If you ever ordered “what that person got” at the bar because it had that tiki vibe to it, odds are the bartender served you up some iteration of a Mai Tai. And odds are you loved that weird combination of rum, Curacao liqueur, lime juice, and some intriguing syrup base you can’t put your finger on. It’s tough not to—Mai Tai literally means “good” in Tahitian.
But that syrup—what exactly was that? If your bartender was worth their tip that night, they hooked you up with something known as orgeat syrup. It’s a mashup of almonds, cane sugar, and flowery water. The tantalizing almond taste is particularly memorable to folks, as is the constant fight over how to actually pronounce the word “orgeat.” (I mean, is it or-GEE-at? Or-ZHAT? Does anyone else other than me care? Life is such a mystery.)
Most people know orgeat because of one man who loved a good aventure: Victor Jules Bergeron Jr. Back in the 1930s, Victor started up a rustic saloon across the street from his parents’ grocery store. He called it “Hinky Dink’s,” an homage to his favorite World War I jam, “Hinky Dinky, Parlez-Vous.”
A few years after Victor opened the doors of Hinky Dink’s, he ventured down to some Caribbean islands to refresh his spirit. About halfway through his journey, he encountered rum-based cocktails—a total gamechanger for the American drinking scene at that point. Right after he got back to the States, he incorporated high-quality daiquiris, mojitos, and planters punch into the Hinky Dink’s menu.
But something still felt off. Victor traveled down to Hollywood for some further inspiration, and in doing so discovered a burgeoning tiki bar called Don the Beachcomber. After dining at this South Seas-style joint and meeting the owner (aptly named Donn Beach, of course), Victor remade Hinky Dink’s into the now famous Trader Vic’s. Along the way of this transformation, he and Donn introduced the world to the Mai Tai; and, like any good pair of competing capitalists, the two bickered for decades as to who really came up with the drink.
Victor and Donn traditionally get the credit for introducing the world to orgeat, but this sweet, balanced mixer predates their tiki bars by a long shot. Hell, it even predates the Prohibition era.
Cocktail historian (yeah, that’s a real thing, what a world) David Wondrich places orgeat as far back as the mid-19th century. Orgeat stakes its claim to one of the most famous pre-WWI cocktails in the world: the Japanese Cocktail.
According to Wondrich’s research, it was tough to justify anything other than a bit of sugar, lemon peel, bitters, absinthe, maraschino, or curacao in your cocktail before 1860. Wondrich says the Japanese Cocktail was “one of the first ‘evolved’ cocktails on record, where the additional ingredients are more than a dash.”
Ironically, the Japanese Cocktail didn’t come from Japan, nor did it have any Japanese ingredients. Its birth back in 1860 was intended to honor the first Japanese diplomatic trip to the United States. Some guy named Tommy had a passion for his cocktails, introduced them to his new Japanese friends, and the rest is history.
No matter how far orgeat goes back in our history, it’s never been a better time to add it to your next batch of cocktails. Whether you need it to stave off 50 rabid customers at your bar or impress your friends at the next deck bash, it’s the perfect little sweet and balanced aftertaste that drink needs. And hey, what do you know—we have some pretty on point Original Orgeat ourselves. Test out our authenticity, love it, and tell your friends all about this super relevant cocktail history you now totally know about.