Horchata, the non-dairy milk everyone’s talking about
Long before the soyaccino, there was horchata.
Made from rice (and sometimes almonds), horchata is the original non-dairy “milk” — a refreshing, cold beverage that looks like milk, drinks like milk, but isn’t actually milk. That makes it perfect for vegans and just about anyone who dislikes the cloying mouthfeel of cow’s milk, since it’s a little bit lighter and thinner but still quite rich-tasting.
To craft cocktail bartenders, though, horchata represents something even bigger, namely, the key to resuscitating a whole swath of “guilty pleasure cocktails,” such as the Grasshopper, the Brandy Alexander and even the Dude’s favourite, the White Russian. These creamy drinks have mostly fallen out of fashion at bars that specialize in spirit-forward drinks because dairy is a total palate killer and it’s hard for the subtle notes of, say, a finely-aged rum or tequila to shine through. Horchata, on the other hand, is a little less of a flavour bully.
Jhol Spindler, general manager of Victoria, BC’s Café Mexico, doesn’t need any convincing. He offers cold horchata straight-up, in a horchata latté and mixed with tequila or mezcal in a horchata slushy.
“There are a lot of people in Victoria who don’t want to drink milk either because they’re vegans or are lactose-intolerant,” says Spindler. “So having something that comes from rice and almond milk is great for people who want to have a creamy, milky kind of drink without actually doing dairy. That’s made us pretty popular.”
Most of the people ordering the horchata mezcal and tequila cocktails, though, aren’t doing it for health reasons. People just love the way the drinks taste, since horchata is a natural fit with Latin flavours. Spindler’s done one-offs mixing horchata with house-made espresso liqueurs, spicy tinctures, banana liqueur and even bourbon.
“I think we even did an Old Fashioned that was based on a Mexican rice pudding flavour with a little horchata,” he says. “A lot of the things we have here work really well with cinnamon or vanilla and the horchata is great at blending different ingredients together, especially ingredients that have a lot of smoke and depth of flavour.”
It’s just one of those plays-well-with-others ingredients that acts as a natural cocktail “binder” — with an uncanny ability to make disparate flavour notes work together. That’s a handy ingredient to have in your back pocket, something an increasing number of bartenders are starting to realize. Inti, a Peruvian restaurant in Calgary, offers a boozy take on Tres Leches (a rich and creamy Latin dessert) that mixes up Pisco and horchata; Lo Pan in Toronto offers a delicious horchata Pina Colada and Vancouver’s La Mezcaleria mixes up sherry and horchata in La Carajillo.
And, only perfect for a column called the “Lazy Mixologist,” most bartenders endorse using a shortcut for making horchata as opposed to making it from scratch. Spindler uses almond “milk” and rice “milk” for his (recipe to follow) to make his delicious tequila and mezcal-horchata concoctions.
Mezcal Horchata Slushy
2 oz Los Siete Misterios Mezcal
3 oz horchata*
5 ice cubes
Blend together and serve with a dusting of cinnamon.
10 oz rice milk
7 oz almond milk
3 oz cinnamon syrup**
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Blend together and chill.
**Cinnamon syrup: Bring 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup water and 4 cinnamon sticks to a boil. Cool, let sit for an hour, strain and refrigerate.