Making great falernum

I was researching a drink called the Scorpion Bowl, and was all ready to do a big writeup on the many different recipes available online. In case you’re curious, the Scorpion Bowl is an enormous tiki drink, with between 10-12oz of liquor, designed to serve two or more people. I made a rudimentary version of it on the weekend, and had to sit someplace quiet for a while afterward.
But while looking for different recipes to add to my post, I came across a fascinating blog, a drinking blog called Kaiser Penguin, in which the author already covered the Scorpion Bowl better than I ever could. You should go look at this when you get a chance.
Needless to say, I’ve been following this blog ever since, and am fascinated by some of the reading. However, I have to admit that it makes me feel a little green (that is, inexperienced) when I read what these people are doing in the way of new and esoteric drink recipes, and ingredient concoction. I used to consider myself a seasoned armchair-bartender, but the more I read of this blog, and the comments left on it, the more I realize I have a lot to learn.
And the more I think these people are actually serious alcoholics. But what do I know? I have a subscription to Imbibe magazine.
I was really dealt a blow when I read the discussion on different homemade bar syrups. At most, I’ve made a rock candy syrup and maybe some barlime. I did dabble once in making a raspberry-chili syrup that went great in a modified Tequila Sunrise.
But to make your own orgeat syrup? To make falernum? What the heck is falernum? I’ve read about a dozen tiki drink books without even coming across the word, and yet the Kaiser has made something like 10 different batches of the stuff.
(OK, I’ll admit that Imbibe mentioned falernum recently, thus sparking my interest.)
For those not in the know, falernum is a Caribbean liqueur or syrup which is tart, spicy, nutty and sweet. It has a similarity to other bitters, additives, and monesterial-produced liqueurs. To simulate its flavour, mix orgeat syrup with vanilla. allspice, clove, ginger, Angostura bitters and lime juice.
Since it’s from the Caribbean, and popular in Barbados, I’m likely to encounter it this December when I visit the island. Yes, plans are underway to go to Barbados for NOXmas.
So, I was naturally curious about the taste of falernum, and guessing that it might not be readily available in stores, decided to make a batch of it (which nicely coincided with a need for another batch of rock candy syrup). I checked out the best recipes from various online sources, and compared them to what I had in-house, and made my own version of the syrup. Here it is:
Zuckervati’s Falernum #1

  • zest of 3 limes
  • 1 Tbsp fresh, minced ginger
  • 50 whole cloves
  • 1/4 Tsp black cardamom seeds
  • 1 Tsp coarsely ground allspice
  • 1/2 Tsp anise seeds
  • 6 oz. Wray & Nephew overproof rum
  • 2 oz Sagatiba cachaça

Combine ingredients for 24 hours in a jar. Strain through cheesecloth (or in my case, a fine mesh coffee filter). Pour into a 750ml bottle and add the following:

  • 1/2 Tsp almond extract
  • 1 Tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 oz lime juice
  • 2:1 simple syrup to fill 750ml

What I ended up with was a cloudy green concoction that smelled heavily of spices (cloves in particular). There were some suspended solids, but a little shaking caused the mix to form an even translucency for about an hour. I don’t have an electric filter handy, so don’t know how much more clear I could make the falernum if I were to do this again. It made me wonder what other recipes look like if they filtered only through cheesecloth.
So, how does (my) falernum taste? Wow … delicious. Tangy, spicy, and sweet, but not too sweet, despite my use of 2:1 instead of a 1:1 simple syrup. It was sweet like a liqueur, a Galliano, or a Chartreuse.
I tried it in a snifter, over ice. As the ice melted, it became perfectly diluted. And with 14 oz of liquor (35% alcohol) to about 25 oz (750ml) liquid, we’re looking at a decent strength liqueur.
Now I just need to find and taste a definitive falernum to see how well mine compares in the overall scheme. With the way this batch is disappearing, I may have a recipe #10 in no time.