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 choice.