Category: Rule 4
Recipes
Rule 4
Syrups
Tiki Month 2018

So What’s Up With Fassionola?

Toward the start of this year's Tiki Month, I got an email from a man in California named John Malloch, who wanted to send me some bottles of Fassionola to play with over Tiki Month. Most people have never heard of Fassionola. Most who have are Tiki-philes who have seen the name listed in very old versions of Tiki cocktails from back in the early Golden Age of Tiki. I've seen mention of it every year I've done Tiki Month, but had given up bothering to try to find any meaningful information on it, much less getting my hands on any. I've been missing out, and in a number of ways. First off, Fassionola is a cool syrup, with interesting flavors, that goes a very long way. Secondly... there's a great story behind it, and a bit of modern controversy over the name. What more could I ask for? For the uninitiated, Fassionola is a bar syrup that comes in three "flavors": Red, Gold, and Green. All are extremely sweet and viscous. It was a big favorite of Don the Beachcomber in particular, but as far as I can tell, most of his original recipes that used it have long been updated to use alternate ingredients. The original Fassionola was not and is not a modern, organic, artisinal, hipster product. The ingredients start with high-fructose corn syrup, throw in a bit of fruit for flavor, add some citric acid, then all the usual suspects for preservation, texture, and color. I'm certain the stuff originally used cane sugar, but hey with Federal fat cat carve out tax codes being what they are, HFCS just makes more sense in the modern world.... If your passion is "healthy living", original Fassionola is probably not for you. But if your passion is healthy living, why the hell would you even look at almost any Tiki drink? If your passion is historical authenticity in your Tiki drinks, then you need some of this Fassionola.
Disclaimer: The use of the phrase "historical authenticity", when referring to anything Tiki, may result in gales of laughter. Please remember that virtually nothing about Tiki, much less the whole, is in any way authentically Polynesian.
The Johnathan English Co. is the original maker of Fassionola, producing it for going on a hundred years now. They are a small food service company in California. They have an information-free website that is buried so far down in Google search results I can't find it. That website doesn't even mention Fassionola (or any specific product). And Jonathan English sports no social media presence at all. Let the Fassionola saga be a lesson to all small, sleepy, getting-along-just-fine-thank you companies out there like this: Intellectual property issues are a bitch.
Alright kids, this is about to be a parable!
For decades, J. English sold limited batches of Fassionola through distributors like John to various bars who used it largely as a bit of a "secret ingredient". You can get it by the bottle from a store on eBay that has it regularly (Red, Gold, and Green) But for most of the last 30-50 years, 99.9% of the planet had no idea of Fassionola's existence. Even as Tiki began to rise from the dead, even most tikiphiles had no idea what it was. And almost no one who had heard of Fassionola was aware it was still made. As Tiki became more and more of an elaborate modern day obsession, people began looking into what Fassionola was, and if it could be still obtained. A journalist went searching for the maker, and checked in at the address listed on the old labels. Jonathan English had recently moved to new digs practically next door, but the new tenant at their old address said they'd never heard of J. English. A web search still pretty much fails to find any trace of the company (at least for me), and between these two items, the writer seems to have assumed reasonably that the company had gone the way of all flesh. This sort of Lost Ingredient story is catnip for the craft cocktail crowd. A small, go-getter craft syrup company decided to try to re-engineer Fassionola and market it. J. English did notice this, and now there appears to be a dispute ongoing. I can see arguments for both sides, and since IP disputes are as much catnip for me as Lost Ingredient stories, I will watch interestedly to see how it all works out. In the meantime, I now know (as do you, Dear Reader) where I can get original Fassionola. If you are interested in the modern contender, it's also red. It's made by Cocktail & Sons and features hibiscus and strawberry flavors. I haven't tried it, as it is out of stock currently, but I don't see those two ingredients resulting in a flavor very similar to Fassionola Red. Have you tried the C&S syrup? If so, I'd love to hear your take on it. So, what does one do with this new product information? Here are two ideas. The first is a recommendation of my source John, the Cobra's Fang. It is an old Don the Beachcomber original, and an ancestor of the Lion's Fang, another drink I didn't get around to writing up this Tiki Month. Here is the best version I have found:
COBRA'S FANG
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz Velvet falernum
  • 1/2 oz Fassionola Red
  • 1 oz dark Jamaican rum
  • 1 oz 151 Demerara rum
  • 1 splash grenadine
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Flash blend all ingredients with 8+ ounces of small ice. Pour into a pint or hurricane glass, and top with more ice. Garnish with mint and lime.
This is a big, tart drink. It is strikingly red, so I recommend a clear vessel to show it off. Second, Fassionola makes an excellent non-alcoholic addition to your Tiki menu. Given the name ends in "-ola", I would bet it was originally a soap pop syrup. It is easy to employ in that capacity.
FASSIONOLA SODA
  • 1 oz Fassionola syrup (Red is again my favorite)
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • Seltzer water
Add syrup and juice to a pint glass. Add a couple of ounces of soda water and stir well. (It will take a while to emulsify the Fassionola). Add ice, and top with more soda. Finish with a final stir and garnish with lime and cherries.
The resulting soda is really quite good. It's nice without the fresh lime, but I think it's more balanced and more refreshing with a splash of fresh citrus. It's good both for teetotalers and designated drivers at your party, and just as a nice evening extender. Fassionola is also interesting in a Hurricane. I much prefer my passion fruit syrup over it in mine, but for someone who wants something that tastes like a modern Pat O'Brien's Hurricane (except palatable) this is your choice.abc
Tiki Month 2018
Rule 4
Clothing

Tiki Month Editorial: We Have a Problem in Aloha Shirt City

We have a serious problem, folks. A problem with... Hawaiian shirts! I know... how can there possibly be a problem with aloha-wear? The whole point of tropical pattern shirts is to live the no problem life. This is factual. But as the whole tropical/Tiki lifestyle becomes more popular once again, corporations do what they do: Screw things up for everyone through ignorance, avarice, or laziness. (Usually all three.) Aloha shirts (for men at least) have specific look, buried under all that incredible variety of pattern, that is designed to deliver the required comfort and insouciant air that you look for in such garments. They are loosely constructed of woven fabric, button all the way down, and have an open, unconfining collar. The construction design style is called the Camp Shirt. Now, look at this next shirt. Young man, You. Are. Doing. It. Wrong. This is unfair of course. I'm sure this professional model was happy to pop on whatever shirt he was paid to wear. He didn't choose to wear it.
Sure, but I am going to go ahead and hold that hairstyle against him....
Look, the real problem here is this whole idea of aloha print Polo-style shirts. There is nothing wrong with pullovers. I wear them all the time. The problem is companies thinking you can make an Hawaiian shirt with this construction style. Remember my comment about modern businesses screwing things up through ignorance, avarice, or laziness? This trend hits all three. Ignorance: Clothing exec reads a trade article in Vogue that says Aloha is back in a big way. Exec asks himself, "What's Aloha?", does a Google Search, and exclaims, "Oh, it's Hawaiian prints!" He then asks Marjorie to have the plant run off five floral prints in their basic knit.... Avarice: Marjorie tells her boss that she always remembers Magnum wearing camp shirt styles. He replies that knit pullovers use a lot less fabric than woven camp shirts, and he'd rather make an extra buck-seventy five per unit sold. Laziness: Exec goes home and mentions the new Hawaiian Polo to his wife. She starts to go on about Magnum as well. Exec considers dimly that all the women around him seem damned impressed with young Tom Selleck. He decides to call the plant manager and ask about camp shirts. The manager notes that it is a lot of work to match those complex parrot and surfboard pictures across a two piece shirt front, and he'd rather not bother. Exec agrees, and we get the monstrosity above. Listen to the women, Mr. Executive. The chest hair is optional. The comfy, casual camp wear construction is not. Ideally, you match the pattern. In practice, you get it moderately close. Half the time, your customers will wear it over a t-shirt and not even button it at all.abc
Recipes
Rule 4
Tiki Month 2018
Whisky

Tiki Drink: London Sour

The London Sour and I were born in the same year. What year? Never you mind, buster. Suffice it to say that it was a tumultuous year, where American military aggression stained our souls and the rest of the world was damned ungrateful for what we did for them, civil rights were torn by controversy over whose inalienable rights were more inalienable, there were violent clashes in the streets between groups of citizens who for the most part didn't know what the hell the other (or indeed, their own) side was talking about, and the Russians were making trouble.
So, you were born in 2016?
1965. Jerk. Anyway, the London Sour is a Trader Vic original, which you can find in Beachbum Berry's Intoxica. I want to blog about it for two reasons. One, it is a Tiki drink that uses scotch as the base spirit. Scotch! And two, it is instructive about the progression of Tiki historically. Please note that neither of those reasons is that the London Sour is good. Because, spoiler alert, it isn't terribly. It is quite drinkable, of course. Vic didn't make crappy drinks. But by 1965, he seems to have clearly been coming to the end of his powers. The Tiki drink oeuvre was similarly reaching its senescent phase as well. The dark, exotic, unctuous... unfamiliar profile of the early work was sliding into a more modern, lighter flavor palate.
LONDON SOUR
  • 2 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz orgeat
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 2 oz blended scotch
Shake well with small ice, and pour unstrained into a lowball glass. Garnish with leftover citrus.
This is a pleasant, utterly unchallenging drink. The scotch comes through, sure, but manages to be blandly unremarkable, despite being scotch in a Tiki drink. There is far more orange juice than should be present in any drink beyond a screwdriver, which the London Sour tastes mostly like. What is missing in this drink is the flavor alchemy that I so love in early Tiki drinks. You can pick out every ingredient in this drink from the sip. That's not a bad thing in many cocktails, but I think an important part of a Tiki drink is the creation of new, unidentified flavors. abc
reviews
Rule 4
Vacations
Whiskey

Distillery Tour: Wild Turkey

WTWelcomeHome The second stop on this year's toddle down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was at the venerable site of the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg. A few years back, Campari purchased Wild Turkey for well over half a billion dollars. Since then, they have put more than a hundred million dollars into the brand and the site. I was curious to see how much that new international corporate influence I'd perceive on our tour. Those perceptions, good and bad, are all interesting. The first place a visitor sees that money at work in the new visitor center, where tours begin and end. This is a great facility. It is filled with entertaining displays of bourbon and Wild Turkey history, a cathedral of a tasting room with a fabulous view the Kentucky River, and a shop with all manner of entertaining (and/or delicious) inventory on offer. I'll come back to this location when I get to the tasting outlay, but I'll note one cool thing from when we first arrived. An elderly gentleman wandered into the lobby as our tour was getting ready to go. An elderly gentleman named Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey for about as long as I've been alive. The visitor center made no fuss about his appearance, he just ambled in for a few minutes. This left most of the tour group standing around awkwardly, wondering why about five of us were treating this little old man like he was Elvis.... WTJimmyRussel It seems that Jimmy makes this visit often when he is in town, but I wouldn't absolutely count on meeting him. The tours leave on the hour, and from the outset, that new corporate ownership showed. Don't get me wrong. Most all big Kentucky outfits are owned by multi-nationals now. But for virtually all of them, job one is concealing this from visitors' subconscious. History, heritage, and craft are the bywords that other Bourbon Trail distilleries tend to shape their tours to convey, and more importantly, it is what virtually all visitors are looking for. The tour itself at Wild Turkey is industrial. It felt more like I was on the Ford F-150 plant tour as part of a visit to the Henry Ford in Detroit. (Caveat: I love the Rouge plant tour. It makes you proud to be a human being. If you've never been to the Henry Ford, it's worth a trip to Detroit all by itself. The plant tour is only a part of it.) The Wild Turkey tour is a fine industrial tour, and I certainly enjoyed it. Parts of it are extremely well done. But it left me unsatisfied, so let's examine why. The tour commences with a ride on a comfortable bus up to the top of the hill to the new distillery building. The bus thing is the first discordant note. I'm used to walking the entire tour. It makes many of these giant facilities seem almost intimate. I like to wander, but at Wild Turkey, every time I strayed out of a straight line from bus to door, I felt almost naughty. WTExterior This new facility was actually under construction before the Campari acquisition. (I think. The timeline of the plant expansion and the sale are both a little murky.) The new distillery features all new and up to date stills and fermenting vats. The plant is capable of producing double the old facility—nearly 11 million gallons of whiskey a year. The new still runs at the same rate as the old one. The increase in production comes from the truly vast collection of fermenters that produce enough mash to keep the new still running for much more of the day. Wild Turkey is now a three-shift operation when it is not shut down for Summer maintenance. Upon entering the building, there is a nice little display that demonstrates the grains in Wild Turkey's mash bill. Out of all the distillery tours I've been on, this segment is actually one of the more cogent and educational descriptions of what the raw ingredients of bourbon are, and how they are handled that I've seen. But it takes place in a cinder block room with fluorescent lighting. If you saw this exact display at Makers Mark, they'd have it in an unlit, decrepit shed with dented scrap copper and a wooden plow in the corner.... WTGrains Next you go up the stairs to the only actively disappointing part of the tour: The big still itself. How on Earth do you make a giant piece of state of the art copper equipment boring? You don't let me into the room with it. You see the still through a set of large plate glass windows—large, slightly dirty, definitely wet windows. [caption id="attachment_11420" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]This lovely picture of the countryside is brought to you by the fact that your view of the new still is so obstructed I couldn't get a single usable photograph of it. This lovely picture of the countryside is brought to you by the fact that the view of the new still is so obstructed I couldn't get a single usable photograph of it.[/caption] Of all the quirks of this tour, the wall between us and the still was the only one that I was consciously annoyed by at the time. You can't see the still properly, but worse, you can't hear it. You can't feel its vibrations. (I assume. It wasn't running, due to the calendar.) You can't breathe the same air. There's a condom joke here, but I can't quite nail it down.... After the still room, you do get to walk amongst the truly vast arena of fermenting vats. This room is truly impressive, and you do very much get to breathe the same air here. I can't imagine how glorious (or overpowering) the aroma would be on a hot spring day. It also was the place where I learned my "one new thing" on this tour. I've been on so many distillery tours, I've heard virtually every detail before. But I always get something new, and the one I learned here is a doozy. Whenever you enter a fermenting room, the floor is just a few feet below the top of the giant tubs, and it is always a metal grid or sports widely spaced floorboards. I always assumed this was so you could easily access the top of the vats, but it is really so you don't die. So much CO2 roils out of the fermenters when they are running, it is dangerous. Fortunately, CO2 is heavier than air. The floor is elevated to keep you from literally drowning, and it has lots of room for air flow so that the CO2 can easily sink down where people don't walk during operations. Wild Turkey has huge ventilation systems to clear out the gas from down below. However, our guide said that there are still days when all vats are going that the CO2 levels are so high, they can't even conduct the tours on the elevated floor. After the fermenters, you spend more time in a cinder block stairwell, with a display of Wild Turkey products, past and present. The actual story the guide tells is pretty fun, but again the environment is... stark. After than, it is back on the bus. You ride past the brand new, ultra-modern bottling facility on the way to the rick houses. Note that I say that you ride past. They brag about how awesome it is, and how when bourbon production is down, they run tanker trucks full of Skyy vodka through there. But they don't take you in! I kept expecting them to take us in on the way back, but no dice. WTRickOutside The ricks are great. To a certain extent, ricks are ricks, but the house Wild Turkey has chosen to show off is a beaut. The view from it is that bridge picture I petulantly stuck in above. The exteriors have just the right amount of whiskey mold to look cool but not too nasty. Inside, there is good light and great smells. I like the fact that there has been some recent wood replacement right where the tour stops inside, which illustrates very nicely the amount of engineering and maintenance has to go into these expertly designed buildings that look to the casual observer like beat-up old sheds full of barrels. (Caveat: They are beat-up old shed full of barrels. The twin facts that their design makes for some pretty amazing chemical reactions happening within, and that they don't fall down and kill everyone nearby, make for the engineering marvel aspect.) WTRick It was a cool bit of chance that as we were entering the rick house, we ran into Jimmy's son Eddie as he was leaving. He had been in there before us, checking on the progress of some unknown number of barrels, and took a few moments to say hello. It was a neat little add-on that reminds you that for all that this is a half-billion dollar operation, it also remains a deeply personal, hands-on one. [caption id="attachment_11426" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Is it just me, or does this man look sheepish to have been "caught" drinking bourbon right out of the barrel at 11:20 in the morning? Is it just me, or does this man look sheepish to have been observed drinking bourbon right out of the barrel at 11:20 in the morning?[/caption] After we left the rick, we boarded that bus again, and it was back to the visitor center for the best part of the tour: the tasting. And I mean that in all seriousness. I don't just mean the products are good, though the tasting did provide a good reminder that Wild Turkey's products, top to bottom, are a helluva lot better than most people imagine they are. (More on that issue in another post.) But also, the tasting room is a cathedral. [caption id="attachment_11427" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Almost literally. Almost literally.[/caption] The sunlight-drenched tasting room has a view that in a single glance explains why they thought it was a good idea to put the visitor center so far away from the actual heart of the distillery. Inside, the space is dominated by the massive copper form of the old column still Wild Turkey employed for decades before the renovation. I will admit this exhibit does make up a smallamount for that big wall between you and the current still. You can get right up to it, look inside, and get a feel for the scale of the thing. WTTastingRoom The samples themselves are all quite tasty. As I said, Wild Turkey is a much better product than many people, especially outside their old-line demographic, believe. When was the last time you saw a craft bartender grab a bottle of Wild Turkey to make a drink? That's a shame, really. The only oddity I felt during the tasting was an almost sneer at their own rye product. Or not at their product, but at rye as a category in comparison to bourbon. Wild Turkey was one of the only American distilleries that kept the beacon of rye burning during the category's long sojourn in the wilderness, before its current resurgence. I would expect that they would do more to emphasize both their part in making sure there is rye to drink, and in making such a good rye. We enjoyed the tour, but I can only give a qualified recommendation for a visit to Wild Turkey. If you are a fan of Kickin' Chikin, by all means, go. And for Bourbon Trail veterans, it is a pleasant stop on the way to seeing it all. But for the casual visitor, who might only visit one or two distilleries on an isolated trip to or through Kentucky, there are many better, more entertaining choices for a good time. Simply put, this tour could be so much improved. The bus is unavoidable, given the spread out nature of Wild Turkey's plant. But for goodness sake, take the bean counters out and give them a high colonic with Russell's Reserve. Spend some money on the currently dreary spaces in which the tour spends most of its time. Make it feel like a Kentucky distillery, and not a mall parking garage in Chicago. There are wineries in California who make less wine in a year than Wild Turkey distills in a day, yet have multi-million dollar "chateaus" whose only purpose is to provide visitors with the impression of age and class. All of the Kentucky distilleries, except for Makers Mark, fall a bit short in this regard, but none so starkly as Wild Turkey. Let us get a view inside that high-tech bottling plant, or pretend it doesn't exist. One or the other. A lot of work clearly went into designing this tour, and I'm sorry to say that a lot more is needed to get it right. I know this was a lot less positive post than I usually write, but I have a follow-up coming with a whole lot good and fun to say about Wild Turkey. That one will reference a lot of things in this one, so I hope you stick around to read that one too.abc
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