Ever since I stumbled across the word ‘Falernum’ in a cocktail book, I’ve been keen to get my hands on some. It’s fun to say, sounds vaguely mysterious and medicinal (probably because it sounds like ‘Phenergan’, an antihistamine that apparently has a sedative effect on kids – bonus!) and has its origins in tiki drinks, which are fun all round. Whee! Falernum! Good times. But what, exactly, is it?
In a nutshell, falernum is a mixture of lime and spices that was invented in Barbados sometime in the 1800s. There’s a great article about it here if you’re interested in its history. It adds an intriguing note of sweetness and baking spice to drinks and may just be that key ingredient you can taste in a tiki drink, but not name. Commercially, I’ve come across falernum as a non-alcoholic syrup and as an alcoholic, rum-based liqueur (several brands are available from the legends at Only Bitters). There are also many recipes available if you’d like to make your own, most of which use rum and various spices and sound delicious.
Homemade anything usually beats store-bought, but I confess I decided to cheat and buy a bottle of the non-alcoholic syrup instead of making my own, partly because it was cheaper than the liqueur kind and partly because I wanted to experiment with it and find out if I even liked it before taking the plunge and making my own. The Monin falernum syrup (pictured above) is thick, sweet and almondy with a heady aroma of vanilla and a kick of clove on the palate; it’s a bit like orgeat but with extra flavours. It adds a slightly thick, syrupy texture to drinks and would probably work well in my favourite tiki drink, a Mai Tai – I plan to use it in one instead of orgeat just as soon as we get some hot weather.
In the meantime I’ve experimented and come up with a simple cocktail recipe that I’m calling the Falernum Fizz. Here it is:
20ml falernum syrup
30ml orange liqueur (eg triple sec, Cointreau or a citrus-infused vodka)
about 150ml freshly squeezed orange juice
soda water, to top up
Short tumbler/Old Fashioned glass
Add all ingredients except soda water to the glass and stir briefly to combine. Add enough ice cubes so that the level of fluid rises to about 3/4 full, and stir again. Top up with soda water and garnish with mint. Drink when you wish it was hot enough for a Mai Tai!
This depends on which orange liqueur you use. Triple sec gives this drink a Tang-like flavour; Cointreau adds depth and makes it more sophisticated; orange or mandarin vodka keep things more neutral so that all you’re really tasting is the falernum and OJ, and that ain’t a bad thing. Overall, this is a very easy cocktail to drink – it’s basically alcoholic breakfast juice, and so sweet a kid would love it (but do not use it as a substitute for Phenergan, no matter how badly you’re tempted).
This recipe is by 52 Cocktails and is the result of many hours spent sweating over a hot stove. Well, I’m sure someone had to sweat over a hot stove in order to make the syrup that got used in the recipe, anyway. (Thank you, Monin.)