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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, 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.