.

Cover the pot, remove it from the burner and let it cool for an hour or so. Add 1 teaspoon of high-quality almond extract, and 1 tablespoon of orange flower water. This will yield almost exactly 1 liter of orgeat. (You can add a couple ounces of vodka or white rum as a preservative, but even without this the orgeat will keep for many months in the refrigerator – as long as everything used is very, very clean.)

Summary

This recipe is similar to those listed above – I’ve mainly reduced the sugar and increased the almond extract. In my opinion this results in an end product with more almond flavor and a very nice balance of almond, sugar, and orange flower water. The mouthfeel of this is interesting, and doesn’t feel like a simple sugar syrup like the others did.

Though I started with the exact $100 Mai Tai recipe, I tweaked things from one Mai Tai to the next, and ended up reducing the lime to 3/4 ounce, eliminating the rock candy syrup, and using a  full ounce of this orgeat. That strays a bit from the recipe, but produces a Mai Tai that is slightly less tart and has slightly more almond flavor. I still have experimenting to do though.

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Rum Season 2008 Started

It’s been a while since I posted, and that was a bit of a cheap post, really. I kinda had a crappy winter – not a horrible one, just one of those winters when lotsa stuff went wrong. The worst thing about it was that I was not able to build my Tiki Bar due to the fact that several more necessary things which decided to crap out, requiring every penny in my Tiki Bar fund. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Summer is here now, the “summer home” is opened for the season, which means that my Rum Season has started. I’ve certainly had plenty of rum over the winter, generally in the form of tiki cocktails with the FOM ohana, but Memorial Day is when I get together with Phil and we start our summer-long concentrated effort of rum exploration. This year has been no different, and the last three weekends have had a good deal of rum. So far I’ve tried 5 or 6 new rums, made a few syrups for tiki cocktails, explored a bunch of cocktails from the Beachbum books, and put some time and effort into perfecting my Mai Tai. It will take a few posts to catch up on all this, so bear with me.

Pyrat Pistol
Once the summer home was opened and cleaned up, I grabbed several bottles of rum and headed over to Phil’s. Over the course of the next few hours we shot the breeze, caught up on each other’s winters, and sipped rum. We started the night with an old favorite, the Pyrat Pistol. One of the first excellent rums that Phil and I found, many years ago, was Pyrat XO, and Pistol is its little brother. Well, the bottle is smaller – 375ml – but the price is not much smaller at all . The tastes are very similar, but I find the Pistol to be a small step up in quality and smoothness. I’d say that you’ll like the Pistol if you like sweet, apricot/orange tastes of the XO, and want to go a little better and a little smoother. However, I have to say that I don’t find the price difference to be worthwhile. I’ll generally pay $36 for a bottle of Pyrat XO in Massachusetts, and the Pistol is generally about $30. These prices are insane, since they’re about 2/3 the price in the rest of the country ($22 and $13 respectively). The bottle of Pistol is half the size of the X0 (375ml vs 750ml) yet the price difference makes the Pistol 1.5 times more expensive for me. I don’t think the price difference is worthwhile – stick with the XO – but I’d have to say that I’d buy a lot more Pistol if I could find it for $13.

Brinley Gold Coffee Rum
I had high hopes for this bottle from St. Kitts, since I had heard good things about the entire Brinley line. When I first heard about this rum the idea of mixing coffee and rum seemed a little strange, but I started to think about some of the coffee tastes that linger in background of some older, fine rums. Some rums – Khukri and Maui Dark come to mind immediately – have very noticeable coffee tastes, and it works quite well. I was able to find this rum last November, when I attended the Rum Fest in New York.

This rum has some mild coffee aromas lying behind a stronger toffee smell, and the combination certainly smells delicious. The first sip shows a lot of sweetness, buttery toffee tastes, very little rum, and a finish that contains hints of coffee. It’s is very smooth, mainly due to the sweetness and the fact that it’s only 72-proof. Well, that’s really not very far off from the 80-proof that I’m used to, so this is still a strong rum, though your tongue and throat will never realize that. This goes down very easily, and is practically a dessert. Sweet, smooth, butter toffee and hints of coffee… Yep, “dessert” fits the bill quite nicely. This is definitely a delicious rum, and is highly recommended as long as you like sweet rums. But I have to say that I have a hard time calling this a “Coffee Rum” since the coffee tastes are so mild. I’d lean more towards calling it a “Butter Toffee Rum.” Whatever it’s called, this rum is highly recommended.

Brinley Gold Vanilla Rum
Given how much I love vanilla, I was really looking forward to this rum. I came close to cracking this bottle over the winter, but I held back – several times – and I’m not sure why. When Phil and I cracked it, the first smells and sips made me realize that somehow I subconsciously knew that this rum is meant to be shared. Keeping this rum to myself would go against everything I strive for in my attempts to evangelize rum.

The initials smells are of of sweet vanilla, rum and – get this – coffee. Yep, this has more coffee smell to it than the Brinley Gold Coffee Rum, easily. A small sip is thick with sugar and sweetness, coffee, dark rum and hints of vanilla after the swallow. I find this to be a little more harsh than the Coffee Rum, but we are splitting hairs since they are both very smooth. The flavor lingers for a while in the mouth due to it’s thickness, and this is a very nice taste. In a nutshell: Delicious. Like the Coffee Rum, the tastes of rum are very mellow in this, but there is no doubt in my mind that Brinley has created a fantastic product here.

Phil and I stayed on this rum for about an hour, sipping, pouring, sipping and talking. Generally we will go through all the rums, one at a time, slowly tasting and enjoying each rum in its time. Eventually we’ll go back and hit a couple again, or compare a couple side-by-side. Not with the Brinley Vanilla. I think we ended up having 4 shots each, and finally had to put it away or we would have finished the bottle. This extended tasting was a first for us – we have simply never had a rum hit us like this. I think some of our desire to continue sipping was due to the way the taste lingers after the swallow – it must cause a type of addiction.

The next night I brought this rum up to the weekly dance at the campground, and offered it to people that I knew would appreciate it. It was a unanimous hit. About half of the people liked it a lot, and the other half loved it. One couple was not too happy with the idea that it was only available in New York City, so they went online and found a website that would ship it. They bought a bottle based on a single sip. I love this job.

Pango Rhum
I bought this bottle last fall, when I was hunting for Foursquare Spiced and developing an unusual yearning for spiced rums. I got into a conversation with the owner of a large liquor store, and we spent 15 or 20 minutes talking about rums. We somehow got on the subject of spiced rums, I mentioned Foursquare, and he showed me the Pango Rhum and told me that some rum connoisseur always bought it. I almost never buy a rum on a whim, but the recommendation seemed sound. I was also intrigued by the words on the label – “Pango Rhum – Rhum Barbancourt – Rum With Natural Fruit & Spice Flavors.” So I bought it.

My hankering for spiced rums went away for several months, but I saw this bottle when I was packing stuff for the summer home. I generally try to bring a variety of rums for opening day, so this ended up in the box with the others.

Phil and I cracked it, sipped, and we both sat back for a moment in pensive silence. I finally broke the thoughts and said “This is weird.” Phil agreed quickly, and wholeheartedly, and we both talked about it for a bit trying to figure it out. We even poured some more, trying to dive into the rum and identify the tastes. We couldn’t. Even now, sipping it again, I can’t think of a way to properly describe Pango Rhum. Sweet and smooth at 70-proof, there are definitely some mild spices in there, and at least a fruit or three. But all I keep thinking is “mango.”

Don’t get me wrong here – this is most certainly a quality product, just one that I can’t describe. The flavors in this rum are high quality – there’s no cheap artificial flavors here. The spices are mild and complement the fruitiness. The balance of those background flavors is great, but the mango dominates too much. I have to admit that it doesn’t suit my tastes, and didn’t suit Phil’s, but this is not unexpected with such a unique product. If you get a chance, try it, but I can’t recommend buying a bottle.

Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur
This is another rum that I got in NYC last fall. As you might know by now, I love orange liqueurs, and this makes #14 or #15 or something mildly ridiculous like that. Initial smells showed a lot of orange flavor, almost no rum, and a good deal of sweetness comes through. The orange is strong, but not quite to the level of some of the bitter-orange liqueurs that I have. It certainly does have a taste of bitter oranges, and is sweet, leaving a bit of stickiness on the lips. It’s not quite as smooth as the Senior Curacao, or so my taste-memory seems to remember. I let some linger in my mouth before swallowing, trying to get a better idea of the rum underneath, when Phil blurted out that it tasted like Chinese food.

Well, that did it for me. All i could think of was General Gao’s Chicken, and that line of thinking simply destroyed my concentration.

Whatever Phil might think, I definitely do not consider this to be any less than excellent. It’s definitely a high-quality product. I like it a lot and it’s definitely on my “Recommended” list of rums. But, due to Phil’s silly comment, my concentration was destroyed – it still is – and I can’t give this a thorough review at this time.

I do plan on re-visiting my “Orange Curacao-type” liqueurs soon, since I also managed to find some Marie Brizard Orange Curacao over the winter, and some Bols. I only had 3 “Orange Curacaos” when I did my Orange Liqueur Throwdown review a year ago, and I know have 7 it seems. An “Orange Curacao Throwdown” is imminent.

Temptryst Cherrywood Reserve
I tasted this rum last fall, and gave it a quick review in an early post, A Rum Tasting at the Desmond Aloha Lounge, but Phil had never tried it so I brought it up for him to try. Tasting this rum after trying all those flavored ones was not the correct thing to do, though. All those varying tastes threw off our palates, and we had a hard time diving into it to discover all its nuances. There is no doubt that this is a superlative rum, but saying more than that would not be fair. This needs a proper tasting with a clean palate, and I will certainly return to it soon since I truly love this stuff.

In The Upcoming Week Or Two…
I have many other posts floating around in my head right now, and a lot of notes to go through. It’s actually been over 2 weeks since Rum Season 2008 actually Started, and I have a lot to cover. I’ve made Orgeat, Passion Fruit Syrup, Rock Candy Syrup, several Grog Log drinks. I bought some new bar tools, started a serious expedition trying to find my perfect Mai Tai, and I’m sure I’m forgetting 2 or 3 smaller things right now. I’ll do my best to cover this stuff this week… Hopefully.