As part of rounding up Tiki Month, I’d like to discuss some ingredients I’ve discovered that are integral to Tiki.
The first is Falernum.
I had honestly never heard of this stuff until the last year, and had absolutely no idea what the heck it was. I will say the name evoked some unpleasant imagery in my mind. I somehow transmuted it to a mish-mash of Faust and Infernal, or some such mental breakdown. The result was that I instinctively rejected any recipe with falernum in it for quite a while. There seems to be no definitive position on the etymology of this word, but Darcy has a good story, while NationMaster has a drier idea.
But as I started ramping up for Tiki month, it became clear that if I wanted to do a complete job on the subject, I was going to have to deal with falernum. In fact, Wikipedia has the following thing to say about it:
Famous drinks including Falernum include:
- almost any Tiki drink
While this is yet another good example of why you should never trust Wikipedia, it does hold some grain of truth. Falernum is a very important ingredient in Tiki. It’s common, but by no means omnipresent.
I looked around and found a small bottle of falernum made by Fee’s. I bought it, but was confused. What little I had read about the stuff before shying away from the weird name led me to believe it was a liqueur, not a syrup. What is this stuff anyway?
The long and short of it is, falernum is a… a… an ingredient. It combines a number of flavors, including clove, lime, ginger, and almond into a pungent, exotic, viscous fluid. It was originally a liqueur, and many falernums are still manufactured that way. But in most modern applications, it is an accent ingredient, so the alcoholic content is less important.
It does not take much falernum in a drink to make its presence known. In most recipes with it, (that I have tried at any rate) falernum fills the same kind of function as bitters, when bitters wouldn’t be appropriate. It adds a sharp, bracing undertone to other flavors, adding interest and complexity to a drink. In several Tiki recipes, including a lot of Zombies, the falernum is what turns the drink from a nasty sweet punch, into a cocktail. I speculate that falernum’s increasing rarity may have been a contributing factor to Tiki drinks’ latter day reputation as goopy, lifeless messes.
Assuming you want your tiki drinks to not be sweet, bland messes, you’ll occasionally need falernum. It is not easy, but you can buy it. As I said already, Fee’s has a non-alcoholic version, which works quite nicely, at least to my uneducated tastes. The drinks I tried sure benefitted from its presence. Or you can get liqueur versions such as this one, at places like BevMo. It is not available in Ohio in alcoholic form, FYI.
But, as a Certified Cocktailian of the New School™, I of course wanted to know if I could make it myself. The answer, equally of course, is yes. And it is simple to do—not easy, but simple. In fact, though there seems to be no mention of falernum as a cocktail ingredient in bar books before the 1930s (birth of Tiki, anyone?), it seems to have existed long before that as one of those things, like ketchup, where everyone made their own, from their own recipe.
I kicked around the web a bit, looking for advice, before going back to where I knew I’d end up all along: Paul Clarke’s Falernum #8. This recipe seems to have become the de facto standard within the Cocktailosphere, so I went with it. I made one alteration, upon the advice of BOTI member, Rick at Kaiser Penguin, whose falernum post I am ninja-ing here. Here’s the link, where you can see a photo of his entirely unrealistically attractive falernum in progress, as well as a drink garnish that is a bit over the top, even for him. Oh, and he has a contest, too.
- 6 oz. 151 proof Rum (Use white overproof if you have it. I went with Bacardi)
- zest of 9 medium limes, removed with a microplane grater or sharp vegetable peeler, with no traces of white pith
- 40 whole cloves (buy fresh ones — not the cloves that have been in your spice rack since last Christmas)
- 1.5 oz. (by weight) peeled, julienned fresh ginger
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract (Paul calls for a quarter)
- 14 ounces cold process 2:1 simple syrup
- 4.5 oz. fresh, strained lime juice (This is the ingredient I omitted. See below)
Combine lime zest, cloves, ginger and rum in a sealed container and allow to marinate for at least 24 hours. Strain and squeeze through cheesecloth, discarding solids. Add almond extract and simple sugar. Shake thoroughly to combine. Add fresh lime juice when used, at a ratio of 1:4 juice to falernum, to replace the omitted juice.
Rick and others have found that Paul’s original #8 does not keep well. The juice rots, regardless of the preservative powers of 151 and 2-1 simple syrup combined. Add it back in, if needed, at mixing time.
I said this was simple, not easy. Zesting the limes so as to keep the pith to a minimum is a huge pain, in more ways than one. I recommend the microplane, with plenty of Neosporin standing by for when you are done.
The resulting alcoholic syrup is a muddy color, much greener than the Fee’s. It is very fragrant too, in a pleasant-but-not-delicious-on-its-own kind of way.
I tried it in a Jet Pilot, my favorite falernum-based tiki drink, and I felt it made for a subtle but noticeable improvement. Generally, the home-made was cleaner. The flavors were the same, perhaps a little floral, but there just were fewer uninvited hangers-on.
I’ll leave you with an early Trader Vic cocktail that really puts this stuff front and center (tip o’ the hat to Slashfood):
- 2 oz. dark or gold rum
- .75 oz. fresh lime juice
- .25 oz. Cointreau
- .25 oz. your freshly made falernum
Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lime zest.
If you want an example of how robust falernum is, and how easily it takes over a cocktail, try this one. It isn’t really to my taste, as it is far too pungent for me. If you like strongly flavored drinks, and are making falernum, it is definitely worth a try.