Category: Food
Rule 4
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:
  • 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.
  • 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
Tiki Month 2018

Battling the Dragon (Fruit)

Ye gods, Doug! What the hell is that? If Trader Vic and H R Geiger laid an egg, it'd look like that...
That, my fine, knitted friend, is a Dragonfruit, er, a Dragon Fruit. I'm still learning about this awesome bit of produce. Dragon Fruit, or Pitaya, is a cactus berry originally from Mexico, but is now cultivated throughout Central America, the US, and much of Asia. The plants look like giant aloes, and the flowers are as gorgeous as the berries.  And it is an awesome Tiki multi-tasker. It is gorgeous, delicious and can be put to use as a garnish in an extraordinary number of ways. It is also tasty as a snack with tropical drinks. Like a pineapple, there are a helluva lot of ways that you can butcher a Dragon Fruit. I'd like to go over a few that I've worked out for myself, which work well for both garnishing and eating. What is inside this pink demon berry is pretty cool. If you just slice off the top (it cuts smoothly, easily, and cleanly with a sharp knife), this is the cross section: The white stuff is a relatively dry (by berry standards), stiff pulp with edible black seeds evenly distributed throughout. The peel is a thick, leathery pink that peels easily away from the fruit underneath, as easy if not easier than a tangerine. You cannot peel a Dragin Fruit like an orange or tangerine though, as the peel is tougher, and doesn't tear easily. This is a good thing, as we will see. The first thing I tried was simply slicing the fruit into thin circles. It cuts really quite easily, and looks gorgeous. You could also cut them length-wise, or on an angle, and get different shapes for your slices. You can use these slices just like an oversized, exotic lime wheel. A single slit along a radius, and they perch happily on a glass in the same way. A downside is that they are not terribly flexible, so you can't bend them around the inside of the glass like a pineapple wheel or half wheel. They snap if you try. Regardless, this simple garnish element is hard to beat for color and contrast. The next thing to try is using the fruit in smaller bits, without the peel. As I said, the upside of Dragon Fruit is that the pulp cuts exceptionally easily and cleanly. I did not want to go digging through the PeguWife's candy and cookie cutters, so I just used my Leopold jigger to cut out circles from my quarter inch thick slices. Unlike most nice jiggers, with their thick rims, the Leopold actually makes a perfect cookie cutter, but whether you use the one or two ounce side, you will only get one Dragon Berry disk out of a typical cross section. You could use the disk with the hole missing in some other garnish application, I suppose, but I haven't tried that one yet. Next fruit, I'm going to get out the smallest round and star-shaped cookie punchers we have, and hopefully get three pieces from each cross-section. These look fabulous on toothpicks or other thin skewers, by themselves or especially stacked with other items like cherries, lime wheels, or kiwi slices. Be careful with the Dragon Fruit pieces during assembly, as without the peel, they are fragile. While fussing with the photo below, I broke a couple of disks while playing incessantly with the skewer. A more sturdy way to use the pulp is in thicker chunks. You can get quite a few cubes or wedges out of a single fruit, and they take skewering much more reliably. They also are great laid out for snacking, or nestled beside a drink on a nice coaster as a side garnish. You can even skewer several with other fruits like kiwi or pineapple and serve grilled. As soon as I buy more Dragon Fruit this weekend, that's going to be my first experiment. By themselves, raw, the fruit is hard to describe. Unlike every exotic meat, which you can just say "tastes like chicken", you can't say Dragon Berry tastes quite like anything common. I will say that it has a soft, subtle flavor that is sweet, but not strongly so, and the texture in your mouth is lovely. It also is less of a mess than lots of other, especially tropical, fruits like pineapple that tend to drip or bleed all over the plate and everything around it. So the fruit is great, but it would be a shame to just throw away that lovely, pink, leathery skin unused, right? If you slice your Dragon Fruit thin to punch out disks, you can remove the ring of skin with virtually no effort. Hang that ring off a swizzle stick, or with a single cut, turn it into a lovely ribbon garnish for up-style cocktail glass drinks, as I did below. The peel doesn't express oils, or hold a curl as well as a lemon zest ribbon, but it is stiffer. And it's neon pink! My final experiment was with the peel from the section of the fruit I cut for chunks. I simply cut a slab of it into a rectangle and slit in onto the rim of another up cocktail, though this would work as an understated garnish for any drink in a glass with a thin rim. Dragon Fruit (Pitaya) is really delicious, beautiful, and easy to be creative with behind the bar. I admit, it is hard to get started with your first, but a little willpower will get you over the fear of a Tiki-themed face-hugger popping out of it if you touch it, turning you into some horrifying moai. There are only three genuine drawbacks to Dragon Fruit that I have found. First, they are hard to find. They are seasonal, expensive, and quite thoroughly absent from almost all mainstream American supermarkets. But I have found them in international grocery stores (Hispanic and Asian), as well in a few larger supermarkets around town that carry more exotic varieties. Second, they are expensive. Let me know if you come up with a solution to this besides making more money... Third, they don't keep. I bought one last year to play with for Tiki Month. It was so pretty, I left it out to decorate my bar, and by the time I got over my fear of this alien berry, it... stopped being so pretty. I'm not going to let the peel go nasty with any of these that I buy this year, but can any of you tell me if the pulp goes bad as quickly as the peel? And what else do the rest of you do with Dragon Fruit? Let me know. I suddenly love these
Tiki Month 2016

Falernum Sous Vide

[caption id="attachment_11008" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Tiki in a pan! Tiki in a pan![/caption] Along with rum itself, there are two ingredients which practically define Tiki: Orgeat and Falernum. Now, vanishingly few Tiki drinks employ all three of this trinity, and indeed, there are Tiki drinks that employ none of them. But in the vast majority of recipes, there is no faster way to identify a Tiki drink than to spot rum and either falernum or orgeat. Truth to tell, of the two, I use orgeat a lot more. It is the Bartender's Ketchup of the Tiki world. Flavors too distinct? Put in some Orgeat. Mouthfeel too thin? Add some orgeat. Delicious but lacking that certain soo se mea lava? Orgeat is your special sauce. It is a bit of a passive ingredient, actually; identifiable more for its effects than for any distinct flavor of its own. Falernum is a much more assertive ingredient. It has strong, unique flavors. As a Tiki tool, it is a bit like a large band saw; employ it with exacting precision and it is fantastically useful. But if you get the slightest bit careless with it, the appeal will become... more selective. What I'm saying is, it is hard to master. Ditto for making it. In fact, falernum may be harder to make than it is to use. No one can agree what's in it. The ingredients that people do agree on require a lot of manual labor. The process is traditionally messy, gross looking, and immediately apparent to anyone in the building with a nose. And it requires a lot of time. As in, you will use your Calendar app, not your Stopwatch app. [caption id="attachment_11010" align="aligncenter" width="650"]This is the world's only known attractive photograph of the falernum process. —Kaiser Penguin This is the world's only known attractive photograph of the falernum process.
Kaiser Penguin[/caption] Fortunately, the increasing availability and affordability of sous vide technology can make this process much, much easier. Almost easy enough to do regularly.... Let's dive into the process, shall we? As I said, there is no definitive recipe for falernum. It's like cole slaw–everyone has their own. All cole slaw has cabbage and mayo. All falernum has clove and lime zest. Beyond that.... Back in the early, heady days of the 21st Century cocktail revival, there was quite a spate of blog activity in search of the definitive falernum. Two of the best results were from Kaiser Penguin (of the photo above), and Paul Clark's Velocity 9 Falernum #9. These days, much of the publishing world at least seems to settle on #9 as the default choice, probably because Paul has "connections"... and also "talent", and "a good recipe".
... aaaand after all that, you aren't going to use Paul's recipe, are you?
No, because I like a few elements of KP's, too. Incidentally, while the point of this post is to end up discussing how sous vide can make making falernum a lot more convenient, do not go and use the recipe blogged by Sous Vide Supreme, the people who make the water bath I own. It is too sweet and insipid in flavor. I realize I just spent too many bytes talking about how intimidating falernum is as an ingredient, but trying to overcome this by using a weak formulation is a bit like punching a bully lightly, or holding the stock of your 12 gauge away from your shoulder because you are afraid of the kick. It will not end well. Take a gallon Ziplock double seal bag. Put in one and a half cups of granulated sugar and three quarters of a cup of hot tap water. Seal and shake. You don't need to fully dissolve the sugar, but make sure there are no dry pockets. Set aside. Put 2 Tbsp of slivered almonds, 1 Tbsp of whole allspice berries, and 40-50 cloves in a small saucepan. Toast lightly over medium-low heat for about four to five minutes, or until your whole house smells like that gardener who smoked clove cigarettes and worked down the street when you were a kid. Allow to cool. Collect the zest of nine good, fresh limes. This is the hardest part of the process, and no sous vide will help with it. You want as much of the green from the peel as possible and none of the white pith. A peeler will probably go too deep, and you will need to finely chop the peel anyway. I use a small microplane and hold the lime with a kevlar glove (because grated Doug makes for funky falernum). It takes a long time and your fingers get sore, even if they don't get scraped. I have heard about a purpose built kitchen gadget called a Zip Zester that may no longer be made. Anyone have experience with this device? Put your toasted ingredients, the bowl of lime zest, and 5 coins of candied ginger into your bag of sugar water. Add three quarters of a cup of decent white rum (I like Cruzan aged light rum for this purpose), 3 tbsp of fresh lime juice, and a quarter to a half teaspoon of almond extract. Seal the bag and shake well to combine and to test. If your kitchen suddenly becomes sticky, you have not sealed the beg correctly. Set your sous vide oven or stick heater to 135° F. Open the seal on your bag slightly and lower it into the water right up to the top. This will force virtually all the air out of the bag. Seal it well again. Lift it out of the water and ensure all the solids are in contact with the liquid in the bottom of the bag and not trapped up above. Submerge the bag in the water and go on with your life for the next two to three hours. [caption id="attachment_11013" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Nope. Still not attractive. Nope. Still not attractive.[/caption] When you are ready, remove the bag and pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl or jar. Discard the spent, smelly, gooey crud in the strainer. Put some cheesecloth in the strainer and strain your falernum through again. Voila! Go make a Zombie. Even with the reduced mess and time of making your falernum sous vide, you still deserve a
Tiki Month 2016
Orange Liqueurs

Tiki Molecular Mixology

Keeping with the theme for this year's Tiki Month of "Modern Tiki", I'd like to present what has become a staple when I entertain during Tiki Months: Mai Tai Gels. These are cool for a variety of historic, philosophical, and practical reasons. When you consider truly 21st Century trends in the cocktail world over all, none is more truly such than Molecular Mixology in general and especially solidified cocktails. I like these treats in particular, as they combine perhaps the perfect classic early Tiki Cocktail with modern technique, all in a kitschy late-era Tiki look. And as an added bonus, they are bog easy to make. [caption id="attachment_10943" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Yummy... Yummy gummie[/caption] Rather than use any of the fancier liquid solidification techniques, I simply use gelatin. The result is sturdier than other methods, and since they are meant to be eaten as candies, that is a good thing. Aside from said gelatin, the recipe is exactly the same as the Mai Tai recipe that I believe to be closest to Trader Vic's original cocktail superweapon.
  • 1 oz. Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still rum (alternatively Smith & Cross)
  • 1 oz. gold or aged rum (e.g. Appleton V/X, Coruba, etc.)
  • 0.75 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 0.5 oz. Dry Curaçao (or Cointreau)
  • 0.5 oz. orgeat
  • 0.25 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 packet Knox Gelatine
  • 1.5 oz. water
The water is about the amount of melt you'd get from the ice if you were drinking it. It makes the gels taste right, and helps the gelatin bloom and set. Pour the gelatin into the water and stir. Let sit for five minutes to activate, then stir again. While this is blooming, heat the lime juice, orgeat, and simple syrup in your smallest pot to almost a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and scrape in the bloomed gelatin. Stir until the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and add in the rums and curaçao. Stir some more. Moai Ice Tray Set aside and prepare your molds. I use this cool moai ice tray. It has the virtue of being nearly the exact size needed to accommodate this recipe, with but a drop or two of waste. Before filling, simply give the tray a light spritz with Pam, and wipe off all excess with a paper towel. You will want to fill each mold to the brim, so I advise setting the mold on a tray or piece of cardboard. The molds are very flexible, and without support, you will spill some. Once you pour, carefully place in your fridge for at least three hours, preferably more. When you are ready to serve, peel the gels out of the ice tray with your fingers. Flexible silicone ice trays like the one I linked make this process easy. It will look like you are going to squash or tear the gels, but go slow and they will peel out perfectly. They are quite sturdy while chilled and can be eaten with you or your guests' fingers. Garnish as befits a true Mai Tai by laying each on a large mint
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