Falernum seems to be today's "it" ingredient among Tikiphiles. A lot of debates are being waged about the quality of commercially available Falernums and how to properly use them. Looking through a number of my favorite cocktail blogs, it would seem that anybody worth their salt as a mixologist is making their own Falernum (and not necessarily just one version, either).
Ok, so what is this stuff?, you ask. Predominantly flavored with lime juice/zest, clove, ginger and almond, Falernum is used in a broad number of Tropical drinks and provides a citrus tang along with sweetness and spices. It is available as both a liqueur as well as a syrup. There is a prevailing wisdom that the liqueur version is better in simpler cocktails in which the Falernum features prominently; and that the syrup, is better for Tiki drinks, where it plays more of a supporting role, accenting the flavor of the rums and other ingredients.
Today, for the first time, I bought a bottle of each of the two most widely available versions: Fee Brother's Falernum syrup (non-alcoholic) as well as the John D. Talyor's Velvet Falernum (11% vol.). I sampled each and made a couple of the more famous of the Falernum-based cocktails.
As for the flavors of the basic products, both have similar impressions upon first nosing - primarily clove with some lime and other spices in the background. On the palate, the Taylor's is smoother and better balanced. The Fee Brothers' is significantly more tangy and citrusy and also very sweet, with a slightly processed character. I like the tanginess of the Fees', but overall there is more going on with the Taylor's.
First up in cocktails is the Corn n' Oil, a simple drink made only from rum, Falernum and a dash or two of Angostura bitters. Some will add a lime squeeze. Forget the recipe on the back of the Taylor's bottle - that is way too self-serving an amount of Falernum. Better is one of the links on the Wikipedia site (the drinkdogma site - and don't fail to follow all the embedded links). Cruzan Black Strap rum with its strong molasses flavors is getting rave reviews by many and is where I have decided to start this journey.
Corn n' Oil
2 oz. Cruzan Black Strap or Lemon Hart 80 proof Demerara rum
1/2-1 oz. Taylor's Velvet Falernum
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Pour into a cocktail shaker half filled with cracked ice. Shake and pour, unstrained, into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Ok, I have absolutely no idea why this is called corn n' oil. Clearly there is no corn in it, nor oil and I don't really think that it tastes of either. But what I will tell you is this. Corn n' Oil = pretty damn good. With the Cruzan Black Strap rum, there is a STRONG molasses flavor to this. The falernum is in the background, even with 1 oz., but definitely provides some sweetness and an extra flavor dimension to the drink. A very interesting tipple - one worth exploring in the future, maybe with a lighter rum.
- So just after typing this, I've decided to move on to another one made with Lemon Hart Demerara 80 proof, a great mixing rum. It's definitely showing more falernum character (again using 1 oz. of Taylor's) along with the classic Lemon Hart burnt demerara sugar flavors, and now even the Angostura bitters are showing through. Clearly different beasts, both versions are eminently enjoyable, but I'd say the Lemon Hart version creates the better overall drink with each of the ingredients playing a noticable supporting role, resulting in a better overall balance. The back of the bottle recommends Doorly's rum - a Barbados brand possibly worth trying in the future.
Next up is the Jet Pilot. The inspiration for making this cocktail came from the Kaiser Penguin blog, where he lists this as one of his favorite Tiki drinks (How could he neglect the Mai Tai? - well, I left my comment...). Yes, it involves a dizzying array of ingredients, including a few which he painfully makes himself, including the Falernum (KP loves Thomas Kelleresque recipes - see his pearl diver's punch cocktail - yikes). I forewent the home-made Falernum, but I did make the cinnamon syrup per his recipe using cinnamon from Penzey's and plain white cane sugar. The Jet Pilot recipe on KP is the same as on Wikipedia and originally comes from Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's Sippin' Safari Tiki tome.
1/2 oz lime juice (used fresh squeezed)
1/2 oz grapefruit juice (used fresh squeezed)
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup (I made KP recipe, link above)
1/2 oz falernum (Taylor's Velvet or Fee Brothers)
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 oz dark Jamaican rum (I used Coruba)
3/4 oz gold Puerto Rican rum (I used Bacardi)
3/4 oz 151-Proof Lemon Hart Demerara Rum (I used LH 151)
6 drops Pernod (I used Herbsaint)
4 oz crushed ice
Put everything into a blender, adding crushed ice last, and blend at high speed for five seconds. Pour into an old-fashioned glass and add cracked ice to your preference.
Wow - now this is a tropical drink that I can't believe I've been missing all these years. A bevy of flavors going on in this - quite a different brew than my typical tropical drink with the cinnamon syrup and falernum, but awesome balance of sweet and tart with some nice spices going on. I love grapefruit, and it fits in to this drink nicely.
I made two versions, one with the Taylor's falernum and one with the Fee Brothers' falernum. My first impression was that both of these made a fine drink. The drink with Fees' was slightly brighter with more tangy citrus notes (like the individual product) . Julie preferred the Fees' favoring its citrusy, fruity profile over the slightly more bitter Taylor's. I felt that the drink with Taylor's Velvet Falernum was more even-keel with better overall balance and complexity. Edge to Taylor's Velvet Falernum for me.
Final Notes - Falernum is an interesting and different mixer. Anyone with an interest in tiki cocktailology(?) owes it to themselves to try this and make a few cocktails with it. This was my first time having both the Corn n' Oil and the Jet Pilot. The Jet Pilot epitomizes all that is great about tropical drinks - depth of flavors and complexity, along with refreshing and fruity qualities. It deserves its place among the top tier of tropical drinks. The Corn n' Oil is really a showcase of rum and falernum. While I don't necessarily think that this will become my favorite drink, it is an interesting beverage which certainly merits an occasional visit.