In the pantheon of great Tiki Drink Ingredients, one ingredient that cannot be overlooked is one of the more mysterious: Falernum. Perform a search for the definition of “falernum” online and you’re bound to come upon an avalanche of varying descriptions of flavors, spices, and origins. There are some basic things that can be agreed on, however.
Falernum is a flavored syrup that originated in Barbados. From there it gets a little hazier. Falernum can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. It generally contains ginger, cloves, and lime, but could include any number of other ingredients for flavor. Most recipes include some sort of bitter almond flavor. It is typically yellowish in color, but not necessarily.
This hazy syrup is often discussed in cocktail circles. Luminaries such as Robert Hess and Paul Clarke have posted lengthy pieces on the history of the liqueur/syrup, as well as numerous recipes. Darcy O’Neil took that even further last year, digging deep into the history and likely origins of falernum. According to his research, falernum was originally lime juice, sugar, rum, and water – a basic rum punch!
Today, however, falernum is much more than that. There are a few commercial options available and a goodly number of recipes for the adventurous sorts to make their own. From Trader Tiki’s Dark Falernum to Cocktailnerd’s Falernum #1 to Colonel Tiki’s Falernum #4 (get used to numbered falernum recipes, it seems to be en vogue), there is no shortage of opinions on the best way to make the stuff.
Last month Rick over at KaiserPenguin announced a contest for the best homemade falernum by a neophyte.
- Make your own falernum for the first time, tweaking the recipe I’ve given here.
- Post in the comments that you’ve done so with a little story about your quest. Do this by March 30th.
- Mail me a sample (I’ll email you my address once you post in the comments).
- The tastiest one will be the winner.
That person will receive as much falernum as they need for one year. I’ll make it as often as you need it, and mail it to you.
While I had made a few of my own syrups an rum infusions before, and I had even tried my hand at making some of Erik Ellestad’s orgeat, I had never delved into the intricacies of making falernum, and so I took up Rick’s challenge.
Rick’s post gave me a starting recipe, but one of the things I noticed while researching falernum for my own project was that so many of the recipes posted seem to be based off of Paul Clarke’s Falernum #8. In fact, while in Las Vegas in January I visited Frankie’s Tiki Room with Paul and we discovered that the bar’s homemade falernum was also based on his recipe. Obviously this was the place to start, and I could tweak it from there to arrive at a recipe I liked.
RumDood’s Falernum #2
- 8 oz Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum
- 2 oz Lemonhart 151 Rum
- 2 oz (by weight) minced or shredded ginger
- Zest of 8 limes
- 40 whole cloves
- 2 anise stars
Combine the above ingredients in a jar or bottle and let sit/steep for 24 hours After steeping, strain the contents of the jar through cheesecloth or a coffee filter – making sure to squeeze and ring all liquid out of the solid ingredients. Then add the following ingredients to the jar:
14 oz Simple Syrup (2:1 sugar to water, cold-process)
.25 tsp Almond Extract
3.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Shake the new mixture good and hard until everything is thoroughly mixed and you have a greenish-yellow mixture. It’s ready to be used right away!
The first thing I’m sure you’ve noticed is that the recipe listed here has that mysterious “#2” in it. When I made my first batch, which I took with me when I went to San Francisco to meet up with Rick a few weeks ago, I started with what was supposed to be a half-batch of Paul Clarke’s Falernum #8. Everything was going swimmingly until I got to the second day and added a full 14 ounces of simple syrup to the maceration instead of the half-portion of 7 ounces. At that point I sort of panicked and started trying to find ways to correct the mixture. I added the dark rum, some allspice dram, some absinthe, and a few other spices to try and bring down the sweetness. Not being satisfied, I eventually just did another half-batch of maceration, steeped for 24 hours, and then added it to the overly-sweet concoction in the jar.
The end-result of the disaster turned out to be a happy accident. The falernum was spicy and sweet and actually quite good. The other bloggers that tried it in San Francisco seemed relatively pleased with it, and thus I was pleased with it as well. Unfortunately, in my haste to correct the flavor, I did not make notes of the adjustments I had made to the first batch to ensure that I could recreate it. Without notes, I couldn’t guarantee the same result, and thus, RumDood’s Falernum #1 exists only in a bottle sitting in Erik Ellestad’s home – never to be heard from again. RumDood’s Falernum #2 is my attempt to recreate the same basic taste, but in a more controlled manner.
This falernum is spicy and sweet. It has a good, thick body to it and is actually even nice on its own with nothing more than a few ice cubes. I let my brother try some the other night and I had to convince him to give me back the bottle so that I could finish making his drink.
1.5oz Rum (used Mount Gay Extra Old)
.5 oz Falernum
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 tsp Simple Syrup
1 Dash Bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Technically the Captain’s Blood should be strained into a chilled cocktail glass (as noted above), but as I’m sure you can see in the picture, I was feeling petulant the other night and decided to try it over ice instead. The drink is nice and tropical. Being the incureable tinkerer that I am, I’m thinking about taking this recipe that I found on CocktailDB and tweaking it to either use honey syrup or maybe even dropping the syrup altogether and just increasing the falernum.