Homemade Falernum

by Matt Robold on April 14, 2009

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.

Captain’s Blood

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.

{ 22 comments }

Tiare April 14, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Nice post, nice pics, nice drink, nice garnish! nice everything Dood, and i greatly enjoyed the reading!

Seems like Erik sits with a treasure..and what i think of the #2 i will tell you when i`ve made it.

T

Karl April 14, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Hi Rumdood! Nice review, I’ve been wondering for a while what the heck falernum is. I noticed somewhere that you visited Heaven’s Dog while in SF – what did you think of the cocktails? I’ve heard very good things…

Tony Harion April 15, 2009 at 3:43 am

Hey Matt,
Nice post! I´ve never made a batch of falernum myself, but I’ve wanted for a long time…
I might try your recipe soon… I´ll let you know!
Cheers,
Tony

Matt Robold April 15, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Tiare: Thanks! Let me know what you think.

Karl: I loved Heaven’s Dog. I need to go back, frequently. I was especially fond of the Cap. Haitian Rum Honey, which is essentially a Rum Old Fashioned made with honey syrup and a massive ice cube. Sooooo good.

Tony: Please do and let me know what you think!

Dr. Bamboo April 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm

I’m glad you opted not to do the chilled cocktail glass…that is a great photo!

And thanks for linking the various falernum recipes- Now I can print ‘em out and keep ‘em in my giant binder o’ cocktail knowledge.

Shirow66 April 15, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Falernum with fresh lime juice in it is delicious and I could drink it straight from the bottle. I just recently made my falernum #2 using Kaiserpenguin’s recipe. For my first batch I used Paul Clarke’s #8 recipe but I didn’t have overproof rum so I used El Dorado 3 year old and it turned out weak in alcohol but tasty. I like your addition of Lemon Hart 151 but I’m not too sure about the star anise. They have a really strong flavor and 2 seem a bit overkill to me. And please bring on more drinks using falernum, I really need to widen my repertoire.

Matt Robold April 15, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Dr. B: I really like this drink on the rocks as opposed to up, so I’m glad I did it that way too!

Matt Robold April 15, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Shirow66: The star anise was a complete random shot in the dark when I was making my falernum #1. I only did 1 star for that, but when I tried to correct the half-batch/full-batch issue I added absinthe, which has that same black licorice flavor to it and it turned out really well, so I figured I’d go with 2 stars. The ginger, lime, and cloves are sufficiently strong to keep the anise flavor from dominating the palate in my opinion.

If you try or tweak this recipe, I’d love to hear about it!

Doug Winship April 16, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Congratulations Matt!
You win the prize of being the first of us to do a post on making Falernum with pictures that make the project seem remotely appetizing! A very serious well done.

Anthony November 3, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Does the lime/lemon juice stint this recipe’s shelf-life?

Also, couldn’t I just omit the juice? It appears as though most concoctions calling for falernum have some measure of citrus juice. Wont this suffice?

thanks for the great post!!

– A

Matt Robold November 3, 2009 at 2:36 pm

The use of citrus juice does cut down on the shelf-life, though the sugar and the overproof rum do help. If you’re concerned about shelf-life, leave out the citrus juice and just add some additional juice when you use the falernum. In my opinion the drinks tend to be to “heavy” or “dark” without the added juice, but there’s no reason you couldn’t just add it when you make the drink.

Anthony November 3, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Can’t wait to open this jar… OP-EN, OP-EN, OP-EN

here’s the progress report: http://bit.ly/e0fJl

Thanks again Mr. Dood!!

erik_ellestad November 9, 2009 at 11:10 am

Oops, I did promise to divide that bottle of Falernum and send it out, didn’t I?

Wonder if it is still any good?

Matt Robold November 9, 2009 at 11:14 am

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s not any good. ;-)

Mistahunter December 2, 2009 at 6:15 am

Dood – How long is the shelf-life for this. I think I will whip some up for the holidays.

Thanks

Matt Robold December 2, 2009 at 7:51 am

Mistahunter: It lasts a few weeks, easily. The alcohol and sugar both act as preservatives.

If you’re looking for it to last even longer, leave out the fruit juice and simply add a little lime and lemon juice whenever you use the falernum.

3030vision January 9, 2010 at 6:11 pm

In you’re curious about the alcohol content in this falernum, it’s about 23% (46 proof). Feel free to check my math:

RumDood’s Falernum:
8 oz Wray & Nephew (63%) = 5.04 oz alcohol
2 oz Lemon Hart (75.5%) = 1.51 oz alcohol
=6.55 oz of alcohol in rum

10 (oz rum)
14 (oz simple)
4.5 (juice)
—-
=28.5 oz total liquid

6.55 (oz alc) / 28.5 oz total liquid = ~23% alcohol content in this falernum

I just made a new batch based on this recipe with some adjustments and cut the simple syrup down to 10.5 oz. My falernum is a little over 26% (52 proof ;)

Bill Connelly May 6, 2010 at 12:36 am

Very cool. I never thought the Fee Brother’s Falernum was up to scratch. I’m defiantly going to give this a try.

Jon L March 24, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Thanks for the post! Smuggler’s Cove in SF inspired me to make my own falernum, and your recipe was a great guide. I love the herbaceous quality of falernum, it is such a killer addition to rum cocktails. I tried the captains blood as recommended, with less simple syrup and more falernum, and its delicious.

Carson Quinn November 10, 2011 at 3:05 am

Ok my first shot at making falernum and i’m absolutely in love with the result. Of course I don’t have much to compare it with and being in Jakarta some of the ingredients are nearly impossible to get. Also having a professional kitchen at my disposal I was able to sous-vide rather than steeping for 24 hours. Here’s my recipe:

CQ’s Dirty Hands Falernum #1

Zest of 9 small limes
40 whole cloves
3 whole star anise
15 ml mild molasses
I cinnamon stick
50 grams grated fresh ginger (maybe increase a bit in batch #2)
300 ml Havana club anejo blanco rhum

vacuum pac and sous-vide for 45 minutes 52.3c

chill and strain through cheese cloth making sure to squeeze the cloth well with your hands to extract the liquid

now mix with:

100ml fresh lime juice
250ml liquid fructose
100ml simple syrup
2.5ml vanilla extract

yields 750ml

Cheers!

El Tio del Tdot August 26, 2012 at 8:43 am

How long does your #2 last in the fridge? I’d imagine at least 3 months with the alcohol
In there. Thanks!

Matt Robold August 26, 2012 at 10:25 am

In my experience, about 2-3 months before it starts to go off. It’s the citrus that starts to change first.

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