F is for | Falernum

This is not a how-to guide but a what-to guide. The "What To" series is about breaking down cocktail components to find the  right results you ( or me in this case)

Tiki A-Z is a forbidden guide to the wide world of Polynesian Pop one letter at a time.

Why? What? and How? 


One of the biggest hurdles I had to making tiki or anything out of the Death & Co. book at home was the "extras." I was very happy for many years sipping on rum, bourbon and scotch at home. And letting a professional mix. The step I needed to accept in order to make great cocktails at home was making before making. Buying bottles for your home bar takes money - good bottles take even more currency. I needed to make sure the drink I made was quality, the time I spent learning counted, the money I spend counted, and .the spirit was respected. So, I invested in more research to make quality cocktail components. I made swedisch punch, allspice dram, and syruped every fruit I could find. One tiki mainstay - Falernum - never made it to the Kapu Test Kitchen. I bought Velvet and moved on. That was okay with me. Until Nathan Hazard commented on a recipe of his I tried to reverse engineer, "P.S. Used Bitter Truth Golden Falernum which is much more gingery -and proofed- than Velvet." More ginger...I'm not sure Velvet has any ginger? What else am I missing by limiting myself to Velvet? I mean, how many bottles of rum do I have? How many do I put into one cocktail? And I never even looked into other Falernums! 

What else am I missing by limiting myself to Velvet?


The background  

That wasn't totally true. I looked at other falernums - BG Reynolds and Fee Brothers.  Neither have alcohol - i.e. the shelf life is short. I'm not going to use 750ml of falernum in a week or two. Finding Bitter Truth in Los Angeles is not easy either; it is around but not as easy to procure as Velvet between work and a young family. Plus, I like to reverse engineer things. Bitter Truth isn't forthcoming on the ingredients in Golden Falernum. That is expected. So, I started generally looking falernum. Lots and lots of recipes and opinions. 

Darcy O'Neil at Art of the Drink has a fantastic article on the history of the drink. Her post includes this gem of an article from Philadelphia Inquirer from 1896:

Falernum is basically a spicy Planter's Punch in 1896. Today, most resources put falernum in the spiced syrup category.  PUNCH has a great piece that quotes Berry on the Tiki history and mentions the more exotic spice additions done by Jamie Boudreau (Canon) and Shannon Tebay (Pouring Ribbons). Falernum should have cloves and limes to be called falernum. It should have whatever else fits your cocktelian personality.  

lime zest  

The other flavors

Ginger occurs as often as it doesn't.  

Almonds appear in most recipes. Whole, roasted, or as store bought milk. Bitter almonds are deployed and I would be intrigued to make a batch with them.

Allspice, nutmeg, and star anise are also occasional players. Note, a "star" is made of pods. And pods not stars when reading recipies. 

Other items that could be interesting components: coconut, macadamia nuts, barley (for tiki whiskey?), peppercorns. 

Simple syurp is a requirement. Rich or middle class is the choice.  

Rum or not to Rum? 

You rum. I'm targeting a 20% ABV minimum for some semblance of shelf life. VF is 11%; I keep it in the refrigerator. How do you rum is the question? Overproof is key to hit the ABV. The obvious choice is J Wray. Hamilton 151 is another choice. 


One technique drives every recipe. They all used quantity to reduce infusion time. The recipes are driven by loading jars with limes and cloves, pouring in rum and waiting 24 hours adding sugar and serving. I.E., make at 1 p.m. before the bar opens. Rest. Finish the next day. Serve. Home cocktail enthusiast don't have that need or requirement. I quartered the amount of lime and cloves BUT tripled the time. In my less than exhaustive test, the flavors were deeper and more complex. The flavor compounds had time to meet and get comfortable. They formed a relationship and nested together. Velvet, in comparison, has a very thin spice depth. 

[Interestingly, Jamie Boudreau uses sous vide as a method of reducing time but I would think it also greatly alters the end product. Unlocking different compounds in addition to those purely released by room temp infusion. I imagine he was influenced by Tony Conigliaro on this technique and it is one I will try out when I get the right gear and summon my inner Kenji.]

Rum or not to Rum?
You rum.

Liquids, I studied and mulled over J Wray or Hamilton's. I thought WWDBD? You guessed it, I used both. 

Flavors were built upon a base of lime and cloves. Personally, I wanted a strong ginger component. That is how this whole ordeal started right? All spice & star anise came to the party. A included a bit of cardamom in the current working version. I'd like to imagine doing a seasonal spice mix if I lived in a place with more than two seasons. 


Adventuring Falernum

Base Falernum

  • 3  Limes - strained juice* and zest
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup J Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum
  • 1/2 cup Hamilton 151
  • 3/4 cup cane syrup or rich simple syrup

Adventuring Adds

  • 1.5 ounces ginger
  • 1.5 ounces almonds
  • 3 star anise pods (not three whole stars)  
  • 6 cardamon seeds


Add all based ingredients to a mixing glass except for spices and syrup. Place spices - base and adds in a mortar and pestle; crush but don't powder. Add to mixing glass.  Rough chop any added nuts or ginger. Add to mixing glass.

Stir to combine and pour into a bottle. Place is a cool dark place for 72 hours. Check once a day and taste test. It might take more or less time. 

Once the desired flavor is achieved. Filter out the solids and place into a bottle with room for the syrup. Shake until combined. 

Store in the refrigerator.

combinded solution  

combinded solution  

aged 72 hours  

aged 72 hours  



Imbibe has a great starting page, "Our Favorite Falernum Cocktails." To that list I would add the Corn n' Oil as the best test drive of your personal falernum recipe. 

Punch just published a very interesting article on falermun outside of tiki.  But I totally disagree with Daniel Bedoya on Velvet's ginger notes in The Irish. I simply don't believe they exists. I don't think he does either since the recipe adds ginger syrup. That being said, subbing out a carefully profiled home falernum for the simple in a rye Old Fashion is really fucking delicious.