What is this crazy word you ask?! Well, if your drinks don’t tend to end up in the Tiki spectrum, then you might not be familiar with this cocktail ingredient. OH! But don’t leave us yet! Falernum is a sweet, spicy, and delicious liqueur (or syrup if made nonalcoholic) that can pep up your drinks this winter and we’re going to jump right in and let you decide… drum roll please… whether you should MAKE OR BUY Falernum!
Our monthly series brings us to the island of Barbados, where our “buy” suggestion, Velvet Falernum, the ubiquitous bottle associated with this particular cocktail ingredient is from. This has been the only alcoholic version available to purchase that I have seen. If you’ve come across another, please let us know! I was first introduced to Velvet Falernum when I started making drinks from Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log. While used in many a tiki drink, this ingredient is actually much older, and exact dates as to when people started making this are unclear (because it was made by, like, your mom at home). If you’d like to know more about the ingredient and its history, go visit Darcy O’Neil over at Art of Drink for his research. Although this bottle dominates the market, it’s a great buy with a pleasant flavor: lime, cloves, almond, ginger and a light sweetness. The pro to obtaining a bottle is that you don’t need to fill a shopping basket with ingredients to make this, and the flavor is consistent. And as it is distributed by Haus-Alpenz, you can probably find it in a major liquor store. It also will keep after being opened for at a minimum 6 months or longer. The con is that the the flavor is not as zingy or as bright as something freshly made. You also cannot control the sweetness or the flavors. And lastly, if you don’t want the extra alcohol, then Velvet Falernum is out for you.
On the other hand, making Falernum, whether as a lightly alcoholic liqueur or as just a syrup, is fairly easy to do and you might just have most of the ingredients on hand to do so (although I buy whole spices in bulk and often tend to have ingredients like whole cloves available). Besides being easy to make, another pro for a homemade version is that you can make it to your specifications (change out the base rum, more or less clove or ginger, etc…). The con is that it does take a few days to make, will only last refrigerated for about a month, and that from one batch to another it’s not going to necessarily taste the same. Also, you need to invest in some ingredients first to make this. Lastly, as with all the DIY versions, you have to make it. And if that’s a chore, the DIY version is not for you.
And how do they compare in a cocktail? The quintessential Bajan cocktail is the Corn ‘n’ Oil so of course I tested out the two in this drink. Recipe is below if you’d like to try your own. With the Velvet Falernum version, the drink was lighter in body with a lime heavy flavor. The black strap rum was also more prominent. For the homemade falernum cocktail, the taste was more complex and slightly sweeter with fresh lime and zingy ginger being dominate. The color on each of the cocktails was the same, probably to do with the darkness of the rum overpowering any differences in the color of the falernums.
A few notes:
- The way you toast your almonds and cloves is up to you. The easiest route is to put them on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven. I do not do this for two reasons. One, it means turning on my oven and making my kitchen unnecessarily hot. And two, it take awhile. I prefer getting out a frying pan and toasting them on the stove. It’s quick and done in a matter of minutes. However, if you are someone who turns a stove on and walks away and forgets about things… go the oven route.
- Invest in a nut bag if you enjoy doing these projects at home. Gone are the days where I would buy rolls and rolls of cheesecloth. I have one of these bags and I just wash it by hand immediately after using it and sure, it’s not pristinely white anymore, but it does a much better job of catching all the teeny tiny pieces of things while straining out liquids.
I hope I’ve gotten you mildly excited about Falernum and whether you decide to buy or go DIY, you’ve got two great places to start. If you do use one of these, please tag us so we can see your recipe! Cheers!
1 scant cup blanched almonds, roughly chopped and toasted
1 tablespoon whole cloves, toasted
1 piece of ginger, approximately 3″ long, roughly chopped with skin on
3 medium limes, zested and juiced
1-3/4 cup of overproof rum (110 proof used here)
1-1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
- In an airtight, nonreactive container, combine almonds, cloves, ginger, lime zest and juice, and rum. Seal, shake and let rest in a cool, dry place for 24 hours. After 24 hours, strain contents with a nut bag, squeezing the almonds to get as much liquid out as you can. Discard solids.
- Make the rich syrup by combining the sugar and water in a medium sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved and let syrup come to just a boil and then remove from heat. Let the syrup cool to room temperature and add the strained liquid to it. Stir to combine, seal, and let stand, refrigerated, for 24 hours. Falernum is ready to use after this second rest. Keep refrigerated for up to one month.
Corn ‘n’ Oil Cocktail
2 ounces of black strap rum
1/2 ounce of falernum
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
lime wedge for garnish
In a rocks glass, build your drink by pouring in black strap rum, falernum and bitters over ice. Squeeze your lime wedge over the top and optionally add to the drink. Stir gently to combine.